Hi, Carolyn: My sister, “Sarah,” is turning 30 soon. Except during college, she has lived with my parents rent-free her entire life. I have always taken the stance of “It’s my parents’ and sister’s business what they do,” and never brought it up.
Sarah is a kind, warm and loving person, but either due to circumstances, anxiety or lack of motivation (I’m not sure), she has remained in the same low-paying, entry-level job for the last eight years. Recently both of my parents have come separately to ask me to “talk to your sister” and encourage her to move out, but they refuse to confront her directly.
I would ask her to move in with me, but I share a one-bedroom apartment with my fiance.
What should I do? And is there anything I can do (other than financially) that would help my sister?
— Conflicted in the Midwest
Conflicted in the Midwest: Don’t throw out an excellent stance just because your parents asked you to.
This is your parents’ and sister’s business.
You also don’t know whether Sarah needs help. She could be happy in her job and content with the simplicity of her life, not to mention completely unaware that the contentment isn’t mutual. You won’t know otherwise until your parents talk to her — as it is absolutely their job to do.
Such a conversation is likely to reveal whether Sarah has been cemented in place by a problem vs. a preference, because she’ll either falter or just move out. Even then, the time to help her is when she asks you to, unless she’s plainly in trouble.
One thing you can do is something sibs in healthy families do as a matter of course: Ask about plans and hopes and dreams. Not in a judgy way — in an I-care-and-I’m-curious kind of way. “Milestone-birthday time . . . how are you doing, feeling, managing these days?”
In fact, it’s striking that you apparently haven’t asked, perhaps reflecting a family-wide aversion to speaking up. Look: Your first thought isn’t to talk to her, it’s to absorb her.
Your chances of getting good answers to loving inquiry, by the way, are inversely proportional to your certainty that only one path through life will do.
Dear Carolyn: My mom is in her mid-80s, and I find myself distancing myself more and more from her because she treats my daughter as an afterthought. She brings her other grandkids presents she makes some effort in looking for, but gives my daughter something she received as a present herself. In general, she forgets her birthdays.
I feel she doesn’t treat her as a grandchild, but as someone who happens to be related to me.
My daughter is adopted, something my parents objected to when we were looking into adoption.
I know if I broached the subject she would become very defensive and dismissive. But it’s tearing my heart to pieces for my daughter, especially since we have a very small family. Thoughts?
— Aching Heart
Aching Heart: Your heart is aching, but your mother’s doesn’t work.
Treating any child as an afterthought is cruel. Straight up.
Please trust your instinct. Disengage from your mother and tell her why. It’s not fair to your daughter to keep subjecting her to such ignorance and cruelty. A small, loving family beats an extended heartless one.