DEAR CAROLYN: My brother-in-law has two teenage children and he has decided his next hobby is going to be racing cars.
My wife and I are the ones responsible for raising these kids if anything happens to him.
I, of course, realize he could be hit by a car walking across the street at any time. The issue is his engaging in a very risky hobby while these kids are still in the house. The kids have been raised in a way that neither of us agree with and if they were to come under our care, it would be very difficult for everyone involved.
What is the best way to approach him about this? It is causing my wife incredible anxiety issues.
Watching From the Sidelines
DEAR SIDELINES: Seems to me the issue is not that he’s engaging in this risky hobby – as you said, he could die crossing the street – but instead that your wife is anxious and you want harmony restored at home. So you’re hoping to shift that chore to the brother.
You’re certainly welcome to ask your brother if he has thought through the consequences to his children if he is killed or severely injured, though I'll take your realism one step further on this: Approaching parents on what-ifs is the right move for any potential guardian, not just those processing a new, high-speed hobby.
That conversation works because it is within the bounds of your business: It covers what your responsibilities will be, or won’t, in the event these kids’ dad can’t raise them.
I should say, this is something your wife can do because it falls in an area she governs. Her anxiety is just a manifestation of powerlessness, that awful feeling that we can’t do anything to prevent something that upsets us.
So for her to take action is a much more realistic path to restoring harmony than for you to beg her brother to do her bidding, because it puts her (oh no) in the driver’s seat. She can, for example, tell her brother that if he throws his life away on this hobby, then she won’t be responsible for his kids.
Yikes, you say. It is extreme – and it’s also not what I would either advise or do in this situation, because these are kids and you take them in and make it work.
But if the mere idea of becoming guardian to these kids so unnerves your wife that she cannot function normally, then maybe she’s not the best relief parent for them. And certainly if that’s true, then their dad must know this – before he crosses a street, much less heads to a track.
If you present this idea to your wife and she finds it even more unnerving to imagine turning these kids away, then that in itself is her path to restoring calm.