Dear Life Matters,

My sister and I grew up very close, being only a year apart in age and having a mother who died young. We never knew our dad and were raised by grandparents and an uncle. We shared so much and were and still are close, but somehow we have turned out so different. I married and had three children. I went to college and I own my home. My sister has children but never married, they have different fathers and she moves constantly. I am even unsure how she supports herself.

First of all, I cannot believe how different we turned out since we came from the same family circumstances and were so close and in agreement growing up. But my real problem is my nieces and nephew. My sister is not a very good mother, in my opinion. I love and worry about her children. I often find myself intervening on their behalf.

I have tried over and over again to show my sister a better way of doing things, and instead of being grateful, she seems annoyed and gets angry with me. I am only trying to help, to show her the best way for herself and her children. Perhaps I am not approaching it right. Can you help me find a way to get through to her?



Worried Sister


Dear Worried,

It is indeed very interesting how different we can be from our siblings.

We immediately think, just as you said, that we had the same experience, and same family, but actually this is not completely correct.

While it may be the same family, not everyone has the same experience within a family system. There can be subtle and not so subtle differences in the relationships within a family.

Having said that, even if it seems identical, we all experience things differently. While we humans have much in common, we are each unique in terms of feelings, physiological profiles and various states of mind and how we perceive things. I often hear this same comment or question, how could we be so different when we grew up in the same family?

So while you shared a lot with your sister growing up, and even seemed to agree, I assume, on how things were experienced or perhaps your opinions on what was going on, you should realize that under stressful experiences people can tend to agree even if they don’t (perhaps haven’t even had a chance to think it through) in service of being together and feeling the protection of togetherness.

You and your sister clearly took in your same or similar experiences in very different ways. You reacted completely differently. I cannot say why, only you and she might know.

But your bigger question has to do with why she doesn’t do things your way, clearly the best way, and why won’t she listen to your helpful advise?

Wow! I must ask you why you are so certain that your way is the way? I don’t mean to insult you, but have you ever heard of “different strokes for different folks?” Her way just may not be your way, end of story! It seems it would be better for you to put your energy into accepting this.

You will not be able to change her unless she asks you for help and truly wants it. And even then, you won’t change her; you might help her change herself. It is best to not interfere, especially with someone else’s children, unless they ask you for help.

I started some time ago to avoid giving advice or even my opinion, unless I was asked. Telling people what they should do, how they should be is not only asking for trouble, it is a tad arrogant. And be careful because some people will go on and on about their troubles and it really may sound like they want your help but I think it is best to ask first, “would you like to hear my thoughts about this?” They may say yes because they feel they should after going on and on, so ask again, “are you sure?”

Often people just want us to listen. We may want to help and think that we can, but be sure the help is wanted or you will end up with some bad feelings between you.

I think the best way to help your sister is by example, never by preaching or scolding or pointing out the ills of her way. Be available to your nieces and nephews and let them know you care about them so that they know that they can turn to you, but do it without saying anything about their mother.

Good luck!


Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at or send your anonymous questions to Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters, because it does!


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