Ask the grumpies: Obligation to house a sibling?

Kellen asks:

Let’s say I have a sibling, older than me, who has received enough bail outs from our parents that they don’t want to bail this sibling out anymore. That is–they want to help, but they feel like it’s enabling said sibling to continue not standing on their own two feet.

Now, sibling just moved to a small town very far away because sibling’s partner moved there for work. Sibling has no job, no money, and maxed out credit card. Sibling would need financial help to even pay for the gas and probable car repairs needed to drive across the country to move close to the family. One suggestion from parents is that sibling must stay in the small, far away town, find a job, even if it’s bagging groceries, and save enough to pay sibling’s own way.

Now, here I am, in a very good spot in life, just made it to saving 50% of my income this month. I don’t know if it’s good for sibling to stay in this small town with no money, and learn to hold down a job, or if, as family, there’s some obligation to help sibling get to where I am and stay in my (sort of) spare room (which is really our office/living room space) while sibling finds a job around here (in the big city).

Also, sibling has a degree as an elementary school educator + a masters degree in something like team-building activities (?), but has been trying to work as a general contractor. So sibling is not completely without qualifications, but kind-of without qualifications to do the kind of work sibling likes (working outdoors, doing labor). Also, I only know people who work in offices, which sibling has 0 experience with, so I can’t really help sibling find a job.

So, this is the kind of question that if the grumpies could answer it, they’d be able to sell the answer and make millions and millions of dollars, maybe billions once you add in speaking tours and private consulting with very rich people.

In terms of whether or not you have an obligation to invite hir to where you are and stay in your spare room.  The answer there is no.  It sounds like your sibling has worn out your parents and they may be right that ze needs to figure things out before someone else comes to the rescue.  And it sounds like sibling probably isn’t in a situation where your help would actually be help rather than enabling.  Sibling is an adult.  There aren’t children involved.  Your parents have tried to help and have decided that that kind of help isn’t helpful.  What you can offer may not be helpful either.  Your parents may be right that sibling has to hit bottom and build hir way up before ze can actually make use of any help you could give.  They may be wrong, but it’s not like their decision has to be a permanent one.  Time will provide more information.

We can also tell you from personal experience that it is seriously irritating to house a user.  Housing someone like #2 when she needs it is great!  She’s thankful and does chores both asked (without complaint) and unasked and is basically a pleasant person to be around, and she gets stuff done that she came to do and so on.  Housing someone who is used to being bailed out gets seriously annoying when he doesn’t hold up his end of what he’s supposed to be doing, complains that you don’t keep the a/c low enough (and that he’s the one who has to move his car morning and evening to comply with the HOA) even though he’s not paying rent, assumes he’s staying longer than you thought you had agreed (say, until the out-of-state house sells), and wastes all his money on things like fast food.  And you get to hear how his wife won’t move to town and get a job because then she’d lose free babysitting from her mom that you suspect the mom didn’t exactly agree to.  It is super stressful.  *koff*

You do probably have a familial obligation to keep your ears open and keep in contact with your parents to make sure that someone is keeping a long-distance eye on said sibling.  But you do not have an obligation to invite hir to live with you.  And if said sibling seems to have turned things around a bit and seems to be on a path where it’s clear that you can help in some way that doesn’t have the potential to majorly blow up, then it would be nice of you to help.  And if said sibling hits a true rock bottom, it would be nice of you to help your parents pay for attorney’s costs or counseling costs or for you to help said sibling get into whatever (government or nonprofit) programs or systems that might help.

So we can’t tell you what to do, but we can give you permission not to invite your sibling to stay with you when your parents have given many second and third and fourth chances that seem to have hurt rather than helped.

What say you, grumpy nation?  Got any better advice?

27 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Obligation to house a sibling?”

  1. plantingourpennies Says:

    We each have a sibling who has (to put it gently) failed to launch. In our experience, it takes quite a bit for a parent to withhold support, often much more than has ever been admitted to openly even among people with whom the parents feel they can be completely honest. Knowing that your parents probably didn’t come to the decision lightly, if I were in your shoes I would feel a greater obligation to stand by my parents’ decision to stop the bailouts and let sibling figure out how to start to stand on hir own two feet. Keep lines of communication open, and if it comes to it, information on food banks an various services for those in need in sibling’s locale to give to sibling as needed.

  2. MM Says:

    My sibling doesn’t appear to save any money, spends money in ways I would not, and is often in tight spots. I have considerable savings and live on less than half my salary. I love my sibling and want hir to thrive, but I don’t help with everything. For example, when the sibling neglected to pay taxes on a windfall, I did not help with the tax debt. This turned out fine–the sibling moved somewhere cheaper for a few years and paid the taxes. I do help when someone’s heath is on the line–the sibling has some chronic medical issues and one of the sibling’s cats required surgery.

    My instinct in reacting to the hypothetical–without knowing the sibling or the whole situation–would be to offer to match the sibling’s contributions to a moving fund (if hir own goal–not the family’s–is to move closer to home). I would want to see my sibling working toward the goal of moving close to home on hir own, and then help it happen faster, rather than fund the whole thing. I also might help by doing some research about how to become qualified for the kind of jobs sibling seems interested in (programs, volunteer opportunities), but in my experience doing the work for another person can be ineffective and frustrating when they don’t act on it.

    If I invited my sibling to move in with me (and I’m not sure I would in this situation), I would have a written contract regarding the duration of the stay and the sibling’s responsibilities while staying with me. (Knowing that it would be hard to kick the sibling out at the end of the agreed-to duration if they hadn’t yet found a job.)

    Good luck!

  3. Mrs. Frugalwoods Says:

    That’s a tough situation. I’m honestly not sure exactly how I would approach it if it were my own sibling or sibling-in-law, but from an outsider’s perspective, I’m inclined to agree with plantingourpennies. I’d say, echo your parents’ advice to the sibling and be open to offering moral support and advice. Seems like they really might need to hit rock bottom, as you said, before sorting their life out completely. Good luck to you.

  4. Liz Says:

    I don’t have any experience with a sibling like that, but with other “friends.” My advice is do not do it. If you want to enjoy the person’s company and invite them for a burger once in a while, sure. Otherwise, my suggestion is to reserve both judgment and handouts. The relationship WILL deteriorate if you do not set up your own clear boundaries.

  5. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    I have loads of experience in this area. I have family member’s who’s parents supported both of their children financially until their deaths. I am so glad for your parents that they are brave enough to do the right thing. Although I never gave handouts to these people, I was always overly generous. I even took one of them on a vacation and paid for it because this person didn’t work. It was a milestone birthday and they were still mourning their parents’ passing, so I thought I’d splurge above and beyond what I normally do to try to pull them out of their funk. Shortly after that event, though, I was told I “had to pay for certain expenses.” Oops, that definitely sent the wrong message.

    The cold hard truth is that having a lot of free time is AWESOME and when other options present themselves, they are pretty hard to pass up. There is a segment of people out there that are holding out for that dream job instead of working their way up to it and/or feel a sense of entitlement to a certain lifestyle without doing the icky steps to get there. Unfortunately, most people don’t land their dream jobs out of the gate and a lot of us, myself included, didn’t even know what that would be until I tried a bunch of different things first.

    My relative and I had a talk about they money thing and I told this person all the ways I’d support them, but financially is not one of them. In the end, it was the financial enabling that they wanted the most, so we aren’t as close anymore. This person is also an able bodied and educated.

    There are lots of fabulous ways you can help your sis that are not financial in nature. Listening, Proofing her Resume, Spending Quality time with her, helping her move, etc. Above all, it’s important to provide hope and guidance that the dreams she wants are achievable. Also, sometimes one doesn’t know what those dreams are, so talking through some of the options can also be helpful. Unsolicited advice usually doesn’t go over well, but make sure she knows that you can be a sounding board for HER ideas.

    I’m sure your sis isn’t at this stage yet, but make sure she knows she’s no different from you. I was somehow always seen as “lucky” even though my path to get educated was a lot harder. People who feel downtrodden often only see the other people’s successes and not the work/hours it took to get there.

    PS. I also think it’s kind of unrealistic to think you can be a general contractor in a field without any experience to speak of. When I was in a purchasing function, I would never pick a person with so little experience, despite a cost difference. Most contractors of this type worked for 10-20 years in industry before breaking out on their own. So, building experience, even if it’s donated may be a good interim step to do in the meantime. …Like do a team building for your favorite non-profit staff, which should also be tax deductible, etc. With only the above information, it seems like she wants to jump to the end result without doing her time first. Millennials have people like Zuckerberg to look up to, but the reality is that most people can’t achieve his level of success out of the gate.

  6. becca Says:

    Full disclosure: I do not have siblings. So my advice may well be completely off.
    I think in a case like this, listening to sibling about their own goals and if relevant offering to help sibling fib a little on their resume by listing your address as theirs (so they look local to big city employers) is the type of contribution that counts as meeting an obligation for “decent human”. Offering to arrange a ride to job interviews in the big city, or to look over the resume to make sure it’s as good as it can be, is what’s needed for the obligation of “helpful sibling”.
    Offering to let sibling stay with you, indefinitely, with no specifications as to their obligations… is likely to lead to a poorer relationship in the long run. Doing that out of a sense of obligation is not the wisest course.

  7. Thisbe Says:

    Looking at MM’s response, I realized that it is totally not clear that sibling even wants to move across the country and in with family. If hir partner has rewarding work in the town where they are, would leaving and moving back in with family necessitate a breakup? Is that the desired outcome?

    I am not opposed to sibling bailouts in principle, but I don’t think that organizing the whole move home will necessarily be helpful. I can imagine, if a sibling expressed desire to move somewhere but needed help (and if I wanted to help in that situation), loaning or gifting money towards specific things – $X for gas or a bus ticket, $Y for a security deposit on an apartment, $Z for an airbnb for a while until ze finds a place. But I dislike having houseguests at the best of times… I did have a sibling stay with me for a few months rent-free, and it was mostly fine, but not something I would care to repeat.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ll also note: don’t cosign anything unless you’re planning to take on the entire debt and have some way for the creditor to notify you when the debt isn’t being paid. (Since even if you’re willing to pay the debt, your credit will be dinged if the debt isn’t getting paid.)

    • Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

      One of the many mistakes I made was “organizing a move” for a person. I actually got blamed when things didn’t go as planned….even though many of things that were needed for a worry free move was not in my control. (Like being packed, like showing up when you said you would).

      Ugh. This post is bringing up too many of my dumb enabling mistakes. When you care for someone, sometimes it seems like taking over is the answer, but the more you do that stuff, the less able the person is to stand on their own two feet. It took too many years to figure this stuff out and part of it was driven by guilt and empathy.

  8. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    Another criteria I use now is: Would this person be there for me if I was the one who needed help? This can sometimes be a difficult question to answer because you of course are the “rock” and don’t usually need help…and your down days aren’t as extreme as the person in question.

    BUT it does become apparent when you always make time for a person if needed but the reverse is not true because they justify their unavailability with their own drama du jour. This I’ve experienced more with mooching friends than with family members.

    I have to say that one of the best parts of having kids for my own sanity has been to stop all this craziness. Somehow, it was okay to abuse myself, but for whatever reason, I didn’t want to do it at the expense of my family. It’s always really hard to justify why an adult’s entitled and ungrateful behavior is tolerated when a child gets punished for the same kind of situation. Nowadays, most of the people I keep company with are also very giving, which is a much nicer environment to have my children grow up in. I would also help them financially if they needed it.

  9. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I think PoP’s point is spot on. My husband has an estranged sibling who has been enabled his whole life. We have had discussions about what will happen when the enabler dies. What do we do if/when sibling is in dire straits? Are we comfortable with hir being homeless? Etc etc. Not fun conversations.

    As firstgenamerican said, kudos to the parents for stopping the enabling sooner rather than later.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    I gave my opinion on this question when it first popped up in a comment thread, and I see that others agree with me. :-) As is pointed out, there’s actually no indication that the feckless sibling WANTS to be helped out of hir situation. Outsiders looking in may well think “this is a dead end” but those inside may be thinking “this is where I want to be.”

    I have noticed that a lot of people LIKE being in a box. It’s safe! They know exactly where the boundaries are! And if something hits their box, someone else always seems to come around to fix it. Don’t be that person. Leave hir in hir box. If ze ever really wants to leave, ze will DO SOMETHING and then you will have something to support.

    Also: unlicensed contractors are lawsuit magnets. Don’t touch that with a ten-foot pole.

  11. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    There are lots of social service organizations that can help. If they were okay taking handouts from relatives, they’ll also be okay paying for food with food stamps and living in subsidized housing. I know more than my fair share of people who are in this situation, but none of them are homeless. They are supported by the government.

    Maybe the services are way better in MA than other places, but there aren’t that many people sleeping on the streets out here. Unfortunately we have gone through this situation very recently with an in-law’s adult grandchild who ended up getting arrested and had no where to go when he got out. He got arrested because of violent behavior towards the elderly person he was living with. Charges weren’t pressed and it took a family intervention to keep the kid from moving right back in (it wasn’t the first time unfortunately), but it was the right decision. Anyway, the amount of support this young man has is unbelievable. There are shelters, and half way houses and subsidized housing options for all the different levels a person is at in their lives. He was assigned a case worker and a psychiatrist and work counsellors and all kinds of other stuff. Yes, spots were limited, but he stayed in jail til one opened up.

    I guess I’m liberal in this regard because I’d much rather have this kid get help trying to get on his feet vs paying for him to sit in prison. Either way, I’ll probably end up paying his way with my tax dollars. I’d like him to at least have a shot at living a normal life with the help of social service organizations.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re link loving an article this weekend that we read about a guy who used to be poor and vote tea party (against his own interests) but is now middle class and votes democrat. A lot of it is about how the government was the only people willing to help him when he needed it, and he couldn’t mentally accept that…

      But the part that stuck out at me is that even though he’s now middle class, he still has poor relatives. If the government doesn’t help support them, then he will have to. And it’s really hard to figure out support vs. enabling vs. hurting his immediate family to help his extended family. And he can’t do everything that they need.

      And I think that’s one of the reasons *we’re* so pro-government services and pro safety-net. Our relatives are poor and they’re good people and they don’t always make the best choices (though they’re understandable choices given the circumstances). We want that safety net there so we don’t have to be that safety net. We can give our tax money to the government and they can help with WIC and daycare and health care and so on. And there are a lot of other people out there who are just as deserving, or maybe not deserving at all, who don’t have well-off relatives. The government doesn’t discriminate against them (well, doesn’t discriminate to some extent).

      • Rosa Says:

        Plus, the person directly giving the services of daycare and housing placement and eventually eldercare won’t have the lifetime or even generations of negative feelings that sometimes come from being the support for people who are grownups and don’t have to follow your advice or example or maybe failed you when you were a kid.

        A lot of people I know have addict or mentally ill elderly parents whose paid caregivers genuinely LIKE them, because when not using or parenting they are charming, likeable people. It’s way better for them than being cared for by grown children with a lot to hold against them.

  12. Sarah @ littlebusontheprairie.com Says:

    I could be overlooking something, but if sib has a partner, where does ze come into the picture? The issue seems to be addressed as only relocating the sibling, with just passing mention of the whole reason ze moved out there – because the partner has work.

    A partner is just that – someone on your team you can rely on when you’re in a tough spot. Not that I’m suggesting sib mooch off the partner, but just that it’s not like ze’s out there with no support whatsoever. Ze made the choice to follow partner for a reason.

  13. Kellen Says:

    Missed a key fact or two when asking my initial question I see!
    Sibling’s significant other ended things a few days after the very-long-distance move was completed, which is why sibling desperately wants to leave the area.

    Thank you for the reassurances that I’m not a terrible person for not wanting to extend offer for sibling to stay in my home. And also for pointing out that it is still helpful just to be available to talk to sibling. I was stressed out that sibling would want more, but ze has been pretty happy with getting more phone calls than usual, etc.

    For those that were congratulating the parents on their resolve… well, they weakened, and have invited sibling to stay with them. Have also found someone who would like to hire sibling, which helps me feel a bit more comfortable with the whole situation, since ze will have income right away. Sibling is still being told by parents that ze needs to save up enough money for gas to drive here, but parents tell me they will help out if ze runs out of money mid-trip (due to car breaking down for example.)

    In other news, in a recent phone call, sibling was telling me ze was considering taking a special offer for a free tablet from a wireless company (in exchange for paying monthly internet connection cost of $40/mo). Sibling wanted to know if I had heard of this brand of tablet, and was it good. I told sibling to look into other ones that only work on WiFi, and that it wasn’t a good deal.

    Which is why it’s hard to begin helping financially–because then I would want some input into decisions about how that money is spent, and I would get so angry to know that sibling is trying to save a few hundred for gas money, but still thinks signing up for completely unnecessary wireless service at $40/month is possibly a “good deal” that should not be passed up.

    • Rosa Says:

      My followup question would be…are your parents going to have enough, in their old age? If not, and they continue to support sibling anyway, what are your boundaries around helping them?

  14. Revanche Says:

    [All the necessary and unnecessary curses]-No. Not obligated, not a good idea, and probably something you’ll have to revisit in the future if sibling continues in this fashion and doesn’t change significantly.

    Becca’s right:
    Offering to let sibling stay with you, indefinitely, with no specifications as to their obligations… is likely to lead to a poorer relationship in the long run.
    Sandy’s right:
    When you care for someone, sometimes it seems like taking over is the answer, but the more you do that stuff, the less able the person is to stand on their own two feet.
    N&M are right:
    And it never ends well. :(

    I’ve been and continue to be in the position of having made the mistake of allowing Sibling to live with us. For reasons of health and sanity (not mine) I caved when my parents wanted to let him move in. Since then, they refused (and continue to refuse) to force sibling to stand on his own two feet. In nearly ten years, I have only seen the help degenerate into enabling into fully supporting because he didn’t see any reason he should, despite living in totally uncomfortable conditions made that way on purpose because I didn’t WANT him resting on his laurels, get out and shift for himself.

    The worst things about it are: when he could have done for himself, my parents refused to stand by the boundaries that I set. Now he can’t and I’m stuck footing the bill to keep a roof over his head which I can only afford by continuing to make sacrifices. I’ve pulled back much of my financial support, even from the essentials, for both parent and sibling because soon I will have serious need of that money, but it’s been a long process and frustrating every step of the way. I still don’t see how I’m going to be able to entirely cut the cord without making him homeless (and maybe I will have to be ok with that at some point but I’m not sure that I am right now). I will have to find a way but it’s been a world of grief.

  15. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Don’t let them live with you. Once they’re there, you’ll never get rid of them.


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