Sister can help without being a rat

Published May 26, 2007

Q: I'm in college and my sister is in high school. Lately she's been doing some stupid things, drinking and all that comes with it. She tells me about these things and expects me to be supportive. I think she's developing behaviors that are going to ultimately mess her up badly. It's getting to the point that I want to tell our parents so they can rein her in before something awful happens. She's starting to resent me for always chiding her. How do I get her back on track and become her sister again?

A: You are still and will always be her sister. You can't help her if you, too, get in over your head.

So. She reports her stupid behavior, you chide her, she keeps reporting her stupid behavior. Either her expectations have come unhinged from reality, or you are misreading her expectations.

Helping to rein her in is a way to be supportive, if that's what she wants; and that may well be what she wants. Don't be afraid to ask her, without accusing, why she chooses to tell you this stuff.

Also, don't be afraid to change your responses to her. Apparently, chiding doesn't work. But what happens with questions that force her to think; with sitting back and just letting her talk; with letting her feel for the reins on her own; with, just, "How are you doing?"

Finally, if you sense she's in real danger, don't be afraid to tip off Mom and Dad. It's enough that they know you're concerned; "I think it's important that she feels she can trust me" is the explanation you can give them for not spilling every last bean.

Where there's bravado, there's fear, and where there's fear, there are (good) parents - not barely older, doubt-saddled siblings. True, you might get busted for getting her busted. You also might not be the only one who comes out of it feeling relieved.

It's worth asking

Q: I'm an independent, professional, 35-year-old single woman living relatively contentedly. I say "relatively" because within the past six months I've stumbled upon learning of two separate ex-boyfriends' marriages and newborn children. Those men hadn't seriously crossed my mind since those times. So how come their news shot fresh pangs of pain through my heart?

A: Could be you felt something special for them; could be you felt you were special to them.

Could be you heard their news at a particularly vulnerable time.

Could be the news itself made you vulnerable. Not that being 35, single and female means you're biologically compelled to feel pain - but there is an intimacy to the life stage of bringing home a baby that can chill those on the outside.

Could just be one of those pesky mortality milestones.

All of which would be normal - and, if not worth reading much into, well worth tossing around.

Washington Post Writers Group