DEAR ABBY: My older sister, "Katie," has three children -- an adopted son, a foster son and a biological son -- all under the age of 3. Katie and her husband took in their foster son, "Richie," only because he's the biological brother of their adopted son. They didn't know if they'd get to keep Richie or not, so Katie closed herself off to him emotionally.
During the year and a half that she has had Richie, he has become, in essence, an "invisible" child. She shows him no kindness, no positive attention and certainly no love.
I love Richie. It makes my heart ache to see him emotionally neglected. It also causes me distress to see that Katie seems blind to the way she behaves toward him. The rest of our family sees what's happening, but no one seems to know how to handle the situation.
My husband and I have been unable to have children of our own, and we currently keep Richie every weekend. We have considered taking him in ourselves, and if possible, adopting him. He loves us as much as we love him. My question is, should we (our family) stand together and try to convince Katie to open her eyes and change her ways, or would it be better for everyone involved if my husband and I were to adopt Richie? And if so, how do we do this without creating a rift in the family? -- DISTRESSED IN WISCONSIN
DEAR DISTRESSED: Whether she wants to admit it or not, your sister must be aware on some level that she's unable to love Richie as she does the other boys. I recommend that you take it slowly: The first thing that you, your husband and the extended family could do would be to "sympathize" with Katie about how hectic her life must be with three tiny toddlers on her hands. Suggest that you'd be happy to "lighten her load" by taking Richie more often. (You may find that she'll be delighted.)
Once you have established that routine, begin mentioning how hard it is for you and your husband to see him go home. After that, the next logical step would be to offer to adopt the boy -- which might provide your sister with the "out" she needs.
If she's open to it -- and let's pray that she is -- you won't have to inform child protective services that the boy is being emotionally starved and neglected. If she's not, I hope you will step in on his behalf anyway, because the damage your sister is doing to that child will affect his view of himself and the world for the rest of his life.