I think I goofed up with my sister


My sister and her husband help me to understand what Jesus meant when He said that we will always have the poor among us. They live marginal lives. They just don’t seem to have the skills to support themselves. They are like teenagers in maturity despite being in their upper thirties.

My parents have always helped support my sister. Since her marriage four years ago, they built a house (in trust) for her where she lives with her husband, two very young sons and her stepdaughter. They co-signed a loan with my BIL for a truck which he has not made one payment. My dad has bought a lot of equipment that my BIL uses in his erratic handyman business. My BIL has had two regular jobs in the last four years–he can’t seem to keep a job for more than a few weeks. Their tax refund always goes for back child support that my BIL doesn’t pay throughout the year. My sister doesn’t work. My BIL won’t watch the little boys. And, she has trouble with migraines and fatigue. After her the first little boy was born, she had an aneurysm burst and almost died. Since then, she’s been rather frail. She also has a lot of anxiety.

This past winter my BIL stole some money from my 97 year old grandmother. It wasn’t the first time, but it was more than usual, and it was more obvious. Also, he is always trying to weasel money out of her. At that point my parents stopped paying their utilities and insurance and giving them money for this or that. They still pay the property taxes and the truck payment and don’t charge them rent.

They wanted to force my BIL to go to work. He also isn’t allowed near my grandma without my mom or dad present.

Anyway, their phone was turned off. They went on Medicaid and food stamps.

Here’s where I messed up. My sister has this idea that we are in a similar financial situation as they are. I don’t know where they have this idea. We live a very modest lifestyle with our one income and six kids, but we support ourselves and do fine. She’s frequently telling me that we should get medicaid–despite the fact I told her we have very good insurance through our union. And, lately, she’s been telling me that we should apply for food stamps.

Yesterday, out of irritation, I told her what we made this year. She blinked and looked humilitated. I think it comforted her to think that I was on the same financial level as she. I feel awful. I know when she heard what we make, it sounded like a fortune to her–she wouldn’t think of all the bills we pay.

I don’t know how to encourage my sister in her life. She’s so negative. I’ve stopped giving her advice and just offered to help her by babysitting whenever she needs me. But, she never asks. My husband can’t stand my BIL (well, who could?), so I don’t think we could have them over. My BIL makes my sister go everywhere with him. She has to go with him to the doctor or appointments or the store–so, they are a package deal.

Any advice? Words of encouragement?



You mistake laziness and selfishness for being poor. Your sister and BIL are not “poor”, they are loafers, and your parents are enablers.

You have nothing to feel guilty about, and have no need to feel bad that you and your husband do well and support yourselves.

Perhaps your sister needed to hear that you are self-supporting to wake up and stop mooching off your parents.

You wrote,* “I don’t know how to encourage my sister in her life.”* Well, she doesn’t want to be encouraged. She doesn’t want to change. She likes it right where she is, living off your parents and my tax dollars.

I’m sorry that you sibling and her husband have such poor character and lack any desire to be productive citizens. The only encouragement I can offer is that YOU are not doing anything wrong by being the opposite, and you have NOTHING to feel bad about because you and your spouse make more money than they do.


I agree that my parents are enablers, but they can’t stand the thought of their grandchildren being homeless. I think they are seeing the light, though.

Lazy is part of it. I know that my brother in law passes some days doing “paint by numbers”–I kid you not.

But, he also is, er, not very bright and is the clearest example of adult attention deficit I’ve ever seen. And, my sister would benefit from anxiety medication.

They both don’t have very good social skills. They say inappropriate things in conversation. They can’t read people.

Even if they both had great work ethics, they would struggle.


I…wow. The cutouts I’ve quoted are big red flags for me. I wonder if there’s more going on that you don’t know about, and if your sister is afraid to leave.

There’s no reason to hide your lifestyle from your sister. She made the choices she did and continues to make those choices. Her lifestyle is not normal or healthy, and perhaps realizing that others close to her live differently will at least make her stop and think. All you can do is offer to help (which you have), be a good listener, help your niece and nephews as much as you are able and allowed, and pray a LOT. If your BIL pulls another criminal stunt, don’t hesitate to call the cops and file charges. Just because he’s legally family doesn’t mean that he can do whatever he wants to the rest of you. Being semi-cut off by your parents may not be enough. He knows your family will not totally leave him stranded, the kids are his bargaining chip and he knows all of you won’t let them starve. He may need to deal with the law to get it to sink in, kind of like obnoxious teenagers who only turn around when faced with a tough-love approach.


I think stealing from the grandmother is elder abuse and should be reported to the appropriate Social Service Agency. Let them be the bad guys.


I don’t know why my sister chooses these losers.

My grandma would be crazy upset if they prosecuted my BIL. She actually is well off after inheriting several 100,000 a few years ago. So my BIL thinks that it’s okay to take it.

My sister and her husband have this entitlement attitude. They think if someone else has money and doesn’t need it as much as they do–it should be given to them. But my sister would never steal or lie to get it.

My sister is rather isolated. I told her if she wanted to go a CRHP weekend retreat, I’d watch the kids. I really want her to go and make some friends. Her 40th birthday is next week and I’m taking her out to dinner. I offered to throw her a small party, but she said frankly that she didn’t have any friends.

Isn’t that sad? It breaks my heart.

I want to reach out to her, but I don’t want to have much to do with BIL.

I’m always so upset after I visit them. That is what is driving this thread. I’m just upset.


I would do nothing to contribute to making it easy on your BIL. There are little signs that your sister is in an abusive relationship that your family should not be supporting. I would just give your sister your emotional support and try to find ways to help her be more independent and not so isolated. Although, you’ve got to realize that you can’t help her if she doesn’t want help. From what you say, it sounds like that is the case. Never underestimate the power of prayer though. That is probably the best thing that you can do for her, pray that she actually learns from the hard lessons that she is being given. Pray that she wakes up and actually lives life.


She has chosen badly before this? Red flags! Why does she do this? Low self esteem?

And the mistake is letting your sister and BIL know what she has. It is grandma’s and not BIL’s and grandma is free to spend it as she wishes, not to keep bailing out their family. At some point someone has to tell them the facts of life… it doesn’t belong to them!

Yet she knows what her husband is doing… isn’t she just as guilty? I would worry that your sister now knows how much your family makes. You should probably expect monetary requests from her now.

Yes it is sad that she has made the choices she has… and I can see how you can feel helpless to assist her in any way. I had a friend like this…wrong guy, steals, won’t hold down a job… and all her gf’s were helping her out because of the kids. Until one day one of my other friends gave her money for her bills and went over to see her… she wanted more money for diapers but had Disney channel on her cable… actually she had all the pay channels! When she came to me and asked what she should do I told her not to give her money. If she needs diapers, give her a small pack of diapers, offer her rides to job interviews, be there for the kids but DON’T GIVE MONEY!!! After all the money dried up, this woman ended up dumping the deadbeat guy, got a job and straightened up a bit. Last I saw of her she actually had a decent boyfriend and her kids seemed to like him. Your sister might have to get to this point too. Sorry it is always hard but it seems to be necessary.


This is really good advice. In fact, in our parish’s St. Vincent de Paul conference, this is how we deal with requests for money to buy necessities or to pay bills. We determine that there is a need, and then we give things like vouchers for grocery stores, the SVDP thrift store, a local food bank, a free meal at a restaurant that helps us out, or bus tickets, or we will write checks for specific amounts and mail them ourselves to the mortgage company, energy company, etc. We’ll put them up in a local motel for a night or several, help them fill out applications for used car vouchers, pick up and pay for prescriptions for them. We never just give money because we might just be enabling them to be irresponsible or worse.


Sometimes people who inwardly know they are living their life in a purposefully disappointing manner, seem to want affirmation for their poor choices and try to relate with people around them for whom they perceive as likewise screwing up. It normalizes their odd behavior and poor choices, making them feel better about themselves and comfortable in their self-made situation.

Personally, I think you did your sister a favor in reminding her that SOME people work hard to support themselves and their own families. That your husband is a good provider and that your home isn’t in jeopardy and that food stamps aren’t something you need at the moment. Of course she has no idea what actually supporting a family would cost, since she and BIL live off of other people’s generosity, so of COURSE whatever your husband makes would sound like a fortune. The rest of us in the real world know that six kids aren’t cheap, mortgages are expensive and bills add up.

Of course, as someone else pointed out, once she recovers from her shock and goes back into victim-mode, the “I need money!” requests might begin. Be prepared to field those.


My BiL and sister stopped by to visit yesterday. It was really odd because it was the first time. It was a very pleasant visit. They came at the dinner hour, :rolleyes: so we ended up ordering pizza, but they did bring drinks with them. The first thing my sister said, “What happened to your furniture?”

I had to laugh inwardly because we are in a furniture “crisis” right now. We don’t buy our furniture new, and we are in “keep our eyes open” mode for furniture. All we have now is a ratty old sofa. And, none of our dining room chairs match–we just have seven. We have to wheel in the computer chair so all eight of us can eat dinner together.

I’m sure we looked very poor to them. In fact, my sister said that they were planning to buy a new sofa this summer and would give us theirs. My grandma bought it for them two years ago when dad built the house.

I think that they are in desperate need of friendship. They don’t have any friends. And, with two small kids, perpetual (if self imposed) money problems, and the difficulties of his, her and mine stepfamily–I’m sure that stress in contributing a lot to their bad choices.

So, I’m going to be a better friend. We can’t help them with money at all anyway, so I’m not worried about them coming to us for help. Also, I worry about my sister’s health. My family has a history of early heart attacks (in the early fifties), and my sister smokes. She had that aneurysm burst and almost died three years ago. I want to stay close to my BIL despite his faults so if my sister dies before the babies are grown, I can offer to take them.

I need to find a way to have a conversation with my sister without getting upset about what she says. For example, she is always saying terrible things about her nine year old stepdaughter–in front of her. Yesterday she called her a demon child. And, she told her that the little girl’s favorite subject was “acting black.” Usually, I get upset and tell my sister she shouldn’t talk like that. And, both BIL and my sister like to go on and on about how horrible the little girl is. It’s been like this for years. It’s almost like they enjoy the subject.


I am not so certain that they are simply lazy and loafers. I have found, in my work with people struggling in sobriety, that there is a certain type of mental illness that expresses itself in an inability to grasp what is necessary to live a full and happy life. I wish I knew what it was - it may be a result of using drugs or alcohol when people are really young and their brains are forming…it could be a mild form of retardation or even ausperger syndrom (my spelling may be off on this so forgive me). What I do know is there are people who, no matter how much we try to get them ‘on track’ they just cannot seem to get their wheels lined up…and I have no idea why.

I also hesitate to just lable people like your parents as ‘enablers’. Maybe they are, maybe not…what I know is that if they are meeting their own obligations and are ok with helping people then we need to not give them negative feedback. Mother Theresa helped the unlovable and those others saw as dispensable, lazy, outright trash. We saw her as a saint.

Please do not beat yourself up for getting irritated with your sister. Remember, the just fall seven times seven…but keep getting up and trying again and again. Sometimes I get so irritated with the women I sponsor (they just do NOT do what I tell them to do and boy don’t they know how wise and wonderful I am?) but I try to remember, again, the example of Mother Theresa…whenever I feel really bad about not hitting the mark in my own behavior I think of her saying “I know the Lord will never give me more than I can handle but sometimes I wish He didn’t think so highly of me”.


Thanks, Leslie, my sister did use drugs as a young teen. She also has a learning disability and basically stopped developing her intellect after high school.

My parents show love by giving things. Unfortunately they aren’t always prudent about this.

I’m coming to a realization about my sister. I think I need to stop trying to “fix” her by giving her my advice. I think I need to accept her as she is. I realize that in conversation, I spend the whole time trying to give her the common sense answers to her woes instead of just listening to her. And, she likes to give me advice, too. It just irritates me. She’ll tell me how to discipline my kids while her son is getting into fights at school.

I just need to be more loving and less instructive.

I do think that God puts some people on Earth who are there just for us to help.


You sound pretty wise to me.


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