Dear Annie: My brother-in-law, “Tom,” lives with us because he is not able to hold a job. Fifteen years ago, he moved to the Midwest with his wife and children. He was there for a year, and then his wife divorced him. We paid for his ticket home, and he lived with us for three months. He then moved to California to live with a cousin, but they threw him out when he couldn’t hold onto a job and pay rent. He became homeless.
Tom moved back into his mother’s house and found work, but only for a brief time before he was fired. Any money he had saved, he spent in bars and on women. When Mom went into a nursing home, Tom couldn’t pay the upkeep on the house, so he rented it out and ended up homeless again. So we took him in.
We helped Tom get food stamps and a part-time job. He sees a counselor once a month. Our only rule is that he has to be in by 9 p.m., because I work early, and when he comes home late, it wakes me up. But Tom has a hard time following this.
Tom continues to make poor choices, and I am afraid he will end up living with us permanently. Why is he this way? And what can I do to help? — Miserable Sister-in-Law
Dear Miserable: Counseling should help determine why Tom makes poor choices. But he also could use a physical checkup. It’s possible Tom suffers from attention deficit disorder and cannot focus on the work at hand. Or he may have an alcohol problem. However, your kindness is also a form of enabling. By giving Tom a cushion to fall back on, he hasn’t had to take complete responsibility for his own actions. A 9 p.m. curfew is rather early for an adult, but it is a small price to pay for free housing.
Talk to your husband so you are both in agreement about how to handle Tom. You could take away his house key and tell him the doors will be bolted after 9. You could throw him out. You could ask him to pay a small amount of rent from his part-time job. But we also recommend that you and your husband request a joint session with Tom and his counselor to talk about the best way to deal with this.
Dear Annie: I live in a nice-sized city. We have lots of beautiful parks with walking paths and a small zoo. We have green grass and flowers in the summer and beautiful lights shining against the snow in winter.
But nearly every home on my block has garbage cans “decorating” the front yard. One neighbor starting putting his trash out there, and now everyone does it. Why would residents think this is beautiful? We all have garages to house our garbage bins. How can I remedy this ugliness? — Love My City in N.D.
Dear N.D.: Does your city have regulations about leaving garbage cans at the curb on days when garbage is not picked up? Is there a homeowners or neighborhood association that could help mediate? Otherwise, simply knock on your neighbors’ doors and say that you find these garbage cans to be an eyesore that detracts from your lovely street. Ask whether they would consider keeping them in the garage. Be friendly. Bring cupcakes. It can’t hurt.
Dear Annie: Here’s my response to people who keep interrupting me when I’m talking. As soon as they butt in, I say, “I’m sorry I interrupted the beginning of your sentence with the middle of mine.” Most of the time, it stops them in their tracks trying to figure out what I mean. — Kentucky
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.