Visiting sister won't pitch in around the house

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I live overseas with my husband and two boys. My sister visits often due to work travel and generous vacation benefits. Sounds great - especially as I have no other family member who can visit as often, and I would like my kids to know my part of the family.

The problem is her visits cause extreme exhaustion for both my husband and me. She doesn't help or take care of herself in any way while visiting. So in addition to juggling work and two kids, we find ourselves with another "kid" to cook for, clean up after and entertain.

I have tried being more direct - asking her to set the table or pick up her stuff - but it doesn't work.

Answer: Have you tried being direct-direct, versus just "more direct"?

"Your visits are really important to me, and I love that my kids have a chance to know you - but I don't have the energy to be a host. What I'd really like is for you to pitch in as if you're a member of the household. Would you be willing to do that? Another option is a nearby hotel, but I'd rather make it work with you here."

If you could say this to her without her getting defensive, then you probably would have long since done so. But, since you're already cutting your sister off by silent means, you might as well take a shot at keeping her close through communication means.

That effort also can include being forceful in establishing your limits. "I'm cooking tonight, but I have a late meeting tomorrow. Would you please take charge of dinner?"

You also, though, can just pull back on the time and effort you put in. Don't entertain her, don't clean up after her. Just establish new terms for the visits and live by them, leaving her to choose between acting like a family member and pitching in, or a guest but enjoying fewer comforts.

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