Text Size


answered 12:25 PM EST, Tue April 08, 2014
anonymous anonymous
I don't know how to get my parents from enabling my younger sister. She is 50 and finally relocated to my parents hometown. She has been unemployed for about 5 years now and is an alcoholic who still drinks because she thinks she can.She has been through rehab 3x but it hasn't worked because she doesn't think she has a problem with alcohol.
My parents paid for her move, got her an apartment and helped furnish it; bought her a car and are paying her rent, insurance, etc. until she gets a job.
I found out recently that they are allowing her to have alcoholic drinks when they meet for lunch on Sundays. She has also been seen drinking before driving her car.
I don't know how to approach my parents without alienating them. They were active in her family rehab outpatient sessions but they are in their 80's and afraid to "let her go homeless or without money." Non of this is helping her and she is just leaching off of them.
What is the best way to talk to my parents without alienating them?
thanks for any advice!!!

Rob Danzman Says...

Dear Anonymous,

This sounds like a totally unfair situation. You are likely responsible, employed and have what professionals call an 'internal locus of control' - you own your choices, good or bad. Unfortunately, your sister does not have the same. She has was you would call entitlement (professionals might call this an 'external locus of control'). More than likely, your parents, with the best intentions, have protected her from natural consequences for most of her life. This likely taught her she does not need to own her choices since someone (ie. parents) will bail her out. To make things worse, you see her receiving bigger ticket items like a care, rent, etc. 

Ok - that is the situation. Now, what to do about it...

This is the messy part which I will warn you has no great outcome. If you've read any of my previous answers to other postings, you'll know that I'm a big believer that setting boundaries is one of the most effective and therapeutic steps a human can take. It creates a line that it concrete. Concrete lines are important because we can not only be specific in communicating our expectations with others (...and ourselves) but we also can clearly know when that line has been violated. 

So, what line to set? Great question. The problem here is not with your parents. It's not your sister either (That's not to say they are doing a great job of helping her and it certainly is not pretending she's doing a bang-up job of getting on with life). But if we look at this from a 'control' perspective, I can accurately identify only one person in this whole mix you have total control over - you. Your expectations are reasonable (for you). Your perspective about responsibility is reasonable (for you). After working with individuals, families, etc for 15 years, I will put money on your parents NEVER changing and on your sister NEVER changing. You are our best bet for change. Seriously. Do not tie your expectations to their emotional and financial blackhole. It will eat you alive. Just be clear that you will support your sister and parents with love, phone calls and maybe even having them over for Sunday dinners (sans alcohol) but you will not provide financial support or a place for her to sleep (which will eventually happen). Model the loving person you want to be rather than the judge, jury and executioner you think is needed to fix your sis. 

So, if you are supposed to change your behavior and not their's, how should you talk with them? Another great question. Your parents are old and are not looking at several decades of life left. Love them, not their choices. I will say this again and again - it's not your money or time. Love them, not their choices. Focus (or re-focus) conversations onto non-sister topics. Talk with your sister about what positive things are going on in her life. The easy thing is to talk about the lack of work ("Have you applied to any jobs this week?"), the hard thing is to change your relationship with her to something less parental and more nurturing ("Sounds like you had a nice weekend with mom and dad, I'm glad you're able to spend so much time with them." ). 

Now some more practical things: Your parents' living will, health care directives and power of attorney for health care/financial issues. If you have not done so already, help them get their will, health care directives and power of attorney together. Do not be surprised if they give the lion's share to your sister. Expect it. It will hurt and make you sad, mad, etc but it's their will. All you can do is ask how you can help and support them in whatever ways you are able. Supporting them is not an endorsement of your sister's choices so don't even go there. The best you can hope for is to either be named as the executor or to have a competent and trusted professional named. This is a vital role, especially when there could be conflict or disagreements. Clearly defined roles are super important. 

I wish the best for you and your family. Don't hesitate to post again. 




Subscribe Subscribe to this topic category

Page last updated Apr 08, 2014

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.

Find Treatment
Browse by region »
Scan to call us
using your phone camera app