Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a 40-year-old man, and I live with my sister and her three kids. I have lived with them for a couple of years because I lost my job. Her eldest, who is 16, has had a tough time these past two years. She got thrown out of two high schools because she kept cutting class and fighting. We just got her into another school, and she seemed to be headed on the right track. Last week, though, we got horrible news. She is four months pregnant!

I know how wonderful babies are, but that is the last thing my niece needs. My sister works two jobs. I work part-time now. We are barely getting by, and she hid this all this time. My sister has gotten her into another school because the one they just secured is turning her away because of the pregnancy. But what's next? What can I do to support her and my sister? I feel overwhelmed. Part of me wants to move out and be independent, but I can't afford it. -- Stuck, St. Louis

DEAR STUCK: Obviously family is important. Talk to your sister about her situation. Check in to learn what she plans to do to support her daughter. Will she have the baby? Will she keep it? How will she care for it if she does? As a minor, your niece still has a lot of growing up to do, and now she also likely has to learn how to be a mother. If the plan is to keep the baby, suggest that your sister enroll her in classes on how to care for a baby. As tough as it may be, she should also stay in school. Whatever educational foundation she can get will help her in the future. There are a number of websites that provide support for pregnant teens, including Your sister and her daughter need support to get through this.

Be honest with your sister. Let her know that you do not want to live with them indefinitely. Talk openly about a family transition plan. Keep in mind that you should make yourself available to support your sister just as she took you in when you needed shelter. Now is not the time to run. Work together to identify how you can help her deal with this family challenge as you make it clear that you do need to be on your own.

Contemplate what you want to do with your life. What work do you want to do that will help you take care of yourself? What do you need to do to live independently? How can you live on your own and help your family? It may feel like bad timing for you to plan your exit, but if you intend to have your own life and possibly your own family, you need to create space in order to make that happen.