Dear Family Advisor

How can I get my sister to spend more time with Mom?

Last updated: Jan 26, 2011

Elderly Woman and Younger Woman

My mom is in my home -- in hospice -- and my sister won't help because she's jealous that Mom came to my house instead of hers. But my family-leave time at work is running out, and I really need my sister (a stay-at-home mom) to come and help out during the day so I can return to my job. Yes, my sister is the mother of three kids, but our mother is dying of an inoperable brain tumor and she needs both of us right now. I'm still willing to cover nights and weekends, but I can't afford to lose my job.

All this started when Mom chose to come to my house instead of hers. My sister always complains that she has too much on her plate, and I think Mom didn't want to be a burden. My sister seemed to get really hurt and pull away after that.

I don't want my sister to regret this, and I really do need her. How do I approach her in a nonthreatening way, so she'll agree to help?

Being thoughtful and sensitive is a much better approach than blasting your sister -- but you might not have long, and it would be a gift to your entire family to come to a place of peace.

You can try to have a heart-to-heart talk or write a letter sharing how much you and your mom want and need your sister. Focus not just on physical caregiving duties -- anyone can do that -- but on the importance of coming together as a family. Only you know if this approach would be beneficial or so uncomfortable that it would push your sister further away.

Another tactic is a little more organic and doesn't involve a big speech. Begin to involve your sister more and more, and act like nothing has happened. Be specific -- ask her to do something she's naturally good at or that fits into her every day routine. Keep asking until she agrees. Try to see that she's pulled back because she's hurt and feels vulnerable. Give her tasks that make her know she's needed and that help her interact with your mom so they can get back to a normal relationship. Allow your sister and mom time to be alone together -- as well as time for the three of you. Don't criticize your sister, but show your patience and gratitude. Getting back to normal may take some time, but it's worth it to mend your family.

Meanwhile, get rolling on Plan B right away. Your sister may not step up to the plate, and the only way for you to keep your job is to be proactive. Visit your human resources department at work and see if there's any other available time off, and see if you can find out exactly how secure your job is if you do have to take unpaid leave. Consider going part-time and contact your hospice organization for a list of area care providers who know how to be sensitive to those in hospice.

Just because your mom is in hospice doesn't mean she's going to die next week or even next month, so pace yourself. You don't have to be at your mom's side every second. But it is important to be present, to honor this time and leg of the journey. You want to look back and know that you did all you could to heal relationships and give your mom the love and care that only family can give.