My BFF's family is nuts!

She gets drawn into all their craziness. I keep telling her to butt out

By Cary Tennis
November 8, 2012 6:00AM (UTC)
main article image
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My best friend's sister has been diagnosed with cancer. She is getting treatment in another city 1,500 miles away. Her doctor has assured her that he has a 97-percent cure rate with this cancer and we are all thrilled at that news.

Their mom had heart surgery last year and has recovered at about the pace expected for her age (70). For weeks, my bestie and her siblings did not tell their mother about their sister's cancer because they didn't want to upset her. They finally had to tell Mom and she is worried (of course) and furious because she wasn't told immediately.


For the last year all I have heard is, Mom can't do this, can't be told this, can't be upset, can't cook, garden, clean like she used to and so on. Well, Mom is still able to drive and hit the bingo parlors three times a week and get her shopping and hair done, so I think Mom is doing pretty well and is no more fragile today than she was before the surgery.

My friend is worse than a mother hen. She overprotects her kids and has been banned from some activities with her grandkids because she is so interfering. There are six kids in her family and she is always getting in between feuds between siblings. When she has asked my opinion through the years I have, on several occasions, suggested she butt out. She is always shocked at this but it has never ended our friendship.

I know she is scared but this constant care giving for Mom and now Sis is ridiculous. Enough is enough. Mom has lived alone for the last 10 years and Sis has a husband at home to help her. Let these people live their lives; butt out; if they needed her they would call. A couple of the other siblings have said the same thing to her and to me.


After her last venting session I calmly said, "You choose to assist even when they say no thank you, so quit complaining about your choice." My friend is tired and struggling with depression. How can I tell her to butt out once again and have it not sound harsh? We have been friends for over 30 years and I can't stand to see her worn out and run down when she doesn't need to be.

Maybe I need to be harsh!

Dear Harsh Friend,


You have known your friend for 30 years and she is your best friend but you are not part of her family. You are a friend. You are outside the family.

As an observer outside the family you can see how crazily they are acting. What you cannot see is how you yourself have been drawn into the drama. By making your opinions known to your friend, you are participating in the family drama.


You must extricate yourself. You must slowly back away from the family.

Concentrate on your friendship with your friend. Do things with your friend that you both enjoy. If she needs to talk about her feelings toward her sister, let her talk but tell her when it is time to change the subject. Likewise if she wants to talk about her other family members, when it becomes boring and obsessive and seems to be dragging down your friendship, gently draw her interest to things outside her family.

Focus on your friend. If she is sad, or angry, or frustrated, then OK, those are her feelings. If she is hurt because of how her family is treating her, again, those are her feelings. Hear her out but do not be drawn in. Resist the temptation of the family drama.


If there are stories from your own family that you think will illuminate the situation, tell them. Look at your own family history and talk about how you dealt with similar situations. Talk about your own mother and your own brothers and sisters.

Above all, know that you cannot change your friend. You cannot stop her from acting the way she acts with her family. You can't change her any more than she can change the members of her family or they can change her or she can change you. No one can change anyone else. You can support her and be her friend. That is all.

The more enmeshed you become in her family life, the more your friendship will deteriorate. In friendship, we try to become something better than what we are in the family. We try to rise above our origins and be our true selves. So concentrate on the person that she is to you, and leave her family drama to her.

Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cancer Family Family Systems Friendship Mothers Since You Asked Sisters