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by Abigail Van Buren

Sister Burdened With Debt Has Only Herself to Blame

DEAR ABBY: My sister, "Ellie," and her husband, "Bill," have three lovely little girls. Both have good jobs and live in a pleasant neighborhood. However, neither one ever learned any life skills. Both worked and lived rent-free with their parents until they met and married in their late 20s. Consequently, they are up to their necks in credit card debt because of their need for instant gratification.

For the past year Ellie has called me almost daily, crying, asking for money "for the sake of the children." I have given them what we can spare, but I have three sons in college, and my husband may be facing a medical retirement, which would leave me the sole wage-earner.

I have told Ellie repeatedly that she and Bill must learn to budget and pay their bills, and advised them to seek professional debt and marriage counseling, neither of which they have done.

Several months ago, Ellie called to ask if the family could move in with us until they got on their feet. My husband refused, telling her that without counseling their habits were not going to change, and we could not afford to support them short of a true emergency.

Ellie was furious. She joined a "swingers" club and began a series of love affairs. Ellie says her affairs are "the only comfort" she has now that I have failed to "rescue" her in her "hour of need."

I'm upset that I have made the girls' situation worse by refusing to provide for their parents. However, my husband is adamant that two working people should learn to manage their own lives. Am I injuring my nieces by refusing to rescue their parents? -- NON-ENABLER, OAK RIDGE, TENN.

DEAR NON-ENABLER: Your sister has made it your responsibility because she joined a swingers club, and you're accepting it? Wake up! You haven't made their situation worse, SHE has. Ellie is not only irresponsible, but also immature. Do not be bamboozled.

You are carrying a heavy enough load as it is. If you step in and try to rescue Ellie, you'll wind up carrying her until the stress makes you sick. The only person who can get her out of the mess she has created is herself.