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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: My Sister Always Leaves Me Her Children

Dear Stavroula, 

I am 42 years old, I have never been married and I live with my elderly parents. My problem is with my sister. She has decided not to concern herself with our parents at all since she is divorced with three children and I am single. She considers her duty done by visiting us every Sunday for dinner. And besides that she drops off her kids every weekend so she can go out, and many times she drops them off in the afternoon during the week. Until now I have not said anything to her, because I really love my niece and nephews and I am happy to spend time with them. Recently, however, our mother became ill and is too weak to do any chores around the house, which means that I have taken them on. But my sister, instead of helping the situation with our mother a little, keeps bringing us her children, to babysit them, as if nothing happened. When I told her that this could not go on like this, she accused me of not understanding her, and that because I do not have children I do not know what it means to work and raise three young children alone. Note that I work in the public service and that my sister is a public school teacher. Also, while her children were young, our mother babysat them at our house, and I was busy with their lessons or activities, many times until late in the afternoon. I feel that my sister is selfish and ungrateful and that she is taking advantage of me but I do not want our relationship to deteriorate and our parents to be upset even more. How do I make her understand that she has to take on her responsibilities? 

Maria 

Dear Maria, 

From what you write to me, I understand that at this time you feel very tired and that you have undertaken more obligations than your own. And while you used to help your sister raise her three children, now that your mother is sick, you feel that your sister, instead of helping you, continues to burden you. 

There are people who take for granted everything they take from others and insist on taking even when others do not want to give. Many times, believing that they are more important, they focus only on their own needs, ignoring what happens to others. 

If your sister belongs to this category of people, it is very important to set your own limits and stay true to them. You will only babysit your niece and nephews when you really want to and can. 

But there is also the case that your sister has not realized how tired you really are. 

You might be able to talk to her calmly and explain in detail what your responsibilities are at the moment due to the special circumstances. Remind her that your own working hours are very demanding and that you also have the right to a personal life and rest. 

Try to express your feelings to her in a calm way and without blaming her. Emphasize more how you feel when you are tired and need to pay attention to the children and not on her own attitude. Let her know that you love your niece and nephews very much and you are happy to have them with you, but when she brings them to you without asking you, you feel bad because you do not have the energy to deal with them, but you cannot ignore them and rest. And that makes you feel very bad. 

Help her to feel how you understand her own position, raising her children alone, but you would like her to understand yours as well. Ask her to suggest ways in which she could help your situation with your mother and emphasize that any help, even the smallest, is valuable to you. 

Finally, you could make a schedule together so she knows how many times a week and when you might be able to babysit the children.  

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