She supposedly looks the most like me of all my sisters.
January 2, 2007 5:53 PM   Subscribe

What should my family do about my "long-lost" half-sister when her caretaker dies?

My parents are separated, and have been for about 22 years. (They aren't divorced for practical reasons.) I am the 27 year-old middle sister of three, with a younger sister who is 24 and an older sister who is 38. Our father has been relatively present in our lives to various degrees over the years, and has supported us financially to a pretty high standard of living.

About ten years ago, a friend of my father's told him that she wanted to have a baby, and he helped her. When my mother, my sisters, and I found out about this, we were all pretty upset about it. It still makes my mother sick to think about it (although they are still on excellent terms with each other).

Anyway, this baby is now a 10-year old little girl. Her mother (my Dad's friend) died about a year or so ago due to alcoholism (liver failure, I believe) and the little girl lives with her 84-year old grandmother in Ohio. (We are all in Massachusetts.)

We are all concerned about what will happen when the grandmother dies. My Dad has regular contact (probably monthly) with my half-sister via phone and occasional letters. My sisters have spoken to her a few times and I have spoken to her once.

I can imagine that we should help our Dad "do the right thing" and take responsibility for his "other" daughter, even if it requires some sort of "takes the whole village to raise the child" logistics. Perhaps she would like to be part of our family. Then again, who are we to swoop in, make her move to Massachusetts, and integrate her into a (very tight-knit but welcoming) family that may have residual conflicted feelings about how she came to be?

Any advice or experiences are welcome.
posted by nekton to Human Relations (10 answers total)
Despite popular culture in many western societies, the "family" doesn't start and end with one set of parents and one set of children. In many cultures "family" isn't even restricted to blood-relatives. The multi-generational family you describe as "takes the whole village to raise the child", is a valid and healthy environment. It should certainly be an option -- assuming your sisters and your mother are not likely to blame her for anything related to her conception.

However, the other side of her family has obviously had to cope once before. Are you aware of any other family members on that side that would be able or willing to take on the responsibility for a 10 year old? Maybe they already have plans.

Meanwhile, is the grandmother in imminent danger of dying? In six years your half-sister will be considered an adult by many societies and should be able to make up her own mind as to who she stays with and what she does with her life. Even before then you should be able to provide your family as an option she can think about.
posted by krisjohn at 6:18 PM on January 2, 2007

This is simple family is family. She's your sister. The past is the past. And life is full of heartache. This is however a matter that can be handled with grace. It can also be handled with malice and vidictiveness.I'm my mothers only child and one of several of my fathers. My grandmother provides the perfect example of how to handle this you open your home with love whether you have to or not as she did for the children of her exhusbands wife and for several handicapped children before she was no longer capable of caring for them.

posted by Rubbstone at 6:25 PM on January 2, 2007

Good advice already given. One possibility is to make some effort over the next while (years?) to get to know your lesser-known sister, and perhaps her other family. This will give you opportunity to scope out some possibilities without commitment and/or to build a relationship base with her for whatever might transpire in upcoming years. An 80s caretaker could probably use some supports in any case. You can legitimately get to know her without having to make hard decisions right away.
posted by kch at 6:44 PM on January 2, 2007

The first question to ask here is: what arrangements does the Grandmother already have in place? Her wishes (and her will) may very well trump any thoughts your family might have about the matter.

Whatever your mother's feelings about your father's actions, the fact remains that this little girl did not ask to be brought into the world, and her young life has already had more than its fare share of loss. Speak with your father and make sure that he and the grandmother have a plan of action in place. If that plan involves your immediate local family you should know about it in advance. The little girl should get to know you -- perhaps make arrangements for her to visit your family (at 84, the grandmother might appriciate the respite, actually).

But "swooping" should not be involved. There needs to be a set plan, one that everyone knows about, set down in writing far in advance of anything "needing" to happen.
posted by anastasiav at 6:45 PM on January 2, 2007

This child is a victim, she herself did nothing wrong. Help her. She is only ten & can't help herself. Having someone care about her right now (or not care) could easily change the entire course of her life, who she becomes as a person, who she sees in the mirror. Don't "do the right thing" for your dad, why not put the adult politics aside and help a child. She was brought into the world as your half sister, but she didn't ask to be. Her mother died tragically (and her grandmother soon will), so everyone is disappearing on her and she has no stability to count on. She deserves a chance for something better & for people to let her know she's worth it & that she belongs somewhere. (Don't we all?) Working to be a supportive influence for her could turn out to be a positive growth experience for you as well. Investing some patience & kindness towards a troubled, abandoned child can make a real difference. She needs you & your family. It may not be easy, but if it's possible, try to rise above the personal bitterness and find empathy for her. Her circumstances are not her fault.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:12 PM on January 2, 2007

Also, I agree with anastasiav. Getting gradually involved & not swooping is important. Instant life renovations are traumatic for everyone, but especially kids. She needs some gradual sense of security that the adults around her care, are taking care of her and handling her best interests. I have strong opinions on this because when I was 8, I had to become a grown up in my family & take care of the adults who should've been taking care of me. You permanently lose a sense of your childhood & security when that happens, and you struggle to get it back for the rest of your life. No child should have to become an adult so prematurely. It's awful. At ten, she should be concentrating on school, making friends, and being ten years old.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:26 PM on January 2, 2007

I think there is a lot of good advice in this thread. I want to point out that even if this girl's grandmother lives long enough to raise this girl to the age of majority, it wouldn't hurt her to have a friendly and supportive family as a young adult.
posted by Good Brain at 7:46 PM on January 2, 2007

This is a 10 year old girl. Mom is dead. Her caretaker is getting old. She is your blood. She doesn't know of mistakes. She doesn't know what a normal family is like.

Let this guide you: "What would you want done if this was you?"
posted by filmgeek at 9:27 PM on January 2, 2007

Does she have any other family (aunts/uncles/cousins) on her mother's side of the family, that she might be more familiar & comfortable with? What is best for her?

Also, why does your father need help, the kind of help that would require a big decision or life change for the women in your family? Why wouldn't she just go to live with your dad, and you and your other sisters would just be the adult siblings who came over for a visit or to take her shopping and such?
posted by Kololo at 9:41 PM on January 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your advice. I just wanted to clarify that I have already started to reach out to my new sister by writing her a letter. My plan is to let her know that we're here for her and that, if she wants, her big sisters are willing to support her in whatever she wants to do.
posted by nekton at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2007

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