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A large family has divided loyalties

Q. I come from a large family, which has a 20-year gap between siblings. The oldest sibling was out of the house when the youngest was born.

Essentially, our parents raised two separate families in different generations.

Both of our parents died years ago, and a rift became very apparent. A few of the older siblings accused some of the younger ones of taking advantage of our parents, and attempted to turn the rest of the family against them. They went so far as to try and convince long-distance relatives. It did not work.

One sibling’s spouse appears to have a personal grudge against a younger member, and over the years letters have been written, e-mails sent, and public comments made, all against the same younger family member. This in-law puts on the persona of being a good, loving, and honest person, but most know better.


Now that we are all growing older, some of the siblings feel as if all should be forgiven. They want to reunite the family.

A few have stated that this will not happen, as they cannot forget the pain of the other siblings with false accusations that they’ve never apologized for. The trust has been lost for a few, and doesn’t appear to be recoverable.

Is it OK to not want a relationship with a sibling if you believe that person has betrayed you?


A. You are an adult and you have the right to have — or not have — a relationship with anyone, including various family members.

You are focused on the wrongs done to you and your sibling group (and for very good reasons). Regarding this important betrayal, no apologies have been offered. However, it’s important to understand that unless you come together as a family in some form or fashion, you will miss the opportunity to ask for and perhaps receive the apology you seek.


In short, if you don’t have a relationship of any kind, you will never have even the slightest chance of receiving an explanation, apology, or reconciliation.

Q. My brother has been incarcerated for several years for drug offenses. This has been extremely painful for our entire family, but I love him and try to keep in touch with him.

My wife and I have two children, ages 3 and 5. They are starting to understand various family ties and recently saw a picture of me and my brother from childhood. They have started asking about him, and my wife and I are wondering what to say.

Do you have suggestions?


A. Children at these ages are starting to differentiate between family members, and are especially interested in siblings.

In fact, many young children express amazement that their parents were ever children themselves, and that they even have siblings. This is why family photos and memories are so intriguing and important to share.

Tell your kids about your brother, and share positive memories of him from your childhood. Tell stories about some of the things you two used to do together.

When they ask where he is, you should express that “he broke some important rules and laws and got into trouble. He was sent to jail, and he has to stay there for a while. I miss him, but I keep in touch with him by sending him letters. I’ve told him all about you two and he is excited to meet you someday.” (They might like to send him some drawings or letters, too.)


Your kids will likely ask what rules he broke, and you can say that he made some bad choices, and didn’t hurt anybody — but he did hurt himself.

Answer your children’s questions, but don’t overload them with details. As they get older you can expand on your explanations.

Q. Regarding the letter from “Perplexed in Suburbia” (the person who greets neighbors without receiving responses from younger folks), this is akin to telling women to smile.

No one is entitled to a response just because they are being friendly.

If greeting people makes you happy and comes from the goodness of your heart, why would a lack of acknowledgment bother you? If you are expecting something in return, reflect on your true motives.


A. You make an excellent point, and I think your perspective is valuable. However, men instructing women who are walking past to “smile” is different from someone merely wondering why friendly greetings aren’t returned.

I’ll run more responses in an upcoming column.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at