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Sister Pretends to Care for Mom


"My sister pretends to work when it comes to caring for our mother. We see Mom on different days each week, and my sister seems to repeat the things I have already done, while other tasks are sorely needed. And to top it off, she makes a big fuss about all the "work" she's done! For instance, I wash the floors every week. My sister washes the same floors when she visits. The floors are quite clean, but the refrigerator desperately needs cleaning out. It's not easy to speak with my sister about this topic as she gets quite defensive. Any ideas?" - READER



It appears from your description that your sister does not really want to help take care of Mom. This may be true. Perhaps she is redoing your cleaning work because you did a marginal job? It is also possible that you two are not setting clear expectations with each other due to little or poor communication.

Now, if it is true that your sister is pretending to work and acting like a martyr, she is not unique. Some individuals in this world make a habit of pretending to work, and unfortunately, this imbalance does not escape family caregiving situations. Pretenders will flutter about, making a big show of their work, but when it comes right down to it, they accomplish very little. It does not take long for those actually working to catch on. Rarely do we want such a person as a coworker or teammate. Whether this describes your sister or not, she is a member of "Team Mom" that you cannot avoid. A solution must be found.

I recommend three techniques to handle sister

  1. First, if it is difficult to communicate directly with your sister about task delegation, see if you can get her to commit to tasks in writing. Don't expect people to see what you see when it comes to finding chores that need to be done. Create your own system - which depending on your preference may be a thread of texts, emails or notes - that clearly outlines the tasks each of you will do. 
  2. Second, when number one fails, as it likely will, have Mother ask your sister to transport her to medical appointments, do laundry, go to the pharmacy, take mom food shopping, or other tasks that are difficult to fake. You can focus on the housekeeping then.
  3. Third, give up and go solo. Let mother know that it is you and her. Do what you can and tell Mom that the rest must be hired out. Then follow through with the plan.

Please understand that your mother likely knows very well what is going on, though she may not be willing to say or do anything about it. At this point Mom knows what her daughters are like and changing your sister is unlikely. 

This is not an easy situation for you. Being the responsible one who gets the job done can be tough, and for whatever reason your sister does not assume the same level of responsibility. In a situation like this, you simply must give it your best and move forward.

I wish you well on this journey.


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