I love my sister very much but I just couldn’t take it anymore. And before you start throwing around “blood is thicker than water” and “family comes first” I have another saying for you. “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” and I refused to be part of the problem anymore.
My solution? Tough love. And now my sister hasn’t talked to me for over a year.
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We were brought up in a loving middle-class family with parents who worked hard for everything they had. Our parents taught us the importance of saving, investing, and thinking long-term. They also modeled giving to those less fortunate than we were.
All of our needs were met and we were allowed to spend money on some of the things we wanted too.
My sister and I got jobs in high school and it seemed like everything our parents taught us was setting us up to be successful with money in the future. And that was true until we both graduated from college and started our adult lives. That’s when my sister seemed to forget or ignore everything we had learned about money.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
We were busy with our careers and life and before we knew it, we were both married with two small children. I had started noticing the changes in my sister’s money mindset when they were looking to buy their first house. We bought a starter house a few blocks from my parents. They were looking in a development in a nearby town.
Both my sister and her husband earned modest salaries and the “forever” homes she showed me seemed quite a stretch from what we thought they could afford. They found their dream house, took out a huge mortgage, and were convinced it was worth it.
My parents were worried and so were we. But we figured they knew what they were getting into. Maybe we were just too conservative in our thinking.
Later that year, they showed up at our parent’s house in a new SUV and my sister shared the amazing deal they got on it. The joke was that they couldn’t live in their development driving a ten-year-old mini-van.
At one point, I told her husband that we couldn’t afford a vehicle like that and he said, “We can’t either but she wanted it and what am I supposed to do? Happy wife, happy life – right?”
It just got worse after that. A few months later we were at their house and they had all new furniture because there was a 0% interest sale at her favorite store. And then she shared that they were contemplating having an inground pool installed.
Her reason? Every other house had a pool and her kids needed one and without a pool, their property wasn’t as valuable as their neighbors.
And that’s when I finally blurted out, “How on earth can you afford all of this?”
She just stared at me and walked away. Then she changed the subject it wasn’t brought up again. She got her way and avoided the money discussion.
And what we should have known was getting her way was the root of this whole problem. What she wanted, she got. And she would rationalize it any way she had to.
Just Stay Out of Their Business
You might be thinking that I was just getting involved in something that really wasn’t my business. And we did stay out of it for quite some time. But there is more to the story.
My sister and her husband used my parents for daycare for their kids so they didn’t have to pay for it. My parents had plans to retire and travel but instead, they were taking care of their grandkids for up to 10 hours a day. They could have said no, but they knew my sister and her husband were “in over their heads” as they said.
But my sister just kept spending. They couldn’t afford daycare but booked trips to Disney and then a cruise a few months later because they “deserved it” for working so hard. And slowly their house was filling with more and more stuff the kids needed. Toys, trampolines, electronics – you name it. They had it.
Family get-togethers were getting more strained because how they were living was so different very different than how we were brought up. And it was clear to us that their jobs couldn’t continue to support their lifestyle.
And when they couldn’t pay their income tax bill that year things came to a head. When I found out they asked my parents to borrow money to pay their taxes – I lost it.
Ending the Enabling
My husband and I had to talk with my parents about my sister’s spending problem. We put it all on paper and showed them just how in debt they were and we talked about how it happened. We talked about enabling and how dipping into their retirement to bail out my sister wasn’t helping anything.
My mom cried and my dad just looked down. They didn’t want to give her more money but they thought they had done something wrong. They suggested that maybe they didn’t teach her well enough and wondered how could she and her husband ever get out of the financial mess they were in without more help.
That’s when they shared that my sister had drained the kids’ college accounts my parents were funding to try to pay off some of their credit card debt. I cried then too.
I knew we had to make a plan together and confront my sister and her husband. In five years, they had created a mess that was hurting our whole family and their children’s futures. They may have appeared to “have it all” but at what expense?
But I also knew my sister and that this was going to be an ugly conversation based on what I’d seen the last few times I brought up money.
The Title Gives it Away…Tough Love
I wish I could say that the plan to cut them off and stop funding their lifestyle and decisions made a difference. But at this point, I wouldn’t know.
When my parents told my sister that they couldn’t help with the tax bill, she walked out. They’ve called her and her husband and they’ve sent letters and tried to visit. And so have we. We’ve even offered to pay for any professional help they needed to make a plan to work on their finances.
But they haven’t spoken to us or to my parents in the last year. And they’ve kept the kids away from all of us too. Their house is for sale and rumor has it they may be separating too. We’re all heartbroken.
I wish I would have said something sooner and talked to my parents right away when I was worried about how much they were spending. My parents did teach us both about money but assuming they were going to be OK didn’t help. Not talking about money and spending has taken a toll on our family.
Why are we all so scared to talk to the people we love about money?
We decided to set up bank accounts for each person in my sister’s family and deposit money for holidays and birthdays in place of the presents we would have bought this year. Maybe someday we won’t need those accounts. And I hope it’s someday soon.
Is the price of tough love worth losing my sister? I know it was what we had to do, and I hope this will all turn out in the end. I’ll keep sending cards and reaching out to her because I love her and her family. But in the end, it’s not my decision to make.