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

By Carolyn Hax, Washington Post
Published: September 10, 2017

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 weíve 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 parentsí. Nicole is responsible for the baby at least three nights a week from the time she gets off school to about midnight, when my sisterís 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 sheís turned down social stuff because she was baby-sitting. Nicole also said from time to time her homework suffered.

This is Nicoleís senior year of high school and instead of hanging out with friends she is baby-sitting. I think Nicole gets overwhelmed, but I donít 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 sheís caving completely to her parentsí demands, then sheís getting a late start at developing self-determination skills.

But you also donít want to be just another person cutting in on Nicoleís autonomy. So, draw her out. When she says "sheís 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 itís 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 ó do you think itís appropriate?"

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

If she expresses qualms about doing anything, then be encouraging on your way to butting out. "Thatís your prerogative. Youíll be on your own soon, though, so give some thought to how youíll handle something like this when itís not your parents asking."