Ask Joey: How can I tell my sister to stop dumping her kids on me?

Joey Garcia

My 40-year-old sister is separated, dating and out of control. She is always calling to ask if I can pick up her two children, ages 7 and 9, from school so she can go to a happy hour after work. Or she wants to drop them off at my house for the weekend because she has a date. In addition to the extra gas and meals, I purchase school supplies so her kids can complete homework assignments. Managing my niece and nephew plus my own three kids is overwhelming. After I did not respond to her repeated phone calls one day, she arrived on my doorstep with her kids and their overnight bags. My husband was furious. I told my sister I can’t watch my niece and nephew unless it is a work-related emergency. She had a fit. My niece told my mother that my sister told the kids I don’t like them. What should I do?

Figure out why your husband has the good sense to be angry and why you do not. It is curious, really, that you allowed your sister to enslave you for so long. Yes, “enslave” is a strong word, and its use is intentional. Your sister may have regressed emotionally, as some people do, after their marriage collapses. She may run from one date to another, hoping to discover proof of her attractiveness and worth. Not the healthiest of behaviors, admittedly, but not uncommon post-breakups. The thing is you colluded with her. If she is older, there may be a part of you that reverts to a childhood state of obedience. If that’s the issue, consider this situation your invitation to be an adult.

Begin by setting limits. Send her an email that briefly states your understanding of her desire to socialize with other single adults (although technically, she is not yet single). State the circumstances under which you are willing to care for your niece and nephew. Be specific. Try: “We can care for them overnight at our home one Friday evening each month. We require a verbal conversation with you two days prior to iron out the details,” not: “We don’t mind watching them overnight once in a while.” Send the email, and then respect the established boundaries.

One last thing, I deeply appreciate your loving concern for your sister’s children. They are being treated poorly. Do take the time to reassure them. Explain that you enjoy having them with you but also value time spent with your own children. If their father is reliable, please clue him into your sister’s behavior. Suggest that counseling would be valuable for the children now. Without it, your sister’s preoccupation with ditching them will have a detrimental effect on their lives.

My boyfriend’s family invited his ex-girlfriend to his grandmother’s 80th birthday party in February. My boyfriend has no interest in his ex, I am certain, but it is awkward to be around her. She knows his family better than I do (they were together for six years, I have been with him for two). My boyfriend’s family invited her for Thanksgiving, too. My boyfriend told his family how uncomfortable I feel. They don’t care. Should I avoid the party?

Not if you want a long-term relationship with your boyfriend! His family genuinely likes his ex. So you should consider her kin, too. Pick the person she is closest to in the family and “pretend” a relationship. If she is friends with your boyfriend’s sister, for example, think of her as a cousin. Taking charge of your thoughts will inspire less anxiety. That means the family can get to know you at your best. As they do, remind yourself to celebrate that the girlfriend role is filled by the best candidate: you.

Meditation of the week
“The best things can’t be told. The second best are misunderstood. The third best have to do with history,” said Heinrich Zimmer, an expert on South Asian art. What do you believe?

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