Dear Dr. Schwartz, My 24 year old sister recently broke up a 2 year relationship with her fiance who lived in Germany. Ever since the break up she’s been acting rebelliously. She doesn’t talk to me or my parents. She bought a TV and is always in her room. She goes out at least 3-4 times a week and comes back early next morning. She’s very disrespectful, calling us names and talking about leaving the house. When we try to talk to her she simply says that she doesn’t care about us and wants to be left alone. My mother has given her alternatives such as she can learn to respect and talk to us or she can leave the house. She said she will leave the house, the only problem with that is that it is unacceptable and seen very bad in our culture, and my mother is afraid that we will get a bad name in our community b/c of her behavior. She got fired from her job and now spends the majorit of her time in her room or out of the house. She also started gambling and we don’t see any signs of alcohol or drug abuse (except when she goes out she’s been drinking). Her behavior is causing us alot of stress especially on my parents. We are already struggling with finances and my parents with language problems. My siser simply says that she wants to do whatever she wants and be left alone. We are lost. We don’t know what to do and how we can show her that her behavior is distrcutive not only to us but especially to herself. Please help.
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In many ways you present a problem that seems to defy any solution. The reason for the problems seeming to lack solution is that it is shameful for a daughter to move out of the house. Yet, there seems to be no other choice and let me explain why.
Your sister, at 24 years of age, is an adult and, as such, is expected to behave in ways that are socially acceptable both in and out of the house. If she refuses to follow the rules then she surrenders the right to live in the home of your parents. I understand that, from a cultural stand point, this is unacceptable to your family. I do not know the culture to which you are referring but, if all of you were living in the home country of your culture, there would be a lot of social support to put a stop to her disrespectful behavior. Those supports do not exist in the United States or the West in general. If those supports exist in the local community here, they will not have the binding effect they would in the culture of origin. Therefore, all your parents can do is demand that she move out immediately.
It is unreasonable (in the U.S.) to allow an adult to continue to live at home while they are behaving in abusive ways to everyone else in the home. It is possible that if she knows that she must move out immediately that her behavior will change but, I doubt it. Her behavior might briefly change but it will revert back to disrespect and abuse after a short time.
By the way, she is breaking many house rules: being disrespectful to her parents, gambling, drinking, staying out all night, not talking to you or your parents, locking herself in her room and, in general, being very disrespectful.
I do not agree she has no drinking or drug problem. In fact, you do not know if she does or does not because she is rarely home. It is entirely possible that she has three addictive problems: drinking, drugs and gambling.
If she can afford to drink and gamble and, possibly do drugs, then she has the money to rent her own apartment and move.
I want to urge you to tell your parents to have her move immediately and to let her know that she is welcome back only when she learns to treat everyone in the family with respect.