My sister-in-law has an axe for a tongue.


Last updated: June 08, 2010

I've gained 50 pounds while taking care of my husband, who has Parkinson's. It's the stress, I guess. The problem is his sister who actually said to me, "It's a good thing he's so sick, because you've let yourself go so much I doubt Bob would stay with you otherwise!" She has a history of saying cutting things, like how I'd look younger if I dyed my hair (as if I have time!) or how Bob almost married the homecoming queen in high school (who happened to be her best friend) if only he hadn't gone away to that second-rate college (which is where we met).

What's the right response to someone who doesn't think before she speaks? I am trying the best I can and especially now wish I could have more family support.

Caregiving can really put your nerves on edge, but it can also give you the guts to deal with things you've been tolerating for far too long.

There's a time to let your silence and example speak for who you are"”and there's a time, now, to stand up for yourself and say, "No more." No one, no one, no one should talk to you in such a way. You're a loving and faithful wife and caregiver"”and I bet you're so much more. Your sister-in-law has some insecurities, and unfortunately she's been taking them out on you for a long time.

I hope that you can begin to view her differently"”not as a menacing threat, but as someone who still needs to learn how to treat people with the dignity and kindness they deserve.

Bullies usually back down when confronted. Have a serious and firm conversation. Start by sharing that throughout the years you've tolerated her put-downs, and that's now going to stop. It's hurtful and inappropriate and she's no longer welcome in your home if it continues. Share that Bob and you love each other and that she needs to concentrate her efforts on loving her brother -- and part of this is by respecting you, his wife. Don't get into a debate; some people want you to "prove" what they said so they can deny or defend it. Simply state that only encouraging words will be spoken in your presence. If she says anything ugly, open the door and tell her she needs to leave (or if you're someplace else, then you leave). I've had to do this myself, so I know how scary it is, but it also feels great to finally stand up for yourself.

I have to share that I, too, gained almost 50 pounds while caregiving. Stress, late nights, all nights, up-and-down nights, weeks of hospital stays, in and out home care and rehab, teenagers to mother as well as the grief and sadness I felt as I watched Alzheimer's take my mother's memories -- weight gain (or for others, weight loss) is a normal reaction. Thank your body for carrying you through this very difficult and heart-wrenching journey. The more we love ourselves just as we are, the closer we come into peace and balance inside and out. Trust that when it's time, your body will respond to the care you'll then be able to give it. Health is the priority here, not a number on the scale.

I often start my caregiving talks by joking, "You know you're a caregiver when"¦you and your mom have matching snap-front dresses!" I equate caregiving to being on the front line of a war zone. The rules aren't the same as in everyday life. You're literally fighting for your loved one's life. You have to do whatever you can just to survive. You'll get your groove back; don't worry!

Take a few minutes and make a list of all the thoughtful things you do every day. Write down every little item, such as covering your husband's legs with an extra blanket, changing the channel to something that cheers him up, stroking his hair when he's in pain. Then refer back to that amazing list when you're feeling low. Your life is filled with a million details right now, and you're pouring all of your love, energy, and attention to caring for your husband. That's something you'll always have"”to know that you gave your all. That's true beauty, the kind no one can ever take from you. I bet you're the kind of person you'd love to be friends with.

Surround yourself with people who are positive and affirming. There's nothing like a close friend to lift your spirits or give you a break by running an errand for you. I hope you'll reach out"”through a church-based community, a community center, or a support group for Parkinson's or caregiving in general"”to people who can really understand what you face every day.

In time, you may come to consider your sister-in-law's ugly comments as an ironic gift: She taught you to dig deep and recognize your own goodness and worth. Our teachers often come in disguise.

I'd like to share perhaps the most touching quote I've ever read: * "God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is!" * "“Macrina Wiederkehr

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5 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

about 4 years ago

I love the positive thinking and knowing that as a caregiver you need both kind words and inner strength. But I also know that it is time to turn a corner with evil sister-in-law. Yes, many of us find solace in food and/or the act of eating when our worlds have turned upside down. Unless your sister-in-law is actually helping with your husband's caregiving by offering to help - at least by giving you some time to yourself to catch up on rest, reading, shopping - she is part of the problem. When she makes her venomous comments, just give her something to think about: smile and thank her for her support in this difficult time. Sweetly tell her that you know you can always count on her. Then if you feel confident it is time to ask her what she would like to do for her brother. Ask her what shift she would like perhaps once or twice a week. Be prepared with times that you would like free for yourself. "Would you like Saturday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm or would Monday evening from 5:00pm to 9:30 pm be better? Don't as an open ended question to which she can answer yes or no. Be direct, take a page from her candor but not her lack of tact or sensitivity. Don't say any more, you have behaved like the lady you are; you have said what needs to be said in a way she might have to consider later. Perhaps she will understand that she needs to reform her ways, perhaps not. You don't need to swallow your hurt while trying to maintain your demeanor. You have put the issues out there. You might also want to explore the availability of community services since you obviously need both some "down" time and support. Best Wishes


Anonymous said about 4 years ago

Yes, your SIL leaves far too much to be desired and also seems to be Jealous of you too...People and that includes Family members are not excluded from many Hurtful, Negative Things which are said. I too heard extremely ugly things said, while sharing the Care giving of my Mother and I ended up being her main advocate. I learned a lot in that Horrible time watching my Dear Mother suffer from Alzheimer's and other health problems. I'm still grieving, as it has only been just one year since her passing. Surround yourself and your Husband with as many positive, supportive, loving people as possible. I would have a supportive person with you every time your sister-law visits and schedule her visits so that gives you time to have a supportive person with you. You are a Beautiful, Loving Wife and Kind person. Your SIL cannot hold a candle next to you and she knows it. Shame on her for she is Classless!


about 4 years ago

Unfortunately, it is easy to forget about ourselves when we are caring for a love one and as an result our mental, emotional and physical health suffers.The National Parkinson's Foundation has all kinds of information on caregiver's support services, please investigate what is available locally to you and make use of the services. If this not viable solution contact your hospital, the community services department and inquire if they have volunteers who provided respite care for a couple hours weekly so you could go shopping, get your hair done or keep some other appointment. As far as your S-I-L is concern don't lower yourself to her level of stupidity. Believe me she is seen for whom she really is, a negative, foul tongue, bitter person. I sense that you are truly gracious individual, much respect to you and hope you will be able to find supportive assistance in the care of your husband.


about 4 years ago

please for give the misspellings: the whle struggle I went through and the new ones I now go through do bring tears to my eyes.


about 4 years ago

your sister will be the one in the end regreting her lack of involvement but in the mean time as i had to do with my sisiter; tell her if she can not come into our home and be 'nice' she was not lovnger welcome. you don't need the insults when you have so much on your plate. After an very abusive child hood and not knowing my siblings well; it took alot out of me to stand up to my sister. She too was angry for the same reasons. it started a whole new relationship between us.. now 30 years later we support each other although in differnet ways and it still can be astruggle but we know we can count on each other. all I can say is that you need to stand up for yoursself to help yourself. if she chooses to not come around then that is hers to deal with. you need to do what you need; be responsible for you and to take care of you.. I know it is hard; i too continue to struggle.. we all will from time to time.


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