Ben Claassen III (For Express)

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Q. I have reason to believe that my sister is not really working, even though she claims she is. She’s always bounced around jobs a lot after graduating high school. She’s done a few courses at community college but never really follows through and is living with our parents. She worked retail for a while but is now just really vague about it. My parents have her being employed as a condition of living there, and I think she’s lying to them. —Suspicious

We all have a right to be vague about our jobs at times, right? (Hey, no need to know what really happens when the soup gets sent back.) Unless your parents have specifically anointed you the officer in charge of checking your sister’s employment records, or at the very least asked your opinion, then I’m not seeing a compelling reason for you to intervene between your sister and your parents. Why not start a real conversation with her? And instead of framing it as an investigation, view it as an opportunity for you to understand her better, and strengthen your relationship. How about a genuine “How are you doing? Tell me what’s going on in your life.” Not as a cover story to find out damning information, but as a real interest in listening. If she’s struggling enough to be lying about unemployment, she could likely use an ear.

The steamroller in the family

Q. I have a toxic mother-in law. She grabs my newborn away from me or others whenever the baby starts crying, stating that she can best quiet the baby’s cries. Additionally, she’s loud and tends to dominate conversations. She said she’s planning to stay with us for 6-7 months after our new baby girl’s birth. Unfortunately, my wife implicitly takes her mom’s side by never objecting to her boorish behavior. What do I do? Just suck it up for the next 6-7 months? —Stomped On

With that kind of pain tolerance, you should be a kidney stone surrogate!

I don’t follow how her declaring that she’ll stay for 6 months automatically makes it true. Whatever implicit permission she thinks she has received, it has to be revoked. Or is your wife giving the A-OK? Speaking of your wife, you two have to form a united front here, because standing together as a team for the sake of your child is Parenting 101. If you don’t set boundaries, your mother-in-law will continue to steamroll, undermining you both. So, crucial question: Does your wife just never outwardly object, or is she actually OK with this behavior? Getting her buy-in is imperative, so you need to know whether to start with her understanding how hurtful this behavior is to you both, or if she’s ready to get some help in being assertive with her mother (or at least allowing you to be her voice, in the beginning). Depending on her willingness to engage in this (no-doubt hairy) potential conflict, it may help to see a counselor — either together or her alone, since her mother’s probably been steamrolling her for decades.

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

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