February 27, 2010



Surprisingly (to me, at least), the topic of a guardianship has been quite a nag. Pretty much everyone knows the story of my mom's supposed guardianship over my finances while I was in college and how that fiasco played out. But a new version has cropped up, involving my 22-year old sister.

(Goddamn history repeating itself. I wish things would just happen once and then be done.)

The difference between my story and my sister's is my mom had a legal right to do what she did (even if it was shitty), whereas my sister is subject to control not by a parent, but by our dad's latest girlfriend. Shocked? Me too.

For probably very prudent reasons my sister moved in with our dad and our youngest sister. I think it's great my two sisters are living together at last. There was a verbal agreement that my sister would follow basic house rules and adhere to a written agreement set up between them. But when she moved in she was handed a contract written in highly legal terms that designated our dad and his girlfriend (who, by the way, does not live at the house) as her guardians. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Seriously.

Though an agreement of some sort is probably wise, I think a signed legalistic contract is going a bit far when it's your daughter who has in all cases proven to be a very responsible adult for nearly a year, after suffering the debilitating effects of a crumbled engagement, alcoholic mother, absent father, distant sister, and split family. Furthermore, the term guardian is a legally charged one. The following paragraphs are taken from the book I just finished:
There are two levels of social welfare protection- trusteeship and guardianship.
A trustee steps in to offer voluntary help for individuals who, for various reasons, have problems managing their daily lives, paying their bills, or taking proper care of their hygiene. The person who is appointed as a trustee is often a relative or close friend. If there is no-one close to the person in question, the welfare authorities can appoint a trustee. Trusteeship is a mild form of guardianship, in which the client– the person declared incompetent– still has control over his or her assets and decisions are made in consultation with the trustee.
Guardianship is a stricter form of control, in which the client is relieved of the authority to handle his or her own money or to make decisions regarding various matters. The exact wording states that the guardian shall take over all of the client's legal powers... The most common reason for a guardianship is mental illness or mental illness in conjunction with heavy abuse of alcohol or drugs. A smaller group includes those suffering from dementia. Many of the individuals under guardianship are relatively young– thirty-five or less...
Taking away a person's control of her own life– meaning her bank account– is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it applies to young people. It is an infringement even if the intent may be perceived as benign and socially valid.
Though these paragraphs refer to Swedish welfare in a novel, the concept is identical. A "family meeting" of sorts was held when I visited last weekend and I was asked (by my sisters) to sit in on it. It's well known among us that I have the greatest amount of control over our dad and the middle sister has the greatest say in matters involving our mom. When I brought up the legal meaning of the word guardian our dad's girlfriend admitted maybe she should have used a different word, like landlord. Then we asked why, exactly, she felt entitled to any control whatsoever over our dad's adult children.

Some background: From where we stand, we will honor and respect any relationship our parents have because they deserve to have someone to love and love them back. But the buck stops there. No relationship our parents have will be anything more than their relationship. If our dad marries this woman she will be our dad's wife. Not our stepmom. She took no part in raising us, is not a mother figure, and is not getting any sort of title implying otherwise. Same for our mom: when she remarries that man will be simply her husband, not our stepdad. Our youngest sister is months away from being a legal adult and already acts like one; she got the short end of the stick by being 10 when our parents divorced, but our mom did a great job with us older kids and we in turn did a pretty good job with her. However, since the divorce our parents have completely abandoned us at least once for a lover. We've learned that those relationships don't last (even if they are adamant they will) and us sisters will always be there for each other.

So when the youngest of us asked our dad's girlfriend what gave her the right to have any control over us (I was so proud!), she said our dad had asked her to take charge. I was so unsurprised. Our dad has a long history of no backbone. When he realized the divorce meant he actually had to be a parent he freaked. He has his moments of awesome, but he's so willing to listen to anyone else when it comes to parenting that he flip flops all over the moon. First he wants to practice tough love, then he wants to be your best friend, then he's swearing off dating, then he's leaving you with no dinner so he can go on a date with some wench who plays him. The only consistency we see is his inconsistency. Which is why, very bravely, our youngest sister said she can't get real close with some girl our dad is dating. When you look at the history of our family's relationships you can see why: marriage fell apart, our mom lived with a man who cheated on her and got engaged soon after, our dad bounced from woman to woman, the middle sister was once engaged, and even I thought my last relationship would be it. Life just doesn't work that way, and we've all learned the hard way.

Us sisters are incredibly protective of each other. If our mom did only one thing right it was to encourage such a strong bond between us. It's unbreakable; we even go so far to consider our "family" to be mostly just us. We truly embody the idea of a family, whereas our parents sometimes do more talking about family than acting like one. I can't imagine anything that would change our bond, and I wouldn't want a life without them.

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