Caregiver has Lame Duck Sister

Dear Lisa,
My mother was diagnosed with cancer last year and has since had an operation to remove the tumor and has completed 6 weeks of radiation therapy.  As a result of the tumor my mother lost her left eye.
My mother lives alone, doesn't work and only has two daughters, myself and my sister. I live only 8 minutes away from my mother and my sister lives about 25 minutes. I am constantly having to do things for my mother like take her to the doctor and take her shopping, etc

My question to you is how do I get my sister to participate more with the responsibility of my mother and her needs? My sister has always been closer to my mother and I just don't realize why she won't step up and take care of things rather than naturally letting them default to me. I am the oldest sister but she has always been closer to Mom. I really need her help since I too have a family. My sister is divorced and only has 1 child. I have two and they both have special needs.
Decatur, IL

Dear Frustrated,
Firstly, I just want to give my warmest wishes to you and your family.  Your devotion to your mother and children is wonderful, and they are fortunate to have you.

As for your sister, she is clearly being selfish.  You mentioned that your sister is closer to your mother.  I think it is possible that seeing her mother in pain is too difficult for her, so she chooses to avoid it.  This is something we can all relate to and have some degree of sympathy for.  However, she really should be helping her mother and sister out.  Selfish love puts boundaries on itself – like not wanting to see someone in pain.  True love breaks its own limitations, and does what’s best for the other person.

So how do you get her to help?  You can’t force your sister to do anything – nor should you.  It’s ultimately her decision.  I don’t know how much you’ve asked her for help in the past, but I would continually ask her for assistance here and there.  Casually mention to her, “Mom needs to go grocery shopping, and I’ve got so much to do with my own family.  Would you mind taking her this week?”  If she does indeed dislike seeing her mother in pain, ask her to do things that don’t involve her seeing her mother – like picking up some medication or other little errands.  If you start small, she might just get over that uncomfortable feeling eventually.

If this doesn’t work, consider having a more frank discussion with your sister.  In a calm, non- threatening manner, broach the topic with her.  Ask her if she could start helping you out on a regular basis.  If she refuses, explain to her how overwhelmed you feel, and if she helped you, your quality of life would improve exponentially.

However, the truth of the matter is that you can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.  Suppose you didn’t have a sister at all – wouldn’t your situation be entirely different?  You’d have the same responsibilities, but not the resentment.  You shouldn’t be taken advantage of by her, but at the same time, don’t let her irresponsibility ruin your day.  Make firm but fair appeals that she help you, and if that fails, keep helping your Mom and know you’ve done the right thing.  Also, please make sure you're scheduling enough "me" time to rejuvenate yourself after your care-giving duties.

The very best of luck to you and your family.

Email me at: with any more questions!


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