“My Sister Is Taking Advantage of Our Elderly Parents”

I was living with my parents and two children before, during, and after an abusive marriage and contentious divorce. When the lazy ex-husband was kicked out of my parents’ home, I began to blossom. I lost a great deal of weight, went to school full-time, and started as a clerical temp at my current place of employment. I struggled, but I promised my parents their help would not be taken for granted and I would, in fact, make them proud.

After three months of being a temp and earning a low wage, I was hired full-time and received a small raise. I also got my college degree and felt I was finally seeing positive momentum after years of strife. As soon as I became a permanent employee, another position opened up and I referred my sister. She was hired on at the company full-time and made as much as I did.

As time went by, I continued to be promoted and now am in a decent role at the company. My sister changed departments, but she generally did not see big increases. She and her boyfriend moved in together and soon had their first son. A few years later, another son arrived in time for the full-blown pandemic.

My sister requested a leave of absence from work due to there being no child care during the pandemic although my retired parents always helped with her firstborn. After a full year of being on unpaid leave and receiving state unemployment benefits, she was ready to return to work, but she demanded the option to work from home several days of the week, which the company couldn’t provide, and so she quit.

At this same time, she asked my parents if her family could move in with them so that they could save money to buy a house, and they agreed. Basically, she moved in with them and quit her job all in the span of a couple weeks. My parents had no idea she had quit and were so disappointed. Fast forward three years and my sister and family are still living at my parents’ house – rent free! She had a lame little part-time position that allowed her to work from home, but she was recently let go from that due to budgetary cuts. She finally went back to school (even though I had pushed her to do online classes during the start of the pandemic), and she’s close to receiving a double associates with plans to go on to secure a bachelor’s degree.

Her lame partner has been working for an uncle for 20 years. He is 36 and my sister is 40. The uncle does not pay him OT or DT, does not pay him market wages, does not have any sort of retirement plan, and does not have medical insurance for him either. He’s constantly traveling and my sister has bouts of depression that she takes medication for. She and her family are slobs, and my mom has always been a neat freak. They do not do anything extra to keep my parents’ home in good working order and have recently made an announcement that baby number three is on its way. I can’t make this crap up.

Ironically, I have had pregnancy issues and have suffered 7 miscarriages which have caused me so much sadness, which I have shared with my sister. At minimum, I would have expected her to tell me in a private way, but she and her boyfriend swung my by my house to tell me together. Then her boyfriend asked if I was going to congratulate my sister and give her a hug (while I was too busy trying to grab my jaw off the floor).

At every turn, my sister’s decisions have disappointed me. Just the day before their news, she called me sobbing that her boyfriend didn’t have a job that provided for them, that he was being used by the uncle who has a beautiful home and two vacation homes while they can’t even have one home, that she wasn’t done with school even though she’s old, that she doesn’t have a job, and that her body was not where she wanted it to be as she has become terribly overweight.

My parents are old and tired and deserve to sunset in peace. I want to confront my sister and her boyfriend and ask them when they will be moving out: Before or after baby number three? Please help me find peace in all this. Should I confront my sister as I know my parents will never do so? — Disappointed in My Sister

If you are serious about wanting peace, I would advise doing everything you can to stop obsessing over your sister and her life and focus instead on your own life. I am sympathetic to your desire to protect your parents and I understand your feeling disappointed in your sister’s decisions, but the truth is that she’s an adult and so are your parents adults and no one here seems to need or want your help or your opinions about what you think they’re doing wrong.

Listen, it’s wonderful that you’ve done well career-wise and financially since leaving your abusive marriage. You have a lot to feel proud of, and no one can take that away from you. I understand that you feel that if you could do it, your sister should be able to do it too. I can appreciate that her not pursuing the path you think is right for her – that your wanting better for her (and her kids) – is the crux of your disappointment and frustration, especially when her decisions affect your parents. But unless her decisions are directly affecting you or endangering your parents, they’re really none of your business.

There are a whole host of reasons your sister isn’t making different decisions, including the very real possibility that “the bouts of depression that she takes medication for” are debilitating. What if you changed the lens through which you see her? What if instead of seeing someone capable who has wasted opportunities and taken advantage of support given to her, you see her as someone with a different set of challenges and limitations who is doing the best she can given the cards she was dealt? What if you saw her as someone who is on her own path – a path that may have some similarities with the path you were once on – but includes different detours?

One thing that might help you is to establish some boundaries with your sister. When she calls you sobbing about the ways her life is hard, you can say you’re busy and aren’t able to talk at the moment. I can see how being her shoulder to cry on could be exhausting and also increase your frustration when she makes the same decisions – like having another baby – that contributed to her not feeling happy and secure in her current position. But you don’t have to be her listener or therapist or sounding board. You can’t control her behavior or decisions, but you have agency over your own. You can choose how to be in her life in whatever way best supports YOUR well-being. When you ask how you can find peace, this is the way. You focus on yourself, your boundaries, and your own behavior. You focus on the things you have control over, and you grieve and let go of what you can’t.

Seeing a loved one make decisions we think are incongruent to their well-being is hard. It’s okay to feel sad and disappointed about this. So feel the feelings and then move on. Getting stuck in a cycle of disappointment and resentment serves no one. It won’t help your sister or your parents, and it will only harm your own mental health. Feel the sadness and then let it go. And then bring your attention to your own life. What are you doing each day to enrich your life? What are you grateful for? Focusing on these things will be your path to the peace you say you want.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

17 Comments

  1. Anonymousse says:

    What Wendy said.
    Find peace by minding your own business and letting the adults in your life make their own choices. No one asked for your opinion. It’s freeing when you let go.

  2. You should mind your own business. You also should realize how much help your parents extended to you and your children. You also should consider that while you complain at sister’s husband who doesn’t earn enough to support his family and enable their home purchase, that he is a hard worker, although unable to stand up to his uncle, who treats your sister well. You inflicted upon your parents a husband whom you describe as lazy and abusive. You didn’t act to resolve the situation yourself. It reached the point that your parents had to throw him out of the house and you only then successfully began the task of rebuilding your own life. Given that history and your sister’s depression, it only fair and necessary that you cut her quite a bit of slack.

    1. Anonymous says:

      It’s not entirely clear who kicked the ex out of the house. LW just said, “When the lazy ex-husband was kicked out…”

      However, if the parents did the kicking out, I think LW can take heart in the fact that the parents are not pushovers and WILL set very clear boundaries when they’ve had enough. They’ve done it before.

  3. To me, this reads more like resentment than disappointment and it’s not your place to confront her. Why are you so pressed that your sister is living with your parents when you did the same thing years earlier during your divorce? You may want to consider therapy to get to the root of these feelings.

    1. Copa —
      Living with parents during divorce seems not such a huge deal to me, but she lived with her husband and children at her parents’ house during her abusive marriage. That must have been torment for parents. When they felt the need to throw husband out, presumably because they couldn’t stand themselves and their grandkids witnessing the abuse, they must have been terrified that LW would react by following husband and taking kids with them.

      1. I mean… yes, I read and understood that. I think it’s largely irrelevant, though. Both LW and her sister moved their families in with their parents during difficult seasons of life. I don’t see the point in speculating which one was worse or harder on their parents or filling in the unknown blanks (who kicked the ex-husband out, what the parents must’ve felt, etc.).

        The disdain in the language here (“lame little part-time position”) makes me think there’s not much well-intentioned disappointment and whole lotta pent-up resentment that she perceives her sister as receiving more from her parents. She should speak to a therapist to get to the root of these feelings and develop some coping skills.

  4. golfer.gal says:

    I get how frustrating it must be to watch someone make bad decision after bad decision when you know they have both the resources and the common sense to do better.

    It sounds like you did not live independently or out of your family home until well into adulthood – after your divorce. Meaning your parents provided decades of support to you and your kids and husband – financially, emotionally, and through your abusive marriage as they took on the responsibility of dealing with/ejecting your partner. It’s wonderful that you’ve accomplished so much, and you should be proud, but I think you’ve got to extend your sister some of the grace that I’d imagine many, many people extended to you throughout your time in your parents’ home. Your sister’s living arrangements, life choices, and the kind of help she receives from your parents is between her and your parents. This is definitely not something you can confront anyone about.

    I think Wendy is correct about boundary setting – you might need some distance from your sister and this situation. Maybe approach your parents and tell them that you want to pay back some of the decades of support and generosity they showed to you, and ASK THEM what they might want from you. Pick them up and take them for a meal from time to time, or help them with yardwork, getting to appointments, or chores. Take them to a movie. Also, if you aren’t in therapy, schedule some sessions with a counselor. If I had to guess I’d say some of this is tied to needing to shore up your own self esteem, or possibly feeling more entitled to your parents’ help than your sister is/worry that she’s taking time, attention, inheritance, etc away from you. A counselor can be a good listening ear for your concerns, and also help you unpack where they’re coming from.

    1. Disappointed says:

      I appreciate all the feedback and comments. I do not appreciate the assumptions, of which there are plenty being shot around. For the record, I gifted my parents a car, frequently slide them some money, help them pay for vacations and other nice gifts. But you are all correct. It’s not my monkey, not my circus. It was not decades of help, but it was help. For which, I am eternally grateful. I kept my word and I am old school like that. And now, like Doby, I am free. Free of this chaos and free to enjoy my days, nights and weekends with my new husband, home, 6-figure income and all the flexibility in the world to get and do what I please. This girl is throwing up the dueces ✌🏼 and will laugh when they all come crying to me…as they always do, only to run into my newly drawn boundaries. Gracias.

      1. “will laugh when they all come crying to me”

        …yeah, I stick by my assumption that there is deep resentment here.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree with Wendy.
    I’d add that your parents sound like generous and loving people.
    You and your sister are lucky to have them.
    Maybe keeping that in mind and showing them extra gratitude will help all of you find some peace.

  6. Disappointed:
    Your extra information did not rebut anything posted here. Nobody suggested you were a financial leech on your parents. I do think that you greatly underestimate the emotional strain you put on your parents by bringing a lazy and abusive spouse into their house and then forcing them to solve that problem because, for whatever reason, you failed to act on your own. I suspect that was more awful for your parents than the sloppiness of your sister’s family. It must be horrific to have to up-close-and-personal witness the abuse of your daughter under your own roof. Your parents acted when they just couldn’t take it any longer.

    It’s good that you’ve been able and willing to help your parents financially. I don’t think your brag about your current 6-figure income strengthens your argument in any way.

    1. Disappointed says:

      Too much to read but will add that this situation has caused my mother to fall into a deep depression. She has explicitly stated this to me. So if I come off salty or “resentful” I suppose I am. And with every right to be. This situation transects much more than a surface posts and delves into a cultural component as well. Also, for people who say mind your own, ya’ll are pretty judgy and invested too. I believe I’ve struck a chord. Certainly you must all be perfect.

      1. Or… OR… maybe someone who has struggled with resentment can sniff it out in others? Just a wild thought. Nobody is being mean to or judging you. The suggestion of therapy was because resentment only hurts you and that’s a better use of your time than waiting around to get the last laugh. You do you, though.

      2. Anonymous says:

        “for people who say mind your own, ya’ll are pretty judgy and invested too.”

        The difference is you came here asking for advice. Your sister hasn’t asked you for advice, and it doesn’t sound like your parents have either.

  7. HeartsMum says:

    MYOB isn’t someone saying you’re being nosey, or your feelings are unacceptable. You asked, how can you get peace? The very hard but simple answer is to pay this attention you are paying your sister instead to things you can influence and/or enjoy. A garden grows where it’s watered; right now you are giving weeds all the water. If you want people to just say how awful your sister is, you’re in the wrong place.

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  9. It sounds to me like you know WAY too much of what is going on with your sister and your parents. Your parents must be complaining to you. Next time they complain, you can respond simply that if they don’t like how the living situation is going, they can ask her to move out. If they won’t do that, there is nothing you can do. Tell them this is NOT your problem to solve and you can not be the sounding board for their problems with her anymore. Then when they complain again (and they will), just repeat like a broken record.

    “I will not be your sounding board for these problem and this isn’t my problem to solve”

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