GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL:

Tell Me About It: Niece makes sacrifices to care for sibling

By Carolyn Hax, Washington Post

Niece makes sacrifices to care for sibling

Q: My sister and her husband had a baby. They have two older kids ages 17 and 14. The 17-year-old, "Nicole," is on the shy side and we’ve always had a good relationship. The baby is 6 months, and when I hear Nicole talk about the baby, it almost sounds like her baby, not her parents’. Nicole is responsible for the baby at least three nights a week from the time she gets off school to about midnight, when my sister’s shift ends. Nicole also watches the baby quite a bit on the weekends.

Nicole seems to like it, but has also confided in me that she’s turned down social stuff because she was baby-sitting. Nicole also said from time to time her homework suffered.

This is Nicole’s senior year of high school and instead of hanging out with friends she is baby-sitting. I think Nicole gets overwhelmed, but I don’t think she knows how to tell my sister and brother-in-law that. Can I do anything to help?

Confided In

A: You can encourage Nicole to stand up for herself. And if she’s caving completely to her parents’ demands, then she’s getting a late start at developing self-determination skills.

But you also don’t want to be just another person cutting in on Nicole’s autonomy. So, draw her out. When she says "she’s turned down social stuff" to baby-sit, you say, "Does that bother you?"

If the answer is yes, then: "Have you said that to your parents?"

If the answer is no, then assure her it’s OK to articulate what she wants and needs.

If the answer is yes, then ask how her parents responded to that.

If she says they responded by not budging, then ask her: "How do you feel about that — do you think it’s appropriate?"

If she expresses unhappiness, then ask: "What do you think you’ll do about that?"

If she expresses qualms about doing anything, then be encouraging on your way to butting out. "That’s your prerogative. You’ll be on your own soon, though, so give some thought to how you’ll handle something like this when it’s not your parents asking."