Home » Ask the Therapist » Parenting » I’m Mothering My Sister’s Kids

I’m Mothering My Sister’s Kids

Asked by on with 1 answer:

From the U.S.: I am the oldest of two and my mom passed in 2004. Since the passing of my mom I tend to step up as mother unintentionally. In 2014, I gained custody of my sister’s two children without having any children of my own. It’s been very hard on me and even harder on my sister.

Although she can be highly active in their lives, she doesn’t take it very well and isn’t very open with me. I have allowed my sister to stay with me for short periods, but there is always tension since her kids have a much stronger bond with me than they have ever had with their mother.

My concern is that she says she wants her kids back but doesn’t show it. She tends to check out at opportunities to be a mother and gets upset when I suggest things she can do to be a better mother. I believe my sister as an undiagnosed intellectual disability and she has had a lot of traumas in her life. These combined has affected her way of parenting.
As her older sister I feel its my responsibility to make sure is on a path to get better so she can eventually regain custody of her children.

I would value advice on stepping back and not playing the mother role. She is an adult but I have a hard time setting up good boundaries with my sister. It doesn’t help that I am also getting treatment for codependency among other conditions. I want to be a better sister for her because she feels like I’m against her. I want to support her without being overbearing, controlling, and judgmental. My sister gives me more anxiety than the two pre-schoolers that terrorize my home.

I’m Mothering My Sister’s Kids

Answered by on -


I wish I had a little more information. You didn’t share how it is that you have custody of your sister’s kids or what services have been provided for you both. It seems that you are trying to do a great deal without the information or support you need to do it well.

If you haven’t already, please contact the Department of Disability Services ( Your sister needs to be evaluated for whether she qualifies as a person with intellectual disability and whether she is eligible to receive a variety of supports.

Having had a number of traumatic experiences, your sister may need some intensive therapy as well. She won’t be able to parent as you (and she) would like her to until she has supports (other than you) and treatment geared to helping her reach her goals. Even with treatment, it may not be possible for her to be a full time parent. In that case, treatment would be focused on helping her make peace with that fact and with determining the healthiest way to be part of her children’s lives.

Meanwhile, it sounds to me like you are ambivalent about being the kids’ primary parent. At 30 years old, it probably isn’t what you had in mind for this stage of your own life. It’s good of you to step up, but you may need more help than you currently have to parent well and without resentment.

The fact that the kids are “terrorizing your home” suggests that they are upset as well. For that reason, I suggest you get an appointment with a family therapist who can help you navigate what resources are available to all of you. The preschool teacher may be able to make a referral for you.

You don’t have to go it alone. There really are resources available in your state to help you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

I’m Mothering My Sister’s Kids

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). I’m Mothering My Sister’s Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 26 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.