Life Advice


Health & Spirit

Estranged sibling struggles responding to family updates

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: Several years ago, I terminated all forms of relationship with a couple of my siblings (there are seven of us), due to lifelong bullying, verbal abuse, blatant disrespect and the need to protect my children.

There are some family members who choose to "update" me on the lives of these siblings I'm estranged from. I listen to these updates, but try to provide as minimal and as respectful a response as possible.

I wish no ill toward these family members; I just choose not to allow them into my life. It is important and necessary that these toxic family members not be permitted back into me and my family's good graces.

How do I remain respectful in acknowledging -- or not acknowledging -- life events without being cold? I also don't want to react or respond in a way that allows these people to think/believe they have an "in." How can I handle this and still maintain what I feel are necessary boundaries?

Recently, a family member notified me that each of these estranged siblings had a parent-in-law pass away on the same day. Should I directly acknowledge these losses, or just have heartfelt prayers for them?

-- Want to do Right

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Dear Want to do Right: If you don't want to have any direct contact with these siblings (which you say you don't), then you should respond honestly to the family member who delivered this news: "Oh, that sounds terrible. I can't imagine." Then you send heartfelt prayers their way (if you are the praying type).

If these updates inspire you toward more direct compassion regarding your siblings, then you should risk contacting them personally in order to pass along your humane reaction to a sad event. A short note: "'Sara' told me about the recent death in your spouse's family. My condolences to all of you."

If you do choose to contact them, you need to understand something important: your siblings may not have changed.

But expressing a generous and sincere emotion -- with no expectation -- might be your liberation.


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