Dear Barb – Family obligations

Dear Barb,

I don’t know if you can help me, but I thought I’d write anyway. I grew up in a severely dysfunctional home. All I ever wanted to do was get away. I was finally able to obtain an education and start a career. A few years later I met a wonderful man and we were married. For the first time in my life I feel happy and free of my family, as I maintain only minimal contact with them. However, now one of my sisters is having difficulties and is trying to come back into my life. I feel angry and resentful of this sister, as she has done nothing to help herself. What are my obligations to her? I don’t want anything to threaten my ‘normal’ life, as I fear I could lose it all in the blink of an eye.

Guilt-ridden Survivor

Well it certainly sounds like you are a survivor and you should be extremely proud of yourself for your accomplishments. However, always remember the old saying, “never forget where you came from.” This does not mean you cannot rise above your beginnings, but simply do not allow yourself to think you are better than anyone else.

There could be many reasons why you were able to overcome your early life; similarly there could be many reasons why your sister has not been able to achieve this same success.

I do not believe you have to take care of your sister, but perhaps you can extend a hand to her. However don’t let her pull you down, rather your goal is to lift her up. You will know soon enough whether she is willing and able to help herself.

Perhaps the best way to help your sister is to put her in touch with professional agencies that can direct her to the resources that are available in her community. Her needs will be specific to her situation and you can’t be expected to know what is available. For example, if she has drug or alcohol problems, or mental or emotional problems, it would be difficult for you to know what is the best treatment for her.

In regard to your question, there is no easy answer. Your obligations to your sister are not black and white, but rather what you feel you can comfortably give. A good rule of thumb is the old saying, “follow your heart.”

Perhaps there are other readers who have experienced similar circumstances and would be willing to write in and offer some insight into their situation.

I hope I was able to help and thanks for writing.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.