(Illustration by Ben Claassen III for Express)
Express Advice Columnist

Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.

Q. My sister-in-law recently signed on to a multilevel marketing scheme for cosmetics products. Now all of our conversations revolve around that, and she and my brother are pushing me hard not only to buy these products, but to become a distributor. I am absolutely not interested, but she keeps trying, like wanting me to host a party for her products. I’ve tried what I thought was a firm “no” but the pleas don’t stop. It has gotten very awkward, especially because my brother is making me feel guilty for not “supporting” her.

One person’s “firm no” is as polite as an offer of tea, whereas another person’s may lead to an arrest warrant. It’s clear by their persistence, though, that you can afford to get firmer. Address the big picture: “I’m sorry if there’s been a misunderstanding.

This isn’t something I’m going to be involved with, and I don’t want to lead you to believe otherwise.” Maybe this is not immediately acceptable and they need some time to reckon with it. But if you’re respectful and clear, then you can remove yourself politely from further obligations to discuss it, as you’ve done your part.

Without her, we aren’t a family

Q. My mother died four years ago and it was devastating. As I have worked through it, I’ve come to realize that I really don’t have anything in common with my siblings or even my father. My mother was the heart of our family. She kept us together. Her love for us kept us connected, but now that that has gone, my brother and sister make zero effort to keep in touch, my father has very little interest in more than five minutes on the phone, and I don’t really miss them as much as I feel I should. I keep thinking about how my mother would be devastated. Togetherness and family were everything to her. But I also feel like I cannot pretend that there is something there that is not — and do that for decades with my siblings.

I’m truly sorry for the loss of your mom. Just like there is no “right” way to grieve, there is also no “right” way to re-establish — or not — your relationships with your father and siblings. Some people may find meaning in trying to connect after such a loss, with the attempts feeling purposeful and aligned with their values. Other people may find meaning in choosing to accept the reality of the relationships as they are — with them living life on their own terms, and reserving energy for what feels fruitful, more meaningful. Either way can still align with honoring your mother, if it’s authentic to you. Just keep in mind that your relationships with them may go through continued change. Just because you accept some limitations now, and choose to opt out of a certain amount of extra attempts at connection doesn’t mean you can’t leave yourself open to deeper relationships with them in the future. In short: Don’t be the one to shut the door, but don’t exhaust yourself beating it down either.

Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at baggage@wpost.com. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.

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