Life Advice



Ask Amy: An ‘update’ takes the advice to task

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Readers: Periodically, I publish “updates” to previous questions and answers published in this space. The following was published in 2018. The update follows the original Q&A.

Dear Amy: I grew up with two siblings — a brother and a sister. My brother, his wife and three children lived near our parents. My family and I (wife, two children) lived some distance away. We maintained contact through holiday cards and drop-by visits. Everything was cordial, if not particularly close. In hindsight, all direct interaction with my folks was always at our initiation.

Sadly, my brother passed away quite suddenly a few years ago. He was still a relatively young man. My SIL still maintained infrequent, cordial contact surrounding major events (kids’ graduating, my father’s passing), but that’s about it.

About a year ago my SIL married an old flame from college. She moved to his town, some distance away. We lost all contact. It was not just us — she and her children essentially “ghosted” their paternal grandparents, which was a source of great pain for my late father.

Strangely, last week I learned that my SIL and her daughter (same age as one of my children) had relocated again, six months ago. They are now living within 10 minutes’ drive from my house. I guess the previous relocation and marriage didn’t work out.

I am trying very hard to empathize with her: Perhaps they just suffered another in a series of terrible situations. But then, why pretend that my family and I don’t exist? Why not make any effort?

My wife is furious and is considering not giving any more graduation/wedding gifts to the nieces/nephew from this part of the “family.”

Your advice?

— Ghosted Uncle

Dear Uncle: I’m wondering why you are ghosting your nieces/nephew. Their father died suddenly. They were relocated to a faraway town for a marriage that turned out to be very short term. Then they moved again.

Were you ever a teenager? (I’m guessing at the ages of these kids.) Would you have initiated contact with your aunt and uncle if there had been sporadic contact in the years after a parent’s death — and then no contact for at least a year?

Your sister-in-law might be depressed, embarrassed, overwhelmed, introverted, or — just doesn’t like you very much. She has done a poor job of staying connected to her children’s relatives.

What’s your excuse?

You should reach out through whatever means you have. Express enthusiasm that they are so close, and offer to lend a hand/get together.

Your wife’s idea to punish these children by not celebrating their milestones is unkind. I hope you’ll both choose to behave differently in order to demonstrate to your nieces and nephew how to be in a family.


UPDATE: I wrote to you as “Ghosted Uncle,” regarding how my late brother's wife and children had cut off contact with my family.

Things are largely unchanged. After your advice basically chastising me, I did try for a time. My efforts were never reciprocated or apparently appreciated.

In the past year I have returned two wedding invitations and a graduation announcement, as I really don't want anything to do with them at this point.

At times I have been told by other family members that my former sister-in-law and her children have had a lot of personal issues; in recent years I have asked that they not share any of these statements with me.

So, not much is new. I will say that I would have appreciated you showing me a fraction of the empathy you extended to my former sister-in-law.

But as I said back then, I asked for your opinion, so I got it.

– R

Dear R: Thank you for providing this update. Most of the updates I receive from readers suggest positive change, and while I am cheered by this, I suspect that most of the people who write to me have experiences closer to yours.

I also understand your criticism of my response, and appreciate your willingness to take me to task. My focus was on you trying to stay connected with the younger family members – not necessarily their mother.

However, I have to point out that even though you say your efforts have not been reciprocated or appreciated, these young family members have invited you to two weddings and a graduation. You have refused these invites.

These invitations are the essence of reciprocation. They are bids for connection, much like the ones you made. And now it is their turn to feel rejected.


(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.)

©2024 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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