My family is in trouble. To what extent is it my duty to help?
March 19, 2013 10:17 PM Subscribe
My sister (late 30s) has recently given birth to a baby who is probably affected by Down syndrome. There will most likely not be a father in the picture. She also has an 8 y.o. daughter from a different, also absent father. They live at my mother’s house in a small town. My sister has a story of emotional instability and I often fear for my niece and nephew. My sister was molested by my father when she was in her late teens. She is extremely dependent on (and at the same time hostile to) my mother. My mother (divorced), in turn, is struggling to help her and the little children, while having to deal with lack of money and her own (physical) health issues.
I (male) am the middle child, 8 years younger than my sister. I´ve lived in a big city for the last 6 years. I´m economically independent (yet also struggling) and starting a career in academia. I feel that if I don´t go back to my home town and help my family, things will deteriorate further. On the other hand, my chances of professional growth would be reduced by moving back there. Do you think a sacrifice of this sort is the right thing to do?
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My sister probably suffers from bipolar disorder, but refuses to seek professional help. She sometimes expresses concern and affection for her brothers and mother, but is overwhelmed by anger and depression. She is, among other things, often difficult to interact with, often (verbally) aggressive, controlling, volatile and negligent of her personal appearance and health. I´m afraid she is doing things that might be harmful to her children at different levels e.g.: she refused to allow her daughter to sleep in a separate bed till my niece was 6, insisting that they should sleep together, my sister would also keep their house front door wide open to the street all night in the summer while she was in bed (even though they live in an area where crime rates are high). She loves her children and makes just enough money to support them, but she seems to have too serious, unsolved issues to be a healthy mother. I suspect by what she says and does that she had children (both times out of casual relationships with men who soon disappeared) to fill her loneliness and give her some reason to live. She recently said she wants to move with her children out of my mother’s house.
My mother cares greatly for her family, and kept the family together when my (diagnosed bipolar) father had a deep and long psychological crisis and finally left home. Nowadays her main source of income is the small rent she collects from a couple of low cost apartments she owns (just enough to cover her living expenses). But she really dislikes running this business and finds it very difficult to confront the often abusive tenants. She is a meek and kind person who prefers to avoid conflict and therefore often agrees to whatever conditions tenants want (rent included), however unreasonable those may be.
I know I could relieve my mother from the burden of that work she dislikes (and she would gladly accept). I think I might also help protect my nephew and niece (so far she is doing fine, but I am worried about what the long-term consequences might be) from my sister´s issues, and eventually influence my sister to seek help. I realize the latter is a long shot. I also know that I have a duty to myself to try to become the researcher I want to become. It´s just that the two alternatives are literally hundreds of miles apart and seem mutually exclusive today.
Which path (or combination) do you think would be both preferable and morally sound? I would greatly appreciate your views on this conflict.
PS: We have one younger, adult brother we are on good terms with, but he has already made his choice to pursue an artistic career away from the family problems.