DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am afraid I did a bad thing, and I am not sure how to fix it -- or even if I should try.
We have a family member, an elderly woman in poor health, who has an addictive personality. She has overcome substance abuse, but has substituted other destructive habits. The hallmarks of her behavior include poor decision-making that leads to financial hardship and a huge sense of entitlement.
We do not mind helping, say, with a month of Meals on Wheels when she is down on her luck, but we recognize that enabling her beyond ensuring she has the essentials for survival is a bad idea. So we are constantly saying no to outrageous demands for money and luxuries -- things that would be far beyond our means and that, in truth, would not satisfy her cravings or make her happy. At least not for long. We try to be firm, but polite and calm.
She came up with a new expectation -- the biggest, most shocking and selfish yet -- and she presented it in front of a group and during a conversation that had nothing to do with her situation. It took me by surprise, and for the first time ever, I answered without thinking, just blurting out what I really thought.
My answer was brief, and I did not attack her character or raise my voice, though my shock was evident. But I spoke my unfiltered truth.
I know it hurt her deeply, and since I said it in front of her friends, it was undoubtedly humiliating for her. I do care about this lady, though I disagree with her lifestyle choices and her ethics. I do not want to be the cause of a family rift.
But nor do I wish to back away from the clear point I made: that we will not be used and taken advantage of. How would Miss Manners handle this challenging situation?
GENTLE READER: "I am sorry that I spoke sharply. That was wrong. But I am afraid that we are not in a position to help with certain situations -- and this one struck me as particularly extreme."
Your relative may well take this as a financial declaration and choose to challenge it. But Miss Manners assures you that you do not need to defend the specific circumstances of your position -- just that you have the right to politely assert one.