Dear Family Advisor

No matter how much I help care for Mom, my hovering sister makes me feel guilty.

Last updated: Sep 21, 2010

Mom has rheumatoid arthritis and congestive heart failure, and my sister does everything for her. I visit often and try to help every way I can, doing chores and repairs and taking Mom on errands and appointments. I also send a monthly check to help cover costs.

When I'm there, my sister hovers like I can't do anything right. This summer she decided not to take a vacation because Mom had just gotten out of the hospital and wasn't doing well, even though I assured her I could handle it.

But when I recently booked a cruise for my 20th anniversary, my sister said, "Gee, that must be nice." I feel guilty all the time. I can't help it that I'm married and she's not. I can't help that I'm working full-time and she's caring for Mom -- she chose that. I can't seem to convince her that I'm willing to do more caregiving. Is it wrong for me to celebrate my life and relationships?

Your sister, like many people, wraps a good portion of her identity around caregiving. She's forged a bond with your mother, and she's proud of the care she gives. Nothing wrong with that -- but you have every right to be in your mother's life, too.

Caregivers like to be needed and busy "“ and here I'm speaking for myself, too. We've had to let go of so many other aspects of our lives -- work, hobbies, friendships -- that if someone offers us some time off we sometimes don't know what to do with ourselves. Offers of help can even feel like a threat, as if the helper is trying to take away the one thing we're good at. So be patient with your sister -- her care for your mom is valuable to all of you, and it's partly the nature of the beast for caregiving to turn people into control freaks.

It's so much easier to decide how we want things to go and push everyone else out of the way. But it's not very nice, and sometimes it takes another person to point that out. Caregivers have to be reminded that we're not in charge of everything, just most everything (smile ).

Your "mission" is to get in there in a matter-of-fact way and have the relationship with your mom (and sister) that you want to have. Your mom's views count, too. I'm sure she appreciates your sister's help, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't need and want you in her life! You may have to firmly remind your sister that your mom gets to say what she wants.

If you haven't said "thank you" lately, do. Find the words that make your sister smile. Send her cards and small gifts in the mail. Encourage her again to take a break and let you cover for her.

Try to be sensitive about what you say to your sister regarding vacations, your marriage, and other good things happening in your life. I don't mean you should lie or not talk about such things, but don't brag. (We don't mean to, but comments may come off this way.) Life isn't always fair, and those who are alone and might like a partner sometimes feel sad or resentful.

Keep trying -- and don't feel guilty for what other people choose. Hold them in your heart in a place of goodness and love, but know that we can't change others. The sooner you make peace with where you are and who you are, the sooner others will begin to see you in that same light.

Don't be afraid of a little sibling tiff. Welcome a healthy disagreement, and then end with, "You know I love you." If your sister starts to balk, tease her a bit, but don't give up. Take an "I'm your sister (or brother) -- and Mom's other child -- and I'm here to stay" approach. Most times, love wins. And go on that cruise with a joyous heart. Celebrate with all you've got!