THE BLOG

Shouldn't a sister be a close friend?

06/24/2010 11:58 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Last October I discovered that my only sister, who is two years older than me, has been stealing the money I send to take care of my mother in Mexico. She was managing a property I have in Mexico. The rent had always been used to pay for our mother's expenses. My sister didn't deny what she had done when I confronted her by email.

Because she refused to return the papers (the leasing contract and the legal papers tenants have to sign in Mexico), I couldn't collect the rent and had to sue her to get them back. She did it out of meanness; she knows very well that these monies have always been used to pay for some of my mother's expenses. She doesn't need the money either.

Not only I am hurt---but I'm furious that after stealing the money, she isn't helping financially or taking care of our mother. I have to do it all from 2,000 miles away. It is so unfair that she has washed her hands completely even though my mother adores her and was such a good and responsible mother. I can't understand or explain my sister's behavior, which is baffling, unsettling and infuriating.

I try to detach myself but then, every day I have to deal with one more problem with the employees or pay for additional expenses and it is hard not to be mad at my sister. I do biofeedback and relax every night, which helps, but the anger is still there. I also decided to start a blog to deal with these feelings. I know you talk about friendship but in many ways a sister is (should be) like a close friend, isn't it? Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with this anger and frustration?

Signed,
Carmen

ANSWER

Dear Carmen,

It's been said many times: We choose our friends but we can't choose our family. As nice as it is to have a sister who is also a close friend, it sounds like your relationship with your sister has spiraled downward. When a relationship between siblings goes awry, it is especially painful because it's someone with whom you've grown up and have shared so many firsts. It's understandable you would be disappointed: Your sister abused your trust and seems to feel no obligation, as you do, to provide for your mother.

Although your sister is living in Mexico and you aren't, it's clear that you can't depend on her either as a property manager or as a caregiver. Unfortunately, you need to sever your business/financial connections with her and arrange for the money from the leased property to go directly into a bank account under your control.

Your first priority has to be overseeing your mother's care. You can't force your sister to do so or to contribute financially, so this leaves you only two choices: either to move your mother closer to you or to make proper arrangements to protect her health and safety where she is. Despite the expense and inconvenience, you may have to travel to Mexico to assess what's happening and put a better plan in place.

If you do go, your sister may realize just how much you care and decide she wants to pitch in too. It will also give you the opportunity to talk face to face. If that doesn't happen, your relationship with her may have to be placed on a back burner. She will have to live with her own decisions.

I don't fully understand the pressures that led your sister to feel so alienated from you and your mother but, unfortunately, this situation is more common than you would imagine. She may have problems you don't know about, either emotional or financial, or may simply resent being the one on the front line.

The best way to reduce your anger is to use your energy to resolve the caregiving crisis. Additionally, journaling, blogging, and biofeedback are all helpful techniques for reducing stress. I especially hope you have a friend---who is more like the sister you wish you had---to provide support to you during this difficult time.

My best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.