DEAR MISS MANNERS: My older sister is a mean, opinionated, bossy person. To keep the peace, as children and into adulthood, I deflected or ignored her cruel actions or remarks.
The breaking point came when my 8-year-old daughter and I were invited by her and her husband to stay with them (as a rent-paying "guest") during my divorce. I was hoping that we could develop a loving family bond, and that it would be good for my daughter to have the support of family.
I was wrong. My sister and her husband looked for every opportunity to correct and lecture my daughter and myself. Towards the end of our stay, my daughter hid in our shared bedroom to avoid facing them.
I am mad at myself for being so naive and exposing my daughter to their cruelty during a time of hardship. Now, I limit my interaction with my sister and keep conversations superficial.
I know your advice is to not correct others' bad behavior. But I want to let her have it and tell her what a horrible person she has been to me, and to my daughter. She deserves it, as she is clueless. How can someone change their behavior if no one tells them it is wrong?
GENTLE READER: They cannot, but Miss Manners never banned correcting other people's behavior in all situations and all relationships. Parents correct children. Teachers correct students. Spouses and other intimates ... express their concerns -- at the right time and in a polite manner.
What she seeks to ban is self-appointed, and often uninformed, "manners police" causing a ruckus.
What, then, to say to your sister? You may take offense at specific infractions -- asking, for example, that your sister not take that tone with you (when she does). You may, privately, have a discussion about mutual respect. Or, if it has reached that point, you may break off relations.
At no point may you tell her that she is mean, opinionated and bossy, not only because it is rude (even if true), but because it will not persuade her to change her behavior.