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Miss Conduct

Advice: My sister won’t speak to me — or my kids

How do I help my kids understand this family estrangement?

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About 18 months ago, my sister stopped speaking to me, claiming I was manipulative and bullying. She also cut off my tween children, who are heartbroken. Last year, she responded effusively and lovingly to one or two e-mails they wrote. She never initiated contact, but she promptly wrote back! It’s been devastating for me. I feel like I should fight for my kids' connection with their family. Isn’t that a core part of my job as a parent? But that crosses her boundaries. She is estranged from our entire family. Should I write her off, and help my kids come to terms with the loss of their aunt?

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A.R. / Waltham

Here’s the thing about family estrangement: To the person who’s been estranged, the separation seems like a problem. To the estrange-r, it’s the solution. And generally, family separation is not chosen lightly.

Yes, cut your sister loose. No, it is not your job to fight for your children’s connection to anyone. Parents should teach children about consent, boundaries, and communication, and foster an environment in which connections flourish as desired by all parties.

I sincerely wonder how upset your kids would be if they weren’t picking up your signals. Their aunt never initiated contact! They e-mailed once or twice a year! Tweens are far more interested in their peer group than in relatives whom they rarely see, however effusively kind those e-mails might have been. The tween years are a good time to learn some relationships end, and how to handle that gracefully. Tell them some version of “Auntie isn’t mad at you, but she needs some time alone, and we respect that.” If they ask when she might get in contact again, try: “When she feels ready.” Sometimes people do things for reasons we don’t understand, and it’s disappointing. Let them know those feelings are valid — and will pass.

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Your feelings are valid, too, and I hope you find someone to talk to about them, be it a therapist or close friend.



Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.