Life Advice



Ask Amy: Family secrets create a wedge between siblings

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: A couple of years ago one of my brothers, who has had a checkered past, fathered a child that he hasn't acknowledged to our parents.

That same brother told me that our other brother is involved in drugs. He said that information had to stay between us.

I was informed about those secrets – I didn't seek them out – and they're just two of a number of secrets that my family has.

I tried broaching a talk with my brother regarding the child and was ghosted until he felt confident that I wouldn't say anything to our parents.

The other brother tends to gaslight me.

My parents said they didn't want to know anything that was going to cause tension in the family, and I wonder if they think ignorance is bliss?

I don't live in the same area as my family, so that's helped me with keeping physical space. I've also learned the art of setting boundaries re: being seen as a confession booth.

But my parents frequently praise both siblings when they visit or call me, and it has started to grate on my nerves.

I also am just not comfortable at family gatherings lately, as I feel like I'm acting or performing. Is there a way I can handle how grating this is?

What is the best way to respond when I'm asked to visit?

– Irritated by Secrets

Dear Irritated: If you don’t want to visit your parents because the web of secrets you’ve been exposed to makes you an unwilling participant, then maybe you should call a temporary “time out” and not visit for a while.

If your folks ask why you don’t want to attend a family gathering, you could truthfully tell them that you find the overall family dynamic of whistling past any personal challenges and issues exhausting, because you would like to be able to communicate about these things.

It would be a mistake for you to convey that you are sitting in judgment of your various family members, but you have the right to assert your own needs.

You should also convey directly to your brother in clear language that you will not be his secret-keeper because it puts you in the terrible position of lying by omission.

I’m not suggesting that you should turn around and blow the lid off his personal business, but if he ghosts you over this, then so be it.

In my view, if your folks want to praise your brothers when speaking to you then you should do your best to listen patiently. They may be trying to paper over problems in order to draw you closer to your siblings. They likely do the same when describing you to your brothers.

Dear Amy: My girlfriend and I are very close with another couple.

We go on double dates, hang out at each other’s place, and were in their wedding.


We have put a lot of thought and money into the gifts we have given them over the years – at Christmastime, and for their wedding.

However, it’s obvious that they’ve not put much thought or effort into their gifts to us.

Regardless, we always thank them, but they never thank us for the gifts we’ve given them.

We feel disappointed and think we shouldn’t put so much effort into future gifts for them. Are we overthinking this, and their response to us?

– Kinda Hurt

Dear Hurt: If you want to give thoughtful and elaborate gifts, then you should do so only to express your own creative and generous spirit. The fact that these gifts are not reciprocated or appreciated makes you feel unhappy and out of balance, so yes – rachet down your giving and focus on the experiences you share.

It is a beautiful skill to have, but some people just don’t seem to know how to give or receive with generosity and gratitude.

Dear Amy: In a recent column, a stay-at-home dad said that people will refer to him as “Mr. Mom.”

He wonders if it is a put-down.

His wife has no respect for him as a provider and that’s obvious because she is working, and he is 25 and staying home to take care of a child.

This is not the example that he should want his child to see of him and his family.

His role is to be a provider and a protector.

– Upset

Dear Upset: This dad is providing and protecting, and he is doing that by raising his child and taking care of the home.


(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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