Help! Should I Invite My Secret Half Sister to Thanksgiving?

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 13 2012 6:15 AM

My Secret Sister

In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on whether Thanksgiving is a good time to introduce long-hidden relatives.

(Continued from Page 1)

A: I guess self-deporting is not going to work for everyone. This guy is a criminal who if he returns is flouting our laws. I doubt you would have a legal responsibility to turn him in. The real question is are you being a bad cousin by reporting him if he returns? Let’s say you may not be the most loving cousin if you do, but turning him into the authorities may prevent someone from becoming his next victim, so I say make the call.

Q. My Roommate Won't Stop Pushing Me To Exercise: My roommate Jared is a fitness nut. We met at college, and he's seen pictures of me from high school, when I was much thinner. Lately Jared has been pushing me to start exercising again. He keeps asking me to take part in his very intense workout regimen. He has also suggested healthier options when he sees me munching on a candy bar or drinking soda. Jared used to be overweight and so I think his nudges are heartfelt, but misguided: Losing weight made him feel better about himself, so in his mind losing weight should make me feel good about myself. What no one in our house knows is that I have gained so much weight since high school because when I was in high school, I had a serious eating disorder. It took lots of therapy and love and support for me to be OK with myself and to get to a place where I can indulge in junk food. I am a healthy weight for my height, and I cannot go back to a place where I exercise and obsessively count calories. I made the decision not to tell anyone from college about my eating disorder. Since telling Jared thanks but no thanks doesn't work, how can I get him to stop pushing the workouts?

A: Jared doesn't make his living as a spokesman for Subway does he? Just as he can't force you to order a foot-long, neither can he force you to work out with him nor listen to his lectures. Tell him you are telling him one final time that you appreciate his concern but your body is your own business and you don't want to discuss it anymore with him. Explain if he doesn't lay off even though you live together, your friendship is cooked.

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Q: Thanksgiving Dilemma: My husband and I have been married for six years and have hosted Thanksgiving each year since our wedding. This year, however, I would rather not. We have a new baby who has been struggling with weight gain, so his pediatrician has recommended a very intensive schedule of nursing, pumping, and supplementing that leaves me with virtually no downtime during the day. In addition, my father-in-law recently had a stroke and will be in rehab until just before Thanksgiving. We have a tri-level house without any bathrooms on the main level. I would prefer not to host this year and to have a quiet holiday with my husband and son instead. My husband is upset by this because he says that if we don't host, his family will not have a holiday celebration at all. I am not sure why the fact that nobody else will step up is our responsibility. We seem to be at an impasse, and the disagreement is causing strain between us. We also need to figure out what we're doing soon, so that we can inform everyone. Is there some compromise we're missing here?

A: The compromise is that you send a family-wide email explaining that you can’t host this year. Presumably everyone knows you’ve given birth and you do not have to spell out an excuse. Then you ask if someone can step up. If no one will, I think you should suggest celebrating the holiday at a restaurant. Sure it’s not cozy and family-like, but then their idea of family-like is that you run yourself ragged to entertain their lazy asses. If everyone nixes a restaurant, then they should stock up on the Swanson’s frozen turkey dinners. You have a cozy time with your little unit and you can all reconvene over the cranberry sauce next year.

Q. Estranged and Endangered Daughter: My daughter (32, my only child) is bipolar, homeless, and out of contact with me. (She blames me for all the losses she's experienced.) Her father is dead. I am heartbroken about her but have learned through therapy that I cannot fix, rescue, or cure her. I tried. When acquaintances ask about her, it's painful to reply honestly. I feel stabs of anguish over well-meaning queries, but generally, just avoid the subject. Is there a better way?

A: This is tragic and unfortunately there's little you can do about someone who is mentally ill and refuses treatment. It's too bad we've moved so far toward honoring the civil rights of the mentally ill that we've lost sight that their illness renders them vulnerable to danger and death. We don’t say to people with Alzheimer’s that it’s their right to wander into traffic. As you know, a homeless woman is not getting the treatment she needs, but it’s almost impossible to involuntarily commit someone for more than the briefest period and we’ve essentially dismantled long-term care for the mentally ill. You can tell people a brief version of the truth. Say that this an anguishing subject for you. Your daughter is mentally ill and has rejected treatment. You can add you hope they understand why you don't want to discuss this further.

Q. My Stepdad's Daughter: My mom and stepdad have been married since I was 8. My own father had passed away a few years prior. My stepdad certainly isn't perfect but he tried to be there to provide a fatherly role for me and my siblings. But lately, there is something I just can't get out of my head—his only biological child, "Gina" who is just a few months older than me. My stepdad gave up his parental rights to Gina after he divorced her mother. They don't keep in close contact and have only seen each other a handful of times in the past twentysomething years. He didn't even attend her wedding. I visited my stepdad's sister recently—she has kept in close contact with Gina over the years and was telling me stories and showing me some photos of her family with Gina. Since then, I haven't been able to shake this overwhelming sadness I feel for Gina. My father isn't part of my life because he can't be, but Gina's dad chooses not to be part of her life and I can't even begin to imagine how painful that would be. I feel like I should talk to my stepdad and encourage him to reconnect with her, but I don't know if that's my place or how I should even go about it. Do you think I should try to talk to my stepdad about it or just let it go?

A: What a sad twist that a man gives up rights to be a father to his own child, then steps into that role for someone else’s children. I am hoping that Gina herself got a stepfather who loved and helped raise her. If that is the case, and she didn’t even invite her biological father to her wedding, it could be that Gina feels her life is complete and just doesn’t want to start trying to build a relationship with a stranger. It’s great that you have a good relationship with your aunt and she has a close one with Gina. So I think you should ask her to be a go-between. First find out what your aunt thinks about trying to reconnect your stepfather and Gina. It could be that she knows Gina doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. But if that’s not the case, ask your aunt if she’d ask Gina how Gina would feel if you encouraged an attempt at their reconnecting. It speaks highly of you that you have such empathy for your unknown stepsister. But it could also be that Gina likes things just the way they are.

Q. Distracted Lawyer: Hi, Prudence, I'm the easily-distracted lawyer from a couple of weeks ago. One of your readers on Facebook suggested a Firefox add-on called "LeechBlock," and it has really helped. I just put in the URL of the sites that give me the most trouble, and it blocks them during the times I specify. Yes, I could go into the program and take off the block. But for me, just the "site blocked" screen is enough to remind me that this is not how I want to spend my day. So, thank you, and that reader. I'm far from cured of my distractibility, but I'm more productive.

A: And despite helping lead you to real help for your problem, I’ve become less productive! LeechBlock, here I come!

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, until next week.

In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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