Family Matters
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Help! My house is too crowded.

edited August 2013 in Family Matters
Hello. I am in my mid-twenties, just married a few weeks ago, and my house is starting to feel more like prison. Prior to my wedding, my 30 year old sister arranged to come with her 18-month old baby to escape a destructive and unsafe living arrangement. My husband and I knew that helping her would be difficult, as she's made many poor decisions in the past that have led to massive debt, unhealthy relationships, and several instances of her picking up and starting again in a new town 4-5 times. We both wanted my sister and niece to live in a safe environment and felt that if we could help her find a job and get established quickly, she would be on her feet within 2-3 months. 

However, we are 6+ weeks in, and we are no closer to independence than the day she arrived. She does pick up a lot around the house, but plainly refuses to cook her own meals. Anytime that my husband and I have gone out for dinner and I haven't made it, she feeds her daughter only cheerios or kraft mac and cheese - leaving me feeling compelled to plan dinner around her family. She has stolen from both of my parents in the past, so we keep our bedroom and closet always locked, which is uncomfortable for me and a constant stress as I always leave and forget to lock my bedroom and it annoys my husband who is concerned for our privacy given her past indiscretions. She has totaled/lost 5 cars in 14 years and now is relying on the bus, which is her excuse for never leaving the house as well as one of her most vocal and incessant complaints. She has applied for some jobs, but spends most of her daytime cleaning, watching our Netflix, smoking, or napping. 

Given her history, I do realize it was not wise to expect for anything to be different about this time... but I was really hoping that her baby's reliance would motivate her to become a more productive member of society. I don't know what to do here, but I cannot continue to live with her, rent-free and constantly complaining for another 4 or 5 months... or worse. If one of your friends got themselves into this situation... what would you tell them to do? I am worried that soon my relationship with my husband (which has been solid and cheerful for almost 6 years) will be negatively affected. We are both seriously unhappy with how things are going but feel very stuck because we don't know what to do with her or how she could make it otherwise. 

Thanks. 


Please note - I have talked with her twice about being disappointed about her progress and her seeming lack of motivation. She responded very emotionally and I ended up feeling guilty for days without any real improvement on her actions. 

Re: Help! My house is too crowded.

  • If it were me, and it were my sister, she'd either be actively working to improve her life or she'd be out.  I appreciate that you are in a difficult position, not wanting to see your sister or your niece struggle, but she has no incentive to change if you continue to plan your life around her.  Why should she change when you cook for her, give her somewhere to live rent-free (I'm assuming) and basically demand she do nothing?

    image
  • Give her a move out date, help put her on job sites and stop helping her. It's her child and she will feed her what she wants.

    You may have to actually have her evicted at this point. Why doesn't she have a job? Who is paying for her expenses? Her child's? Take her and get her on government assistance programs and have her apply for housing. Do they have health care?
    Manther1222
  • She hasn't had a job for two years and before that she was a server, intermittently. She does appear to be one of the laziest people I've ever known. Her abusive ex-boyfriend/father of her baby pays her cell phone. She just qualified for food stamps, but we have been paying on an off for other items that aren't covered by her Access card. Her daughter has medicaid, but she is uninsured with thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

    The government housing idea isn't bad - even though I do feel that as intelligent and able bodied as she is, tax money really shouldn't be covering it, for the record. 

    An ultimatum/move out date might be the only option. 
  • Adults who act like children should be treated like children, IMO. I'd encourage ground rules for living with you (including helping with cooking, cleaning, bills, applying for jobs regularly etc). These should be as well defined as possible (apply to 2 jobs per week, cook 4 dinners, etc) and agreed to by all. If she doesn't live up to her end of the bargain she has to go, period. If you haven't given her boundaries, why assume she'll live the way you want? You're the acting adult here. 
    Manther1222catmiss9
  • In addition to the pps, I would see if you can get her into some sort of mental health program. Her problems obviously are caused by HER-she falls easily into abusive relationships, can't take care of herself, etc.
    Encourage her to talk about her abusive relationships, tell her that you wish that you could relate better, but talking to a professional who could would probably help more, and make it clear that you don't think she's psycho, challenged, etc(though some amount of psychosis is obviously going on here) it's just that a therapist is the person who could relate the most and knows about these things and you want to see her be happy with a significant other.
    The therapist will help her with ALL of her myriad issues. People who are like this are like this for a reason(s)(constant low energy is either not exercising enough or depression, a constant feeling of being a failure, screwed up, unable to face reality, don't think they than take care of themselves...), and IF she is willing to accept help those reasons may go away. 
    Your sister has a long, bad, history which is not going to go away in a few weeks, won't be helped by moving to a new town, or even having a baby. Because it's something in her that's the problem.
    If she is not able to accept help, consider her obvious mental problems but be strict with her because she is probably not changing soon.

    In an extreme circumstance, and I would not recommend this because it will be hard, but you can get custody of your niece if you feel that it would not be safe to leave the baby with your sister. I would do this if it turns out that you are basically the primary caretaker for her anyway. 


  • I appreciate the advice from everyone... I don't know if you can "hear" it in my words, but I am really growing desperate at this situation. Manther, your response is valid and I need to consider her mental health... it's not easy when I am so irritated and growing resentful at her invasion of what used to be my peaceful, happy home. 

    The therapy is a piece that has been encouraged since she was 16, but always unsuccessfully. We'll see. I think it's also hard to sit down with her and be frank about things because I'm so much younger than she is and she frequently speaks with the condescension of her high school years. 

    I don't know... when it really comes down to it, I wasn't bargaining for as much responsibility as this is turning out to require. The idea that I'm "the adult in the situation" and not just a place for her to stay is overwhelming and I am not sure that my 7-week old marriage can handle it. 

    Ugh. I need a glass of wine. Thanks for listening.
  • Something I've learned the hard way is that you can only give as much as you have. What I mean by that is when setting boundaries with loved ones in need it is easy to feel like you're not ever doing enough. You don't spend enough time, attention, etc helping them and showing you care. 

    After some very painful losses, including my mother to terminal cancer, I judged myself a lot for not helping MORE than I already did. Not calling enough. Not letting her live with me longer than I did. Basically, every time I took much needed self-care time I judged myself for not spending those moments with my mom. After a few years of healing and reflecting I can finally see now that if I hadn't put any time/effort into that self care I wouldn't have been able to help/support my mom. This is similar to what they tell new moms: you have to take care of yourself first, then others. 

    If you are pushing yourself so hard to take care of this sister that your love and care of her become lost in the noise of your own stress (depression, anger, resentment) then you're not really able to help her. I feel like I can relate to that feeling of being in over your head and helpless, but unable to say 'no' because you love the person too much. Well, consider the bigger picture. Being able to be a happy healthy sister who assists her getting a safe place to live, a job, some therapy, etc is more useful to her (and you) than trying to take it all on yourself, failing, and creating a huge rift between y'all and damages your relationship with your niece. 

    Good luck. Taking care of family is hard. It comes with extra baggage, obligations, feelings, love, and pain. 
    Manther1222Rainzzzy
  • I agree with getting her on government assistance and in low income housing. At that point, you can wash your hands of this situation and move on. If she screws it up by getting into a bad relationship and/ or losing her housing, you stay out of it. People like your sister do not get responsibility until it is put back on them. It will be her responsibility at that point to keep her housing and live her life. Government assistance isn't the best, and if she wants better, she will have to work for it. She will be eligible to go to school for free and get free child care. I personally don't care for the system since I put myself through school without any assistance, but prefer people taking the help offered and making something of their lives to being on welfare for life. She will have to make that choice. this is NOT YOUR PROBLEM!!!! Good luck!
    catmiss9
  • If it's any consolation I have a relative who I know needs mental help. I love him, and I desperately want to help him by being supportive and helping his self-esteem, but he's done enough bad at this juncture that almost everything that comes out of his mouth annoys me.
    It doesn't help that he says many things that are annoy-ING, and I have several third party confirmations on that. But he's innately a good guy, a decent guy, but a desperate, lost-and-alone guy.
    Being nice to him in conversation is hard. I know in my mind that he really needs it, but I just don't want to put up with any crap(though he is def getting better) since I have my own to deal with. My reflex is that he's going to pull something, so I need to protect myself. A little while ago I would have been completely justified in thinking this.
    It's hard. I have sympathy. And you should protect yourself. I wish both of you the best.

  • My sister just got out of a divorce and moved across the country to live with my H and I (we've only been married a year and don't have kids, so we still enjoy our privacy!). My sister also has a history of bad choices and poor financial planning, including stealing my identity at one point (but we have already gotten that cleared up). 

    We agreed to let her stay with us, but she had to sign a contract that she would be moved out within 4 months, she would do her part around the house, she would pay us rent (to help cover the extra cost of utilities and use of the internet), and she would buy and cook her own food. She agreed to our terms so we let her move in. 

    She didn't always clean up after herself and she sometimes was disrespectful to me in my own house and H and I argued with her. At times, we felt like we were going nuts, but we would just retreat to our own bedroom and do our best to make it through. We knew that her 4 months would end and she HAD to be out. If she would have refused, we were prepared to change the locks and tell her to go stay with another relative - we had already done "our part."

    After 3 months, she was more than ready to move out and was able to do so. She still doesn't have a full time job and we honestly don't know how she can keep up with her new rent, but that's not our problem. We did our part and know we wash our hands of it. Hopefully it will work out for her, but if not, she is NOT allowed to move back in with us.

    Sooooooo . . . OP, I encourage you to do the same. Have a meeting with your H and agree on a timeline that works for the two of you. Then write up a contract and present it to your sister. If she refuses to sign, then say "Too bad, we're the ones doing you a favor, this is OUR house, we make the rules. If you don't agree to our terms, then you need to move out immediately. Otherwise, you can sign and you have x-days or x-months to get on your feet."
    catmiss9
  • Before you do anything, please check your state's renters law.  Be very very very clear on the legalities so that she cannot stop you in your tracks. 

    Provide her a with a list of must dos to be able to stay for the interim and a very specific end date. 

    And by including the legal information, you will give her a bigger motivator because she will now know that you actually MEAN business (ie not be guilted into staying longer) because you have done the research to cover your buttocks.  


    In your must do's you can even list meal planning/preparation, every household chore you want done before you arrive home, a print out of the actual job applications she filled out that day (give her a specific number she has to do each day), etc. 

    Finally, change the password on the Netfilx and sign out every time you turn off the tv,  Don't give her the way out. 

    Good luck. 
    [IMG]http://i633.photobucket.com/albums/uu52/Iluminespics/IMG_4759.jpg[/IMG]
    catmiss9
  • I agree with pps, but I'm stuck on this: You let someone with a history of stealing from family live with you??

    Never would I do that. I would have helped her apply for assistance to get away from the situation, but definitely not live with me.

    Now that I've gotten the judgey part over with:
    -help her apply for assistance.
    -look for subsidized housing with her.
    -drive her to places to apply for jobs.
    -help her look for low income daycare.

    image image
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