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Dear Mary: 'I don't know how to tackle my sister over her treatment of our mother'

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Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Proponents of decriminalising sibling incest point to the fact that incest does occur

Proponents of decriminalising sibling incest point to the fact that incest does occur

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Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: I am completely overwhelmed as to how to support and protect my mam from the consequences of my sister's behaviour. My mother has been through a horrendous time, independently supporting my father through a life-changing illness, the consequences of which were devastating for all the family.

Over the last while, Mam has tried to enjoy life again, tried her best to feel some bit optimistic about the future, but that is a bit of a pipe dream I'm afraid.

My sister, in an act of complete selfishness or madness, landed her partner and his personal baggage of problems to my mother's doorstep, knowing my mother - who is such a wonderful, generous person- wouldn't see him left on the streets. There was a fire in his apartment and he was supposed to move in only temporarily. But that was a few years ago and he is still living at my family home and dependent on my mother financially. And to make things worse, my sister is often away from home on business.

My mother is still caring for my father and working full-time. None of my relations knows the truth of the situation. They all think my sister is such a darling. The extent of my sister's manipulation is too unbelievable to describe. My mother's personal space and dignity has been invaded.

In all of this, my father is still recovering, and that on its own is a major challenge for my mother as well as worrying about our youngest sister and brother, who are still teenagers.

We all adore my sister - she was a pillar of strength looking after my dad at such a young age but we all have personally paid the price for that help. She had us all fooled, it was much easier to pity her than to see that she possibly is a horribly selfish emotionally manipulative bully.

As I write this I am sick to my stomach. I have even come to the conclusion that it is a possibility my sister has experienced a breakdown and is in complete denial of her behaviour, because it is like having a total stranger take the place of my loving sister.

I no longer live at home but when I visit I voice and vent my frustration and concerns to my mother over and over. I can see she feels totally trapped, alone, helpless and guilty.

My parents had invested so much financially in my sister's education to help her with the career she wanted, and I know my mother feels all her hard work would be in vain just to abandon her now. My mother's emotional and physical health is deteriorating. Either I will come to breaking point and will strangle my sister or make the situation many times worse for my mother by confronting her. Please help.

 

Mary's answer:  You give many more details in your letter which I have omitted in the interests of anonymity. The main issue here is your sister's partner having taken up residence and being dependant on your mother financially, and what you see as a huge load being placed on your mother's already over-burdened shoulders.

I presume your wish is for the partner to move out, and you wonder how best to achieve this. You think your mother would view this as abandoning your sister, but I don't agree with your interpretation.

Before you do anything, however, you will have to check with your mother if this is actually what she wants. After all, with your father's incapacity perhaps the partner is helpful in caring for him when everybody else is at work. Maybe he is able to do things around the house that nobody else does.  

At the very least, however, he should be making some financial contribution to the household - he would have to if he was renting a place - and even if he is receiving Unemployment Benefit he should be giving something. So check with your mother as to what would be best for her, and if you are fully sure that she would prefer if he did not live with her then you will have to speak with your sister.

People tend to take their parents for granted, and expect that they are always happy to welcome themselves and their partners, and sometimes even their children, into their homes on an ongoing basis. This is not through any malice on the children's part, but very often because it never occurs to them that there would be any objections, and your sister may fall into this category.

So tread softly when you have your discussion with her, but explain that you have your mother's permission to speak and tell her that you see her partner as being an extra drain on your mother and that you are worried about her health and mental well-being. Ask what her intentions are regarding future living arrangements and try to get her to set a deadline for when things will change.

It is really imperative that you get your mother's approval before you have any discussions. Also be aware that your sister may well 'shoot the messenger' and there would then be unnecessary bad feeling between you. If your mother doesn't want you to say anything then I do not think that you can go against her wishes. It is, after all, her household to run as she wishes.  

Sunday Independent


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