My aunt wants me to take my sister to live abroad with me

My father passed away and since then my sister’s mother’s behaviour has been erratic

PROBLEM: I am in my 30s and have a half-sister (seven years old now) from my father’s second marriage. She was born when I was living abroad, and I have only seen her on a few occasions. Sadly, my father passed away a few years ago and since then her mother’s behaviour has been very erratic. My aunt, who lives close by, constantly helps with my sister’s education but berates my sister’s mother. The mom indeed has learning difficulties and is far from an attentive mother and my aunt keeps pressuring me to intervene and take my sister to live abroad with me.

I feel very bad about this situation. I don’t want children and I have no interest in adopting my sister when she has a potentially capable mother and a fat pension my father left for them both. I am now avoiding my aunt’s calls and I resent her for insisting I do something.

Other family members don’t have the courage to approach me like my aunt, but I’m aware they echo her views.

I don’t have anyone to share this with.

ADVICE: This may not be a decision you can make: a child cannot simply be removed from their home and country and moved in with someone they hardly know. If your sister’s mother is a danger to her daughter, then your aunt needs to contact Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) so that they can do an investigation. However, if the mother has learning difficulties, as you suggest, what she needs is help and support so that she can parent well, and in this sense the wider family may have a role. You say your aunt has concerns, as do some other members of the family, and it is possible that their concerns could be harnessed to bolster and support your young sister’s development. However, this cannot be done without the inclusion of your sister’s mother and meeting her in-law family might prove a daunting prospect for her so it would have to be done with sensitivity and care.

Someone has to get this process rolling and it seems that you might need to lead on this

Your response at the moment is to blank the issue and not to answer your aunt’s calls. Perhaps this has been a successful tactic for you in the past, in dealing with your parent’s separation and your father’s second marriage. It may be that you have not quite faced the hurt and abandonment of that time in your life and it seems that you have some resentment left over, eg that your father’s fat pension has gone to his second family. All this, no doubt, has a huge influence on your decision not to get involved with your sister but she, like you, is an innocent in her parents choices.

It is possible that you could have some influence in her life, but one where you are a willing participant rather than as an imposed caretaker. Either way, it seems that some form of family get together is now called for and this should not be a once-off but part of a process that can continue while your sister grows into an adult. There is a well tried and tested process for families to come together to support a child in need and this is called Family Group Conference. This is a decision-making meeting in which a child’s wider family network comes together to plan around meeting the needs of the child or children. The Children’s charity Barnardo’s offer this service and you can research this on their website.

Your sister’s mother would be supported in her participation in this process and you would not be railroaded by your extended family into full time caretaking; the process is managed by professionals so that all voices are heard.

If this is to happen, it will require you facing up to this issue, rather than avoiding it and this is a decision that is facing you right now. Research into children and young people’s mental health (My World Survey 1 & 2) consistently suggests that having one good adult in a child’s life is a huge protective factor against future mental health issues. You could be this for your sister, albeit from a distance: you could be interested in her life, stay in contact over social media, develop a genuine connection with her and both visit her when you are home plus invite her to spend some holidays with you abroad. With the support of family at home and with less criticism of her mother, it is possible that you could participate in your sister’s life with some level of joy and care.

However, someone has to get this process rolling and it seems that you might need to lead on this. Putting the effort in now might allow you to stay connected to your own family as well as offering you a life-long, positive relationship with your sister.