DEAR AMY: I have a niece who has lost custody of all of her children (she has seven). She has never been able to take care of herself, is addicted to methadone and I know uses other drugs. She and the father of baby No. 7 have again asked me for money, this time to help pay rent at her uncle's house. I have never been able to say no; often I just pay the bill — I try not to send cash. My friends and some professionals have told me I should not enable them, but I feel it would have weighed less on my heart to pay. I know the cost of their cigarettes alone is enough to pay half their rent. I am angry that she has hurt her children. I love her dearly, and I know her two oldest kids worry about her. She obviously has mental illness and has resources available to her but has never completely utilized these services. My focus has been toward the children, but she is still family. What do you advise? — Burnt Out Auntie
DEAR BURNT OUT: Why should your niece utilize any social services when she has you Until you admit and take ownership for the part you have played in contributing to this mess, you will not be able to behave differently. The way I see it, your cash infusion is really not about your niece, but about you. You write a check to avoid feeling bad about yourself. Somebody in this scenario has to muster up the sheer guts it takes to tolerate feeling unsure, guilty, worried or anxious. Your niece is obviously incapable of doing anything except feeding her own addiction. You're going to have to stop helping her be an addict. Other than helping her navigate through the social services network and taking her to a clinic for a birth control consultation, you should not contribute. Behind many addicted people is a wonderful and concerned family member (like you) who will literally — as addictions specialists say — "love their family member to death." If you had never paid their bills, this couple might have been forced to choose between cigarettes and a roof over their heads. If you are worried about the children, then stay connected to them. Bailing out their mother does absolutely nothing for them.
DEAR AMY: I'm having an argument with an acquaintance. Can you mediate? I contend that my life sucks, for the following reasons: A car accident has left me in constant, permanent pain. My crazy stalker ex-husband has custody of my son, and I pay child support. My ex keeps taking me to court for more. Due to the above, my credit is trashed. I have lost two good friends in the last year (they no longer talk to liberals). I have no family. I have next-to-no retirement savings, and I'm 50. My boyfriend just dumped me. Due to the above, I no longer have anyone to collect my insurance if I die. Oh, and I just found out I have heart disease. My acquaintance says that this is just the "bad side of normal," and that on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm a 4. I say I'm more like a 3. Am I just being a big baby? Or do I deserve some props for hanging in there? — Wondering
DEAR WONDERING: I'm giving you a 3 — and major props for hanging in there. Now that you have validation, you must ask yourself: What can I do differently to feel better about my own life? If you have a sense of purpose and a capacity to give and receive love, then you have a lot.
DEAR AMY: "J" wondered if his ex-girlfriend of many years should maintain a relationship with his daughter. You were spot on with your answer! I had several stepparents (and stepfamilies) that once the relationships ended, I never saw again. I thought this was how you dealt with everything until I met a friend who kept in touch with me after college. I have now learned the value of long-term bonds. — Better Connected in CO
DEAR BETTER CONNECTED: Secure and thoughtful parents are not threatened by the presence of other loving adults in a child's life.
(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamytribune.com. You can also follow her on Twitter askingamy or "like" her on Facebook. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)