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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Carolyn Hax: Niece knows level of breakup distress

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: My sister who lives overseas (for her husband’s job) just emailed our younger sister and me: Her 20-something daughter is distraught after being dumped four weeks ago by her first serious boyfriend. My niece, who’s lived for a year now in a major city a six-hour drive from each of us, works the job of her dreams and has a strong network of friends.

Overseas Sister wants U.S. Sister and me to go to niece and comfort her. I’ll check in with niece tonight, and, if she’s honestly as bad off as my sister said, I’ll go visit her this weekend.

But if niece protests that she’s fine … how hard do I push to “come to her aid”? I have a feeling Overseas Sister, who tends to have a much more direct, forceful reaction to other people’s problems than I do, won’t be satisfied if I email back and say, “Talked to niecie-poo. She said she’s sad but will be OK.”

I trust my niece’s assessment of her own mental state better than her mom’s … but I also want to do right by everyone involved. – B.

For the love of premium ice cream in handy single-serving pints, it’s a breakup, not a terminal diagnosis.

To do right by “everyone involved,” please recognize the aforementioned, and also that your niece is the only one involved. Her relationship, her breakup, her distress, her decisions.

“Involved” beyond that is available by your niece’s invitation only.

“Over-involved” is anything undertaken on your niece’s behalf to satisfy the control or guilt-relief needs of anyone besides your niece.

Can a faraway mom ask nearer-by proxies to call her daughter, and can said proxies place the call, without crossing into over-involvement? Sure, if all would-be helpers assume the daughter is a competent enough adult to handle this, unless and until she reveals to them otherwise. “Hey, need a shoulder? I’m free this weekend.”

That doesn’t promote you to involved; that merely announces you as available to be involved, appropriate aid for a heartsick adult.