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Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:
I am 32, a Filipina working abroad as an IT professional in Santa Fe. I am the youngest in our family. I have two older brothers who are married, with good jobs in California. Our eldest sibling, my sister “Marie,” lives in the Philippines with my mother. She has a gambling problem.
Since we moved abroad, I have sent money to help my mother with her living expenses. My mother sometimes asks us to help Marie pay for her gambling losses. We all used to oblige, even my two brothers who do not give her a monthly allowance like I do. But after a while, it seemed like we were also paying our sister an allowance for her gambling.
Two years ago I said enough was enough and sent money only for my mother’s expenses, no matter how much she asked me to help, no matter how big my sister’s problem seemed. She did not talk to me for two months, but that was okay with me. My mom called me again this March, telling me to again help my sister with her debts. Mom was frantic as the debt had gone up to the hundreds of thousands and her creditors were impatient. I still refused.
She is still not talking to me. I wrote her to say I was coming home for New Years (after being three years away) and would like to see her. She has not answered me. What can I do?
Thank you for your email.
It is often taken for granted that the more fortunate members of a family will come together to support the less fortunate, be they parents or siblings. This is especially true if there are medical/PWD issues but even when these are not present the default setting is that one is duty-bound to help.
When the problem is the result of antisocial or addictive behavior, the appropriate response can become more elusive. Up to two years ago, your family was more or less united and willing to pay up in support of your sister, while you also supported your mother. However, it became clear that this was not only not resolving the problem but in fact prolonging it since your sister’s gambling debts kept growing. You were actually enabling her.
When matters came to a head, you and your siblings decided that enough was enough, but your mother disagreed with this and to express her disappointment in you she stopped speaking to you. It is not clear however whether she also stopped speaking to your siblings nor whether you have continued paying her living expenses.
While there is perhaps little chance that you can immediately persuade your mother to change her current stance other than by bankrolling your sister’s debts, showing other types of support for your sister would be a positive move. For example, you (and your siblings?) could offer to pay for treatment for gambling addiction, try to persuade her to join Gamblers Anonymous (see gamblersanonymous.ph, gaphilippines.com, and gamblersanonymous.org ). This way, you would be helping your sister as well as demonstrating support for her to your mother. In the final analysis, however, you have to recognize that this is not a problem that can be fully resolved without your sister’s active cooperation.
There is only so much you can do by yourself; the rest will depend on her.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter.
Please forgive me for sharing this rather disquieting information about your relationship with your mom. She doesn’t like you, Vivian. I don’t know if she ever did, or if she will start to do so in the future, but for right here and right now her dislike for you is so palpable you can cut it with a knife.
This disquiet/dislike is not about your helping/not helping your sister and her gambling debts. That is just a facade which your mother is using to protect herself. Your family issues run more basic and primal than that.
On the one hand, one could look at what I’ve just shared as potentially damaging-for-life trauma. On the other, this could also be valuable information to help you make better informed decisions about what things in the future that ARE under your control.
Example: Refraining from helping pay “Marie’s” gambling debts seems a rational decision that fits in with other life choices you have made.
Good luck and please write us again if we can help you,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to email@example.com.