My Sister is Child-Like

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am 25 years old and married and I currently have my 27 year old sister living with me. She is the nicest person you will ever meet but we have a few major problems. I sometimes think that her mind is stuck back in Jr High/High school. Most of the people that she makes friends with are of high school age, and she tends to look up to them and identify with them and is almost obsessed with television shows that depict the lives of school aged children. Where most people our age would worry about their jobs, bills, retirement and so on, she is only concerned with makeup, hair, music and her friends. She is also extremely gullible. She will believe anything her friends tell her but will never, and I do mean never, listen to the advice of those who love her.

She cannot keep a job under any circumstances. She is either fired outright or just stops showing up and this behavior is usually accompanied by some form of excuse, the most recent being that she was fired for knowing someone who had HIV. She has only just recently learned to drive, but can’t afford to insure her car as she has no job.

She has been living with me for over 5 months now and downright refuses to look for work, to help around the house or even get out of bed. She will go without showering unless I make her, she will try to wear dirty pajamas out in public unless I make her change and most astonishingly, to me, she was upset about being asked to change my 8 month old son’s diaper because “he did it, make him clean it”. My husband is currently deployed right now and will be returning in July and I cannot have her here when he returns. He doesn’t know what is going on and I don’t want to cause him anymore worry or anxiety than I need to. I just wanted to help my sister get on her feet but now I am at my wit’s end. Is it possible that she may have some form of mental disorder?

A: It’s hard to know whether your sister is a spoiled brat who doesn’t want to grow up or mentally ill and only able to function like a child. Either way, you have more going on than you can reasonably be expected to handle. You didn’t mention if this is new behavior or if she has always been like this. Nor did you mention why she is with you instead of with your parents. I’m therefore very limited in my ability to understand the situation.

I do think you should insist that your sister have a mental health evaluation. You are fortunate to live in an area where there are many resources. Simply search on the internet for “mental health resources and your city.” There may also be an evaluation team on base for families of deployed personnel. Your chaplain may also be able to help you match your sister to resources she needs.

If a mental health professional determines that your sister has a mental illness, she’ll also be given a treatment plan. Since she is living with you and you are acting as a caretaker, do get your sister’s permission to sit in on the planning session. If she says she won’t let you, you may have to be more firm than you are used to being. You could tell her that living with you depends on her being open with you about what is wrong and doing what she can to get better. You don’t need or want to be in on every aspect of her treatment but you will probably have more compassion for her if you can have an overview of her problem and the suggested treatment.

If the professionals determine that she doesn’t have a disorder but is using you to avoid the responsibilities of adulthood, it’s time for the gravy train to end. Give her a few weeks to find somewhere to go and to go there. You have a small child to take care of. You don’t need a big one. Your husband does not need added stress when he gets home. You and your husband need to be able to focus on your own little family.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Feb 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). My Sister is Child-Like. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/02/02/my-sister-is-child-like/