Too Cynical

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband is a big softhearted sweetie. He has a niece who is a
troubled child. Her sisters are each successful in various ways, from
marriage to professionally. She’s the family screw up, by comparison
and by deed, specifically by running away with a skanky drug-dealing
boyfriend after dropping out of junior college. Now she’s suicidal, or so
she says. He wants to invite her to live with us (1500 miles from
home) but because the house is full up with our sons (elder home after
a divorce, and younger until college starts again), he also wants to
give her our bedroom and have us live on the futon in the family room.
The sleeping arrangements would be for a month. The “visit” would be
indefinite, or “until she gets her life together.” I am all for helping her
but I also work 60 hours a week and need my sleep and he’s out 8-5,
so there will be no supervision or guidance to help her find and keep
on a path. Am I:

Too Cynical

Dear Cynical:

Helping a troubled family member is noble. But setting up a situation
that’s doomed to failure won’t teach her anything and will almost
certainly lead to hassles between you are your husband. The bedroom
issue is pretty simple: either delay the start of her visit a few weeks or
even until your younger son goes back to school or ask him to sleep on
the futon for a few weeks.

The deeper help issues need a clear plan that you all agree to. Ideally
she would be enrolled in the local community college and maintain a
minimum GPA to continue to stay with you. She can take core courses
or something vocational but she has to be enrolled or working. The
problem with working is that jobs are hard to come by and she can
languish while looking. Also very clear household rules about no drugs,
and alcohol only under your supervision. It’s hard to legislate whom
people befriend, and she may find similar ilk in your neighborhood. But
you can set rules about who is allowed in your home as a guest and
bar new local skanks from visiting.


She must also be in counseling, either individually or group, with your right
to participate in the process in case she drifts too close to the boundary lines of
bad behavior. Make it very clear these are conditions of your hospitality,
renewable every three months, and that if she violates them that you
will not hesitate to ship her home. As for how long is too long, see how
you feel after three months of decent sleep and a tough houseguest.