As the older sister and a married woman with a child of your own, I’m sure you have some very definite ideas about what it takes to successfully parent a child. Your experience is valuable and relevant, but unfortunately, mainly to you. It is very tricky to involve yourself in a sibling’s way of parenting his or her children. Usually the advice you give, however well-intended, is not well-received.
Here are a few guidelines that may help you in your decision about what, if anything, to say to your sister about how she is parenting your nieces:
- Remember that any advice that is not asked for is usually unwanted and perceived as criticism. Be very careful about offering opinions when they are not requested.
- Older sisters often feel that they know more than younger sisters, but there comes a point in time when younger sisters are also adults and deserve the respect for their adulthood that you yourself also want and deserve. At a certain point, age differences no longer matter in the way they once did.
- Be clear with yourself about what it is that you really want: Do you want to be right or do you want to have a relaxed and comfortable relationship with your sister and her children? These are family relationships. Think long-term.
- If you feel that there is a real and imminent danger to your nieces (for example, you think they are being physically or sexually abused or you are genuinely concerned that their basic needs are not being met), then you do have an obligation to say something about this to your sister in order to look out for the welfare of your nieces (or any other child you know, for that matter). These situations are relatively rare, but they do exist. In these cases, you do have an obligation to intervene, no matter what the consequences may be to your sibling relationship.
- Finally, please know that the most important thing you can do for your sister is to support her, even if you disagree with some of the details of her parenting. This will bring the longest-lasting benefit to your sister and to her ability to parent her children in a confident and effective way.
Finally, know that you are important in the lives of your sister and her children. You have long and fulfilling relationships that you can enjoy with one another for decades to come. Keep your eye on the prize and make your decisions accordingly.