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Tumi's avatar

How do I deal with a very difficult sister?

Asked by Tumi (136points) December 14th, 2010

My sister is a bitter, angry, sad woman. She was diagnosed with depression but YEARS of counselling and medication haven’t helped. One of her psychiatrists actually told me that she is a very manipulative person who is not as ill as she’d have us believe. My dilemma: My sister has a daughter (8 years old) whom I love very much. When my mother died 5 years ago, she requested that we watch over my niece and help my sister bring her up. I would really like to remain in my niece’s life but my sister is a nightmare to deal with. How can I sensibly do both?

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14 Answers

Seelix's avatar

Can you have your niece spend time with you away from her mother? Like sleepovers, babysitting, excursions, etc. Also, does your sister know that your mom made that request? That might make it easier for her to allow her daughter to spend time with you.

Summum's avatar

If there is anyway for you to spend some time alone with you niece then I would do so. Can you get your sister to allow you to baby sit and have some visiting rights? That would be tough not to be able to spend time with your niece. Hugs

christine215's avatar

@Tumi, are we related? Your description of your sister fits mine to a “T”
Best case scenario is as the others so far have stated Do your best to have your niece away from her Mom. Otherwise, the Mom (if she is anything like my sister) will do/say things in order to put you in a bad/awkward position in front of your niece, so that she can dominate/manipulate you and make you look bad in the eyes of the kid.

IF she’s like my sister, she’s self absorbed enough to fall for the “you need your own time” trick and she’ll gladly turn her child over to you so she can go out and do whatever she wants.

If she’s not willing to let you have your alone time, then you have to think about whether or not she’s doing any harm to the child… if she’s not mentally/physically harming the kid, then you may have to back off a bit. Make sure that your niece knows you’re there for her, give her your cell phone number, tell her that no matter what, she can always call you… but you also have to look out for your own well-being. People with these types of personality disorders can be so destructive, so make sure that you’re keeping yourself “healthy” so that you can continue to be there for your niece
(you’re a good aunt, I can tell. Do what you can, even at that young of an age, she’ll pick up on it and she’ll love you for it)

Serevaetse's avatar

@Summum I agree- spend time with her alone.
@Seelix Same- I agree with you both.

I am in the same boat. My sister (in law) has depression, cuts herself, throws tantrums, and goes off on our family all the time. In fact, the other day I went to babysit, but she got mad at my brother; she threw her wedding ring at him, demeaned him in front of me and her three children, and stormed out of the house. Before she left, however, she shut off the breakers. We were left in silence and dark for something none of us did wrong.

Is that a nightmare or what? Not to mention she gets jealous that I spend time with my brother. Once she was so jealous that she shut off my phone service. But I love my brother, I love their kids, and I love her. I usually babysit (that’s how I pay for my phone- I’m on their plan) and so I get to spend time with the children alone. Then also, my brother comes over often to spend time with me and watch funny tv shows or movies.
So I get to spend time with him as well (however, I must later deal with her wrath).
But no matter because it is worth it.
Just remember that-
No matter what happens it’s a learning experience, and it is all worth it.

But one last thing- try to show her ‘the secret: The Law of Attraction’ where it shows how being more positive helps your outlook on life, therefore effecting what happens in your life. It sounds like she needs help… I’m sorry about that :/

rts486's avatar

I ignore mine.

I doubt you can do much for the neice if your sister is like this.

marinelife's avatar

I think you should offer to care for your niece “to give your sister a break”. That way, if you make it about helping her, she is more likely to go along.

Take your niece out of your sister’s house.

Just by being a presence in her life, you will be of benefit to her.

partyparty's avatar

I agree with @Seelix & @Summum. Try to spend time alone with your niece.
A win win situation. You get special time with her and it gives your sister a break. Good luck.

wundayatta's avatar

What do you do when a mentally ill relative refuses to get help?

That’s one of the hardest ones I know. You can’t make someone try harder to get better because they will resist you. You can’t take away things from them because they figure that’s what they deserve. It is very risky to hospitalize someone against their will both because you may not get the medical staff to agree with you and also because you are going to piss off your relative so much they may never talk to you again. So what do you do?

I believe that what we want most when we are sick is love. We feel like shit and think our lives are shit and in many cases we just want to die. It sounds to me like the father of the child is not in the picture, so your sister is probably lonely and feeling unloved and unlovable. That will make anyone be manipulative. They don’t know any other way to get love. But think of it this way—if they are manipulative, they still think they deserve whatever it is they are trying to get. That’s a good thing. When they stop caring or actively don’t want any help, it’s time to get seriously worried.

So. This might sound weird, but I think you need to give her love. Try to make her feel like you are on her side, and provide support for her to get well. Help her take her meds and get to her appointments without nagging! Maybe make an agreement with her about how you can support her.

Now normally you might not choose to do this if it was just her. Let her fix herself. But in this case there is a child, and that means you have to do things you might not want to do.

Be positive for her. Help her see her strengths. Do not criticize her weaknesses. Just focus on what she does well. Help her achieve her goals. I’m not saying you have to do a lot of physical actions, like meeting with her. But stay in touch on email or the phone.

She might need a new shrink or new meds. These things can take forever to find the right combinations. Remember, if she gets better, your problem with her daughter is much less of a problem. You won’t have to be watching her like a hawk all the time. That creates enormous tension for you. So it could well be worth the effort to help your sister get better, hard as that task may be.

It will also be better for your relationship because you’ll be able to be up front about what you are doing, not trying manipulate her by “offering her a break.” She knows what’s going on. Think about this. If you feel you have to manipulate her, then why wouldn’t she feel the same?

Kardamom's avatar

@Tumi Is your neice’s father in the picture at all? If he is, have you discussed this problem with him? Do you know if your sister is actually physically or mentally abusing your neice? If she is, you should called Child Protective Services. Are you in a position that you could take your neice into your home if it turns out that your sister is an unfit mother?

It seems odd that your sister’s psychiatrist (or doctor or therapist) would divulge information to you about her, saying that she was manipulative and not as sick as she appears. That seems to be a breach of the oath of confidentiality that doctors and therapists have toward their patients.

Do you know what kind of doctor your sister has been to? Have you gone with her to the appointments? It seems like either she hasn’t really gone at all, or she just chose to stop the treatment. It sounds like she really needs to see another doctor and get some kind of psychiatric evaluation and then the doctor needs to make some reccomendations on her treatment at this point. If she’s had 5 years of therapy and medication and it hasn’t worked, perhaps she’s seeing the wrong doctor and taking (or not taking) the wrong medication.

Are you in contact in any way with your neice’s teacher? You might be able to schedule an appointment to speak with him/her to voice your concerns about the competency or fitness of your sister to raise this child.

You can’t force her to see a doctor, but if she is abusing your neice, it is not only necessary, but mandatory for you to contact Child Protective Services.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I know this isn’t the most helpful answer but in the coming years, your niece will find more strength in herself and might reach out to you and in another decade, you can freely approach her regardless of her mother because she will be an adult.

cak's avatar


I say that with a lot of love. My sister and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. She is mentally ill, has her moments of thriving and then backslides, again. There is a difference, though. My sister has no children, which is a mixed blessing. I actually think she is wonderful with children, at least she can be.

I would advise you to keep that open line with your niece, knowing sometimes it will be difficult. Does she allow you to have her over or easily allow phone conversations? When you have time to talk only to your niece, make that time about her, not your sister. Thing is, no matter how old she is, she probably knows your sister isn’t quite up to living life at it’s fullest – and she may – even for her young age, understand that it’s a life long battle. Kids may just shock you at how much they understand.

Do what you can to participate, sometimes try to include your sister. Don’t push, but don’t ignore. There is this weird fine line, and it’s hard to balance. I just think it’s important to keep communication up with your niece, so she understands that there is someone else out there for her.

I know it’s hard, don’t give up on your sister.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I agree with having your niece come over on her own to spend time with you. Tee it up with your sister so that she thinks you’re doing it for her to have a break from being a single mom so she can have a social life. But the real reason is to give your niece a base of “normal” to fall back on. Your sister doesn’t have to know that’s the real reason.

Tumi's avatar

Thanks all for your very helpful answers. I must confess; I will try Christine’s manipulation tactic (you need some time alone) as I think that’s the only thing that will get through for now.
Just to answer the other questions: Baby daddy is not in her life and she doesn’t physically abuse her daughter. However, I think she does stress the child emotionally even though it is not intentional.
Thanks again and wish me luck going forward! :)

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