Ask Amy

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 10:05pm

DEAR AMY: I feel very bad about my brother. He has problems, and I do not know how to help him. Last night he called me and asked for money. I am broke, but I want to help him. I do not have the money, but my husband does. I need to ask my husband if I can borrow $500 from him, but I am afraid to ask because I know he will say no.

Do you think it is a good idea to take the money without his knowledge? I feel desperate to help my brother.

— Desperate Sister

DEAR DESPERATE: You know it's a terrible idea to take money without your husband's knowledge, mainly because, well — it's stealing. So cross that option off your list.

Furthermore, it is really your brother's problem, and your response to him should be straightforward: "I don't have any money to give you, but my husband might. If you want to borrow it, you'll have to ask him."

DEAR AMY: Our grandson's first birthday is coming up, and we have received a list of items his mother has decreed he should receive for presents. That totally takes the joy out of our gift-giving. We like picking out presents.

Should we comply and let her set the stage from year one to dictate what we give?

— Frustrated Grandparents

DEAR GRANDPARENTS: Approach this by giving this mother the benefit of the doubt. Many new parents have a natural desire to control every aspect of their baby's life, but real life (and other people) will teach them that this level of control simply isn't possible.

Your grandson's mother might have thought this list would provide a helpful boost for people who weren't sure what to give this baby or who didn't know what books, jammies or stuffed toys the child already possessed.

However, let's stipulate that giving to a 1-year-old is not rocket science and that you don't need or want suggestions. Give the child whatever you want to give him. There is no need to reference the list or explain your reasons for not adhering to it.

If the child's mother has the temerity to question why you haven't chosen something from her list, you can say, "Thank you for the gift ideas, but we decided to go another way." Be kind and friendly, and remember that you are celebrating a child, not squabbling with his mother.

DEAR AMY: You answered a tough letter from "Issues," whose future mother-in-law refused to meet her and didn't welcome her in the family home. I don't agree with you that the best solution is for the son to reject his mother and put the marriage at the center of their lives.

My daughter-in-law completely rejected my husband and me, talking relentlessly against us behind our back so that to "cleave to his spouse" our son has rejected us. The circle is tightening as we are now prevented from seeing the grandchildren.

What is necessary is that the son speaks to his mother, making it clear that it is not acceptable for her to reject his bride. She must relate considerately out of respect for him if she wants to continue their relationship.

If she is so controlling that she would likely reject anyone he wants to marry, this would make it even more essential that he stand up to her. It is standing up to his mother (or in my case, his wife) that will give him the maturity to be an adult and a good spouse.

— Sad Mother-in-law

DEAR SAD: I agree with your excellent advice. But I didn't suggest that this son must reject his mother, only that he would have to if the mother couldn't accept his wife and forge some sort of relationship with her.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.

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