My sister is married to a great guy with a successful military career. He has supported her through diagnoses of mental illness and cancer. But my sister does many frustrating things: She hoards food, feeds her kids junk (they’re obese) and allowed her son to fail a grade in school by letting him stay home and play video games all day while his father was deployed. If anyone talks to my sister in a way she finds remotely critical, she stonewalls that person for days. Her husband is morally opposed to divorce, but I worry about his happiness. In order to maintain a relationship with my sister, I have to pretend everything she does is OK. Please help!


You have been fairly meticulous about cataloging your sister’s failures and flaws. But I don’t see a word about your efforts to support her — only a concern for her husband’s happiness as your sister struggles. If her husband is home again, he bears as much as responsibility as your sister for raising their children. And if he is still deployed, she could probably use a hand.

What you fail to acknowledge here is that many mental illnesses and cancer treatments are debilitating and exhausting. Trying to manage them while raising children may be pushing your sister to the brink. The last thing she needs from you is any criticism.

Instead, organize a circle of supportive friends and relatives to lift her up. Offer to shop and make dinner for the family occasionally. Give the kids a ride to school or help with their homework. With a more manageable load, your sister may be open to tackling the issues you raise in your letter — perhaps with the help of a therapist.

Party Foul

My fiancé and I had a New Year’s Eve party with a small pod of friends we’ve seen frequently during the pandemic. It was a great night and all the more special because we hosted it at our new house. The morning after, though, we discovered our new off-white sofa was covered in clothing dye. After some investigation, we are certain it was from a friend’s black dress. We hired an upholstery cleaner, but the dye is still visible. Fortunately, there is another solution: For $800, we can buy three new sofa cushion covers. Would it be rude to ask our friend to cover this cost?


One of the few certainties in giving parties is that accidents can happen. So, let me offer a script for mishaps-while-hosting that you may find unfair at first, but that has served me well for many years.

Call your friend to let her know what happened. Along with her apologies and a possible vow to retire that dress, she may offer to cover your cleaning costs. (Don’t mention the failed cleaning attempt or imminent cushion replacement.) Thank her for her kind offer, but refuse it. If she insists, use my mother’s effective line: “It would hurt me for you to pay me.” That should settle the issue.

True hospitality — making friends comfortable in our homes — often requires shrugging off accidental damage. That’s what makes it so hard and precious. (On a practical note: Before you replace your white cushion covers, get an estimate for having some made in a nice indoor/outdoor fabric. It’s more durable and often stain resistant.)

Access Denied

My husband and I are hoping to have a child soon. I am politically liberal, and he is conservative. We are both tolerant. But we have some family and friends who are right-wing conspiracy theorists. After learning that many of them still hold their extreme views after the events in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, I would be more comfortable if my child were never exposed to them. How do I tell these people they will not meet my child because of their views?


Listen, I get revenge fantasies as well as the next person. (And the assault on our democracy has been frightening to watch.) But you’re asking about blocking access to a child who doesn’t exist yet because of political views that may change over time. I suggest choreographing your rejections later.

For now, make sure that you and your husband agree on the principles that will govern your future child’s world. As long as you two are on the same page, working out how to deal with extended family will be a challenge you can manage together.

Not Even a ‘Happy Birthday’?

Because of the pandemic, my 19-year-old son stayed on his college campus for winter break. He forgot my birthday, which upset me more than I would have thought. It’s not like I expected a gift, just an acknowledgment. Would it be too much of a guilt trip to say something?


Nineteen is old enough to understand the hurt that carelessness can cause. Say, “Honey, you forgot my birthday, and it hurt my feelings. Will you try to remember next year? A call or card would mean a lot to me.” I bet he will — especially if you tell him to put the date in his calendar.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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