DEAR NATALIE: My mom became ill recently and my brother and I stepped in to help manage her finances, take care of her pets and look after things while she was in the hospital and recovering. My older sister, however, didn’t ask to help us at all with anything. Granted, she just had her first baby, but we all pitched in in different ways. She didn’t even seem that concerned about our mom. It really bothered me. It’s been a few months of this and I want to plan a family getaway with my husband and our two children. I need someone to step in while I’m away so that my brother can have a little break. I reached out to my sister about taking over for me while I am out of town and she told me that with mom being sick, it’s not a good time for me to travel. She didn't understand why I needed a break. She made no effort to say that she would help, either. I’m usually a laid back person, but I am disgusted with her. My brother said he just wants to keep the peace and he’ll handle things while I’m away, but I want her to know how selfish I think she is being. Do you think it is wrong of me for wanting to confront her? -ANGRY SISTER
DEAR ANGRY SISTER: I would be angry with her, too. You have every right to take a break from an incredibly draining situation, both emotionally and physically. You are allowed to vacation with your family. You are allowed to share the responsibility. Your sister may be really overwhelmed with her new responsibilities and just not sure how to express that in a constructive way to you. You may want to try reaching out and just ask to talk. Explain to her that you have been there and know what it is like as a new mom. Ask if she needs any support. After doing so, you may want to remind her that her own mom needs support right now, as well, and sharing the workload is making it more bearable for everyone. Even if she can’t physically support your mom, can she help organize food delivery, for example. Can she handle some of the logistical things that need sorted, or at the very least, can she reach out to your mom directly? I don’t know what her dynamic is with your mom, but not every child has the same experience with their parents. Try compassion first and see where that leads before you let loose on her.
DEAR NATALIE: My stepdaughter is causing a lot of problems in my home. She is 15 and has some behavioral problems. I have two small daughters, ages four and six, that really love being with her. I noticed recently that she was being aggressive with them and speaking harshly to them, especially the six-year-old. I confronted her gently about it, telling her that we don’t talk that way to each other in our home. She flipped out at me. She lives mostly with her mother and things aren’t stable over there. My husband doesn’t even want her in our house after how she’s been acting with our daughters, but I am worried that if we tell her she can’t come over it will make things worse for her. I want to be a support system to her, but it’s very difficult. Any advice? —STEPMOM IN THE MIDDLE
DEAR STEPMOM IN THE MIDDLE: It can be really hard to navigate this space as a stepmother. I find it concerning that she was being aggressive with your daughters and wonder if that is a sign that something else is going on with her. You said that her home life isn’t stable, and there could be issues brewing at home that are causing her to lash out. However, it is never OK for her to treat your daughters poorly and putting them in harm’s way won’t do anyone any good. I can understand your husband’s perspective of wanting to cut her out if she can’t behave safely with your children. You could compromise in the sense that only when you or your husband are supervising her, then she can spend time with her sisters. If you daughters feel unsafe around her, they shouldn’t be forced to play with her, either. A 15-year-old is old enough to know when she is antagonizing little ones, too. If she is doing that, then someone needs to address it with both her and her mother. Sit her down and explain to your stepdaughter that there are rules and boundaries in this home and that she needs to respect them as a part of the family. If she can’t, then she can’t engage with her sisters right now out of respect for their personal well being. Remind her that you love her and if there is anything that is hurting her or that she needs to talk about, you are here for her. It is easy to write kids off as “difficult” but oftentimes they are struggling to regulate their own emotions around complicated issues that they themselves don’t fully understand. Perhaps by giving her a little space to share, she may in time confide in you.
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