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The writer’s older sister sits at home all day playing video games and their mother pays for everything. (TW-Creative/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The writer’s older sister sits at home all day playing video games and their mother pays for everything. (TW-Creative/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My mom enables my older sister’s lack of responsibility. What do I do? Add to ...

The question

After graduating university, I moved in with my parents and 26-year-old sister. Two months later, I got a great job that required me to move out again. Until then, my sister and I shared my mom’s old car. When I moved, she got to keep it. I had to buy a car and insurance. This would have been fine, except that my sister is paying for absolutely nothing. She is three years older than me. My mom has a long history of babying my sister. Her only financial responsibility is her cellphone. I proudly became financially independent by working hard through school. My sister works a minimum-wage job about seven hours a week and spends most of her time playing computer games. I have accepted that we have different personalities, but not that my mom enables her lack of responsibility. I feel as though she is playing favourites financially. What do I do?

The answer

Well, it’s certainly a twist on “sibling rivalry.”

Normally, that term refers to one sibling’s envy of the other’s accomplishments, achievements and (I suppose) ability to accumulate various sought-after items.

In your case, though, it sounds like you’re envious of how little your sister has been able to achieve, accomplish and accumulate.

But let me wind back a bit. First of all, I want to congratulate you on moving out, getting a job and becoming independent, all by (sounds like) 23.

Mazel tov! I’ve read that something like 40 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 20 and 30 still live with their parents. Which is kind of a disturbing statistic. And – anecdotally, at least – a picture’s starting to form of a generation that doesn’t want to leave home or face life’s responsibilities in the same way previous generations did.

Both my parents and parents-in-law had houses, cars, jobs and pretty large families under way all before they turned 30.

My generation (so-called “Xers”) put it all off a bit, some well into their 30s, but most Xers I know wound up knuckling (or maybe it was buckling) down to all that stuff in the end.

But so many “kids” these days (now I sound like a bandy-legged old man in a ratty bathrobe and grubby slippers shaking his fist on his porch, but so be it) seem content to live with their parents, shirk duties, play video games and avoid work like your 26-year-old sis.

Why? Well, for sure it’s “tougher out there,” these days, as modern twentysomethings will tell you – tons more competition for not-necessarily-so-wonderful jobs.

(I say to my three teenage boys: “If there is even such a thing as jobs when you graduate, they will only go to the best of the best – so you better work your butts off.”)

And how are millennials ever going to be able to afford a house? But you can’t know what might happen unless you try. Or as Samuel Beckett – always a master of pithiness, here I think summing up all human existence in six words – put it: “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.”

Your sister has to get out and take her knocks like everyone else.

Part of me understands just wanting to curl up like a shrimp in one’s domicile and avoid everything. It’s a knife-fight out there. But turning your back on it all, playing video games and working seven hours a week is not a healthy response.

(Frankly, I’m surprised your sister can even afford a cellphone.)

Now, originally I was tempted to say to you: “Lead by example, worry about your own stuff and let your mother and sister sort out their own problems.”

But on reflection, I think you should go ahead and say something. Your mother isn’t doing your sister or herself any favours by spoiling and coddling her – and I think, if you care for both of them, you should tell them that.

Not in an aggressive or superior way. You don’t want to ruffle feathers. Try to frame it positively. Maybe something to the effect of: “Sis, you never know what you might achieve if you try harder and Mom, you should encourage her to chase her dreams.”

Of course, it’s easy for me to say. My offspring are always welcome in my home, but it’ll be hard to know what to do if I find myself with a bunch of twentysomethings under my roof, lying around like jellyfish, playing video games.

I could see it getting tiring/tiresome kicking their butts all the time.

But kick their butts I shall – or rather: encourage them on a consistent, persistent basis to try, fail, try again, fail better. And who knows, with a little luck, maybe, one day: succeed! You and your mother should both encourage your sister in the same way.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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