Dear Annie: My brother, "Lenny," lives in upstate New York, and I live in Texas, but we've always been close and call each other often. Lenny has been raising two grandsons, ages 9 and 10, since the parents died in an accident four years ago. They are both good boys.
The problem is Lenny's favoritism. One boy has everything: a smart phone, a TV, a sunny corner bedroom, cool clothes and great Christmas and birthday gifts. You can hear the love in Lenny's voice when he talks about that child. Not so with the other boy. That child lives in a large, unpainted and windowless storage room next to their laundry. While his brother received an iPod for his birthday, this child got a plastic AM/FM radio.
These boys love each other, but I can see where such disparity has to be affecting them. I have tried to discuss this with Lenny, but neither he nor his wife sees any problem at all because they say they give each child what that boy asks for, nothing more, nothing less. What can I do? I feel my hands are tied while my heart is ripping apart. — Twin in Texas
Dear Twin: Someone should pay that family a visit and see what is really going on. It's sometimes hard to judge from a phone call. You could be projecting your own fears onto a situation where the children are perfectly happy. Please plan a visit to see your brother so you can better assess the situation. If there is indeed such extreme favoritism going on, it will be easier to discuss it with Lenny and his wife when you can lovingly point out what they seem oblivious to. And it also provides an opportunity to give the less-favored brother some extra TLC while you're at it.
Dear Annie: I have known "Paula" since high school. She has been married for five years and has a year-old son. She doesn't get along with her husband and calls me often, sometimes crying, to tell me all the terrible things he does and says.
Not every phone call is like this. Sometimes the subject never comes up. But the rest of the time, it is exhausting listening to her, and she never listens to me. I've tried to be helpful, lending an ear, and frankly, I'm tired of it. Should I screen her calls? Should I tell her during a "normal" conversation that I don't want to talk about her marriage anymore? My husband says to stop answering the phone.
Paula sees a therapist and attends Al-Anon meetings. Any suggestions? — Frustrated Friend
Dear Frustrated: Between her husband and her child, Paula is obviously having a difficult time coping. She needs to talk about it — a lot. If you can allow her to vent, that would be supportive of you. You do not need to offer advice. But if that is too exhausting, it's OK to tell her gently that you do not have the energy to be her sounding board and you hope she is discussing these things with her therapist.
Dear Annie: Like "Frustrated Wife," I am married to a man who won't lift a finger around the house. But I can't let dirty dishes, clothes, tools and garbage pile up in the house in which my children are growing up. I also can't let the lawn turn into a jungle, the bills go unpaid and the car run out of gas.
I do what I must to take care of the children and myself, but I see no reason to make my husband's life any easier when he does nothing for mine. He refuses counseling. Maybe after a decade of his wife juggling full-time employment with exhaustion at home, "Frustrated's" husband will write you wondering why they don't have sex anymore. — Household Slave
Dear Slave: Your marriage sounds miserable. If you can afford it, hire some household help. And please consider counseling for yourself.
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to email@example.com, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.