Sister Suggests Sibling Strife Situation

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Dear Miriam,

My sister is moving to my neighborhood, just about a block away from me. We’re both in our early 20s, single and childless. How can I set appropriate boundaries with her so she’s not dropping by unannounced, expecting to tag along when I hang out with my friends or otherwise intruding on my life?

Signed,

Sister Boundaries

Dear Boundaries,

You haven’t mentioned that your sister is especially needy, intrusive, clueless or awful to be around, so I wonder to what extent you’re anticipating problems before they arise. You need to talk to your sister, like, yesterday. Find out what she’s excited about in her new neighborhood. Find out what she’s nervous about or hasn’t figured out yet or what her expectations are of you. Talking to her directly will hopefully quell some of your concerns or, at least, give you a perspective on exactly what boundaries you need to set.

If you’re able to, offer to be a resource to her. Tell her where the best grocery stores and coffee shops are. Give her advice about parking or sports leagues or young professional happy hours or just generally life after college and making friends. If you can’t do this, you can still send her links to local websites where she could find this information. Inviting her along with your friends on a social gathering seems pretty standard to me until she gets on her feet, but if you’re not willing to do that, it would still be a kindness on your part to make sure she has something to do when she first moves in.

Consider offering a once a week (or every other week or every month) meet up with your sister. Put these on the calendar and plan for them, so that if she starts to suggest extra get togethers or hanging out, you can remind her about the set dates. If she is insistent or disrespectful of your boundaries, be firm but kind. Saying, “I’m not available,” politely but firmly should get through unless she has a particular history of overstepping.

If she really doesn’t take you and your boundaries seriously, remember that you can ignore text messages and phone calls. You can ignore knocks on the door, though it’s harder, and if she does show up, having a set line like, “I’m in the middle of something but look forward to seeing you next week,” should help. You should be honest about your whereabouts, though, because the possibility of running into her is real, and getting caught in a lie will be bad for both of you.

Try to be curious about whether she really needs something or just sees you as her default. Understanding where she’s coming from and what she’s looking for will, hopefully, give you insights into the best way to set these boundaries in the first place. She’ll likely establish herself and her own routines soon enough, and I hope you will give her the benefit of the doubt as she’s first getting settled before you shut her out altogether.

Be well,

Miriam

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