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I have a toddler. My sister has a 4-year-old daughter and three older stepsons, ages 10 to 12. I have only spent a little time with the boys since they live primarily with their mother. A family emergency meant they would have to come and spend the summer full-time with their father. My sister and her husband both work, and I am the primary caregiver for my niece. Our neighborhood is quiet and near several parks and the local library. You can bike and walk most anywhere. My sister begged me to take on her stepsons. I agreed and figured I would just turn them loose to run around like my siblings and I did at that age.

They constantly fight, scream like they are being murdered (indoors and out), and have zero respect for any adult around. I have to physically remove their tablets from their hands to get them to do basic tasks like cleaning up their toys or trash. My next-door neighbor works nights and has very reactive dogs. I told the boys not to use the side entrance because it sets off the dogs, but they thought it was funny and did it anyway. My sister and her husband just brushed it off as boys being boys.

I hit the roof when another neighbor approached me with a video on her phone. The boys were using her basketball hoop and the ball kept slamming against her car. When she came out to tell them to stop, they taunted her and called her a “Karen bitch.” I have never been so embarrassed in my life. The boys lied and denied it until I showed them the video. Then they confessed but said they didn’t call my neighbor out of her name. Their father took their side when I told him! His boys would never act like that, and my neighbor was obviously lying. I have known this woman for seven years and never had a problem like this.

At this point, I threw in the towel and told my sister and her husband to make other arrangements.

They have been using vacation time while scrambling to find a sitter. I am still watching my niece, but my sister is just completely cold now. It is wearing on me. I went out on a huge limb for her family and they spat in my face. I love my sister but she’s being unreasonable. I feel more pity for these boys’ teachers than I do the parents who raised them this way. How do I deal with my sister?

There’s not much else you can do but try to get your sister to understand your perspective and hope that she realizes what a terror her stepsons have been towards you (and your neighbors!). Let her know that you’d only wanted to help her out, but you were left with no choice to stop caring for them because of the complete lack of respect that they showed in your home. Tell her that you want things to go back to normal between the two of you, but that the only way that can happen is if she loses the attitude and moves past what happened with the boys. Remind your sister that you are still doing her a tremendous solid by caring for her daughter. Ask her how she honestly feels about the boys’ behavior and how things are going in her home; it’s possible that she hasn’t wanted to admit how challenging these kids are and that she’s having her own struggles with managing their behavior. Give her space to commiserate about the boys with you. That’s really all that you can do; ultimately, your sister needs to recognize that this situation is her stepsons’ doing and that she owes you an apology for not being more understanding. If these kids acted that way with you, it’s unlikely that they are polite and well-behaved in her home. She may not want to admit to herself (or you) just how much she’s struggling. Let her know that you’ll be there when she’s ready to be honest. —Jamilah

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