Parenting

Ask Scary Mommy: I'm Feeling The Strain Of My Sister's Poor Choices

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Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: What do you do when you feel like your sibling’s life choices are totally off the rails? Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My younger sister (by 3 years) and her husband have a big family, 6 kids under 12. I have 3 kids, and we are all very close. We live right down the street from each other and our mom and we are together all the time. I love my life with them. The issue is that my sister is maxed out physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. And yet, she wants to have more kids. Normally this wouldn’t be any of my business, right? But I see her struggling, and 6 kids is a handful as it is even with our help and support, and then I see her saying she wants to have a “few more before I hit 40’” and it doesn’t seem to align with reality. Her husband seems to agree, but also won’t flat out tell her “no” and says it is “ultimately up to her.’” They don’t have religious beliefs that prevent them from using birth control methods, vasectomy, or any of that. My mom and I both help them financially when we can, and we will keep doing that as needed, but the whole situation seems like it’s going to boil over if she keeps adding more humans to the equation. My question is, do we have an intervention? I know she will be hurt and angry. Or do we say nothing at all and just keep doing what we can to help? It’s disheartening to feel this way, but not sure if there’s an appropriate way to broach the subject.

Ugh – I know you’re in a sticky wicket here, and that you only want the best for your sister. But ultimately, the only person responsible for guiding her reproductive choices is, well, her (and her husband, of course, but it sounds like he’s just kind of along for the ride). So as hard as it may be to bite your tongue, it is what it is.

Now, it may be a little different situation if you and/or your mom are spreading your own resources thin in order to help your sister’s family. Helping out is one thing, but if you’re constantly finding yourself spending money or time you don’t really have in order to bail her out of a tight spot, and if it’s putting a strain on your own life or financial wellbeing, you’re certainly within your rights to bring that up to your sister. Not in the context of “don’t have any more freaking kids” — because again, her choice — but in the context of “I love you and I love to help you out, but it’s getting tough and becoming a drain.”

Being a support system is vastly different than being an enabler, and if your help is becoming your sister’s crutch, it’s time to have a serious chat (just be sure it’s presented in a non-accusatory way, because you don’t want her to get defensive and shut down before any productive discussion happens). If she is constantly making decisions that force you to step in, you can absolutely bring that up.

But, if you’re just helping out in the way family does, there’s really nothing you can do about your sister’s wish to give birth to a baseball team, even if you think it’s a terrible idea. I totally get that you’re just seeing things sensibly, and you’re probably right — but if she and her husband want to juggle the stress and demands of an ever-growing family, that’s their prerogative. Family planning is an intensely personal choice, and there’s probably a lot of reasoning behind her choices that you aren’t even aware of.

If she does end up expanding her family again, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to realize that since this is their choice, it is also their situation to deal with – not yours. Create some healthy boundaries and stick with them. You don’t have to feel obligated to help beyond your comfort level.

You love your sister, and your nieces and nephews. And you’ll love any new nieces and nephews too. Just remember that love doesn’t mean self-sacrifice, and it’s okay to stop bailing your sister out of any messes of her own creation.