Care and Feeding

Little Monsters

My sister completely ignores her sons’ terrible behavior. My mom says I’m overreacting. What can I do?

A pair of rambunctious boys and a mom ignoring them while looking at her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by STUDIOGRANDOUEST/iStock/Getty Images Plus and LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My older sister and I are very close, and I missed her terribly while she was living on the other side of the country with her kids. This past year, she was able to move within a two-hour drive from me! I was so thrilled, and we immediately began planning family outings and visits with her two sons (who are almost 7 and 5) and mine (ages 7 and 10).

Now that I see my nephews regularly, I realize that they are the most misbehaved kids I have ever encountered. I know children aren’t perfect, and mine certainly are not, but it’s bad with them: screaming and name-calling adults in the family, demanding snacks and iPad time, arguing when my sister tells them it’s time to do something, refusing to eat or eating nothing but junk and then having meltdowns because they’re hungry, hitting my kids … you get the picture.

The worst part is that my sister just ignores this behavior! She just lets her sons do whatever they want, no matter how insane the request or how rudely they’re behaving. They can’t even handle a meal in public without someone losing it and screaming and crying. Their antics drive my sons crazy. Meanwhile, my mom feels that since my kids are older, they should just tolerate their cousins, and that I’m totally overreacting when I mention the screaming, hitting, bossiness, etc.

It makes me so sad that we were all so thrilled to see my sister’s family just months ago, and now we’re avoiding get-togethers. My husband does not want to spend any part of Christmas with them. I love my big sister, and I’m scared that the kids’ terrible behavior will ruin our wonderful relationship. She seems oblivious to the fact that her kids are little monsters (sorry, had to say it!), and I feel like I’m getting no support from anyone in the family about this. What am I supposed to do?

—Aunt in Crisis

Dear AiC,

You need to find a time to speak to your sister one-on-one, in no uncertain terms, about her kids’ behavior and how it has affected you and your household. You also have to open up the space to let her talk about how her wild-ass sons’ antics have affected her, because despite how oblivious she may be acting, there’s no way she doesn’t have at least an idea that her beloved babies are a bit rowdier than their peers.

Week after week, we get letters about aggressive, seemingly out-of-control boys and the parents who seem content to look the other way as they wreak havoc on schools, families, and neighborhoods. This is not in the best interest of anyone, and I don’t need to (again) point out the countless examples of displaced, unchecked male aggression resulting in devastating consequences. You love your big sis, you’re close to her—you need to be the one to talk to her about what she’s up against. Don’t make this about confronting her or attacking her parenting skills but, instead, opening up the line of communication so that you can be supportive of her and help her identify ways to get her children in line.

Be sensitive but firm, polite but persistent. If she is unwilling to do anything about her little ones, let her know that this will affect the amount of time that you and your kids are able to spend with them. Wishing you the courage and conviction you need in order to start what may be a difficult process, but one that can restore your family and bring back that excitement you once had for getting everyone together.

—Jamilah