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Response to "Enough, already!"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  July 15, 2011 07:29 AM

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Monday's question was a toughie. We've had versions of "my relative is a moocher!" before, but this was an extreme case, that has been going on for a long time. 

Have you ever heard the joke about the rabbi? Two people are having a disagreement and go a rabbi for his advice. He hears the first party's argument and says, "You are right." Then he hears the second party's argument, and says, "You are right." An onlooker points out, "Rabbi, they can't both be right." 

And the rabbi says, "You, you are also right" 

I felt exactly like that when reading your responses. I don't have brothers or sisters myself, so I don't have a native sense of the kind of obligation one might feel. An entire discussion opened up on the appropriateness of calling the police on the brother and his family:

colakoala wrote: I think people aren't being harsh enough. These people actually have the potential to be dangerous. I say that because of the way LW mentioned no regard for his/her complaints, the "ravaging" of the house, and the theft of clothing. I would actually escalate to police involvement now. They've stolen from you: report the theft. When you do that, explain that you haven't ordered them to leave in the past but you intend to and that you're concerned they won't respect that. Given that they've stolen from you and exhibited sociopathic behavior, I wouldn't be surprised if the police officer suggests you dispense with manners and concern yourself first and foremost with the safety of your family. They might recommend you get a restraining order right away. But if not, you'll need to know how to handle any future incidents. 

bluemoose wrote: Calling the police on family after you've spent years enabling their now supposedly "criminal" behavior is an abuse of the police system and not something the police are kindly inclined to deal with. Yes, they will show up. But you become the boy who cried wolf quickly in this situation. 

JustQ wrote: The idea that it's somehow an abuse of process and a waste of police time to call them regarding a family member is bananas. It's a terrible scary world but most crimes and abuses are not random acts by strangers. They are committed by family members, employees and (former) loved ones - people who have overstepped some boundary. ? If this was an estranged spouse, no one would think twice about advising the LW to call the cops. A sibling can be just as abusive. 

fastenyourseatbelts wrote: Why on earth would you call the police on this family . . . with children involved??? What is wrong with some of you??? The LW said this family's visits are annoying and over-the-top, but there was nothing illegal or threatening reported . . . My, God, this family obviously has some issues that need to be addressed ASAP by the LW, but if we can't help out and be kind to our own FAMILIES, I don't know what is becoming of the human race. 

So, FYSB, how exactly should the LW address the issues that you acknowledge are real? This is the crux of the issue, for me. I don't think the brother is giving the LW a way to both get out of this situation, and be a "good guy." Personally, I can live with it when people put me in that position. I can deploy whatever nuclear option is necessary and not feel much guilt. Not everyone is built like that. Whatever the LW does, she needs to figure out if she can pull the trigger, which in this case translates to getting the cops involved, or not, before she takes action. Bluffing the brother won't work, and will encourage and validate his behavior. Maybe the LW won't need to call the cops, but if she's not willing to, then I think she needs to live with the status quo, unpleasant as it is. 

fuchsia223 brought up a point that several commenters wondered about: 

The letter made me wonder about mental illness as well as poverty. Can the LW and the other imposed-on people stage an intervention, find out if either of these is an issue, and work out a plan to address it? 

Good question, although the fact that the behavior has gone on for "years" leads me to think this isn't truly an emergency situation, just a very strange variation of "normal." As Lgverr wrote: 

I have the same problem and it has been driving me crazy for years...however it's only one sibling not a whole family! After pleading with him to stop & losing my cool countless times I actually called his therapist, who explained to me that he understands what he is doing very well but "his need to connect is more important to him than respecting your privacy and boundaries." When someone knowingly violates your wishes there is no need to be polite. Don't let them in....Best of luck! 

 Wow. And my mother still feels bad that I'm an only child. I don't. I'm sure there's nothing better than a wonderful sibling relationship ... but it's a roll of the dice as to whether or not that's the kind you're going to get, isn't it? 
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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