Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Sister only talks to you when she needs something?

DEAR NATALIE: I have a sister who only associates with me when she needs something. For instance, when she and her husband go on vacation they ask me to feed the dog, water plants, pick up the mail. But the rest of the year I am pushed off to the side and ignored. When I ask to do things or mention getting together for a holiday, I always get brushed off. When I ask, they procrastinate about giving me an answer then ignore me and blow me off. My sister is not the type to discuss things. I would like to make up an excuse next time she asks me and say no, but this would be lying. What do you think? -- SAD SISTER

DEAR SAD SISTER: It appears to me that you have a classic case of doormatitis. You are suffering from a common and debilitating disease, but I promise there is a cure! It’s called put your foot down and you do that daily, every day, for the rest of your life. No more helping them or being at their beck and call. They sound like selfish, insufferable people who are interested only in what others can do for them. Time to take a step back. It sounds as though you don’t get much out of this relationship, anyway, and while it is true that you can’t pick your family, you also don’t have to indulge their petty, narcissistic behavior. So, the next time she asks for your help, tell her you’re busy. Don’t reach out about holidays unless she reaches out to you in the spirit of friendship. Work on cultivating relationships with people who reciprocate positive things and want to spend time with you. Take a daily dose of self care and see how that changes your perspective. It may not cure her bad behavior, but it will do wonders for you!

DEAR NATALIE: My daughter-in-law hates me. I married a man with grown children. For the most part his other kids are accepting of their new situation, but this one is actively hostile. I’ve been called horrible names, shunned, left out of any social interaction and really never been given a chance. She’s rude to her father, as well, calls him names and totally refuses to visit our home. There is a grandchild, further adding to the anxiety. Is there any advice you can give me ? I know that it’s very hard to win over the stepkids, but I feel even worse for my husband who doesn’t deserve any of this. -- UGLY STEPDAUGHTER

DEAR UGLY STEPDAUGHTER: People who are openly hostile and call others names aren’t people I would want in my life, family or not. It may be that she has some underlying mental health condition that she isn’t treating, or maybe she is just like this to you and him because of a reason she is withholding. Whatever the case, don’t allow this toxic energy around you or your husband. These children are grown, so they can choose if they are a part of your life, or not, and that may be something that you and your husband have to accept. She may just not want to be a part of your life. Now, the unfortunate part is that there is a grandchild involved, but other than sending gifts at holidays and birthdays and showing up for major milestones, dance recitals, soccer games and all the good stuff in between, there isn’t much else you can do. As her child gets older, he or she may want to form his or her own independent relationship with you. Unfortunately, you won’t have much control over that except to always keep an open door and open heart. As far as the ugly stepdaughter is concerned, stop giving this energy. Take a step back and let the chips fall where they may. It’s hard when someone dislikes you for no apparent reason, but over time things may calm down and you may be able to work toward a cordial relationship. Until then, keep your opinions about her to yourself, do not confide in his other children about this and work toward having a good relationship with them. They may open the door for her to walk through at some point, anyway.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Feeling frustrated that you aren’t making meaningful connections? Think quality over quantity. Try taking contacts out for coffee to get to know them better and make follow-up plans with ones you connect with before you leave. That way, it’s in the books, and you have no reason not to follow through!

Please send your questions to

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)