Dear Amy:

I come from a big family, and we all come together on Christmas Eve every year.

I plan on holding the event at my new house this year, but there is a problem.

My brother's teenage daughter has been having drug problems for the past couple of years and has now reverted to stealing money, jewelry and medication from her parents.

She was recently caught stealing cash and winning lottery tickets from my sister's house, has run up her mother's credit card at the mall and has stolen checks totaling more than $1,000.

I have jewelry, medications and checkbooks in the upstairs of my house. There will also be numerous purses belonging to my guests around the house, and I'd hate to have to lock them up.

Is there a way to put it across to her parents that she is not invited to the celebration, without being rude?

Confused in Massachusetts

This isn't a question of rudeness. You need to acknowledge your niece's drug addiction, which apparently is out of control. You shouldn't place her in a situation where she will have access to medications, cash or anything else that she might be tempted to steal.

I called Jeff VanVonderen, an "interventionist," whose work is featured on the television show "Intervention" (A&E). VanVonderen works with families at the front line of addiction and suggests that people facing this situation should ask themselves this question: "What other person in that condition on the planet would you allow in your house?" VanVonderen continues, "I'm guessing you wouldn't allow a friend, neighbor or stranger in this condition into your house. Family members are supposed to be safer, and more accountable, than strangers. Don't give your niece a license to be less safe and less dependable than you would trust a stranger to be."

"If you really want to show your solidarity as a family, give her an intervention as a Christmas present, not your jewelry, cash or your medication."

People don't become less addicted at Christmastime. Their problems and their needs don't diminish with the holidays -- in fact, the holidays can inflame these problems.

Your niece should stay home this year.

In case you might be tempted to turn your holiday party into a family intervention, you should know that interventions are serious business and should be guided by a professional.

Dear Amy:

Responding to "Low Voiced," who is bothered by being mistaken for a man on the phone, I, too, get more than a little irritated when someone refers to me as "Sir."

My comeback is always, "The last time I checked, I was still female."

The apologies make my day.

The Comeback Kid in D.C.

I like it. It's short, to the point and ever so slightly snappish. A perfect comeback.

Dear Amy:

In a recent column, "Stumped Stepmom" wrote about the dilemma of the Christmas budget.

I agree with your approach to spend equally on all of the children, and to use family gifts for children with spouses and grandchildren, but I would also like to add a suggestion from my family.

Our practice is that the grown-up siblings no longer exchange presents with every other sibling, and instead, we take turns and give a gift to only one other sibling (and their family).

My family has instituted this rule, with a monetary limit, because of the pressure the siblings felt upon marriage into other large families.


I like this. In my family, all of the young cousins "draw" a name of another young cousin to give a gift to. The cousin's family spends a little more money on that gift and the kids aren't overwhelmed with presents on Christmas morning.

I love it when families get together to come up with common-sense solutions that then become cherished traditions.

(c)2005 by the Chicago Tribune

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