Carolyn Hax: Responsible for teenage sister after mom ‘ran away from home’

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: It looks like my mom ran away from home. She asked me to stay with my 16-year-old sister for a few weeks so she could visit her friend in another state. I knew she had not been on holiday this year and she is a grown woman and deserved a break.

That was over four weeks ago and she is not ready to come back yet. The only response to my text messages and voicemails is that she needs a long break and I can drop off my sister at our dad’s house if I’m tired of her. My dad only sees my sister if my mom bites him for it, so there is no way I am doing it against her.

I do not know what to say to my sister or how my mother takes such a long break from her work. I’m afraid to call there and ask and embarrassed to try our other relatives. It’s not like my mother at all. I tried to call the last number I have for her friend, but it’s not her number anymore.

When my sister asks when our mother will be back, I’ve been lying, but she’s really sorry our mother did not speak directly to her. I love my sister, but the money my mother left behind to help cover expenses has run out, and I really want to go back to my own apartment. What should I do?

The sister: Oh my. Call your father – not to send your sister there, but to get him involved legally and financially, especially if you are not 21. There are child custody laws. “This is not like your mother at all,” until it is. Also call other relatives who can be helpful – you have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary: You have been responsible and brave.

And you have to be honest with your sister as she already knows something is wrong.

If no adult relatives agree to help, call Child Welfare, 800-4-A-CHILD. This is not childcare, though it may be your next call; it is a non-profit organization that can offer you responsible ongoing guidance in a less intimidating way.

Carolyn: I’m 24, so okay there. I guess I need to talk to our dad. I dread it as we do not talk so much. It’s a long story. I really did not want his wife involved, because she is not a sweet person, but I guess I have no choice. Thanks for the answer.

The sister again: You’re welcome. If the father opportunity is really awful, and if you have a sympathetic other relative, then maybe start there just for the emotional reinforcements. Reach out for the best person you know.

· Please call your sister’s school and talk to her counselor (if they have one). They are compulsory journalists, but as a teacher I actually think it would be best to get CPS involved, because even though mom is coming back soon, she has proven that she has some things going on that are preventing her from becoming a good parent, and your family could use some support. Thank you for going up.

· Okay, that’s a tough thing, but are you sure it’s your mom writing back? If not, please write something that only she would understand, and if you get a problematic answer, call law enforcement.

· What your sister needs to know above all is that even if you do not know when mom will come home, she, your sister, will be okay. You want to help her figure it out.

Update: Mom gets help.

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