Dear Savvy Auntie,

My eldest brother, who is five years older than me, lost his wife to breast cancer when my niece was just turning four and my nephew was one-and-a-half. My brother had a complete meltdown and over-dosed and then landed after several inpatient stays. He got his license suspended because he was in more than eight car accidents after rehab - which didn't work because he left early and refused family therapy.

Every week there's a catastrophe. This has gone on for 15 years. We are, as a family, not knowing what to do. He doesn't parent and, despite me and my parents going to therapy, he lets them do whatever they want.

Now at age 52, he has his girlfriend tricked that none of this has gone on, and she wants a child ASAP. During the entire time my eldest brother was on drugs, then rehab, I stayed at my parents home to help and established a very tight bond with the children. I even stopped dating and never had my own kids because as soon as I got in a relationship, everything went chaotic again, from car accidents to psych holds for my brother so the kids lived with my parents and I was there everyday.

But now, and the last many years, the drug addict brother wouldn't allow me to see the kids unless my parents were there. I cannot take them anywhere or do anything with them because as I am told my brother is afraid I will tell the children what really did happen with him but I haven't. As of the last few years, the children are pulling away from me and I am crushed. Their father, my brother, and his deceased wife were mentally ill. My brother, who was in 90 day detox, feels I will tell them but I haven't. I should be able to continue the very, very close relationship with them. I've never missed a sports event, school function, etc. I am crushed, and to make matters worse, I am a psychologist so I am sure what I am seeing is correct.

Please shed some light how to keep the closeness I had with my niece and nephew. I can't take it anymore with my niece now 15 and my nephew 13. I did everything with them and my mother and father. The kids know none of this and their father and my parents want it that way. I've never spoken badly about their father, and my middle brother, who has been missing the family drama til now, is the one who the kids confide in.

Distressed Aunt

Dear Distressed Aunt,

What a painful situation. It is important that you recognize that children don't necessarily connect to the most healthy family member at any given time. Keep in mind that teenagers are immersed in their own developmental challenges and that includes pulling away from some family that they were connected to when they were younger. Try very hard not to take it personally and continue being available on their terms and in their time. Their appreciation and gratitude may take some time.

The dilemma about revealing the history of their parents is a very difficult one! Rather than telling them about drug use, car crashes, alcohol abuse and other sordid facts is well-intentioned. However, since they have not inquired, you will, again, have to wait. When they are ready, they will bring it up. In the meantime, take this time to reclaim your personal and professional life. You have sacrificed a great deal on their behalf in the past. By doing so you will be serving as a strong healthy role model for them to emulate as role models for them as adults.

I wish you the best of luck.

Natalie Robinson Garfield ,

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