Should I be mom to my niece?

My sister can’t take care of her baby daughter — should I take her in? Thing is, I’m only 20.

It’s a tough decision, says our elder — but you shouldn’t have to give up your own dreams.

Dear EWC

Hello. I just didn’t know who to go to at this point. My sister had a child; she’s this beautiful little three-month-old who I’ve been taking care of for the past two and a half weeks. My sister hasn’t been bothered to contact me or my mom and even ask when the baby’s coming back. She’s just content to let us take care of her child and not bother us about her. On top of that my sister’s house is no place for a child. She has three cats, who all use the bathroom wherever and my sister doesn’t clean it up. And her and her husband are notorious for drug use and neither have jobs. My mom and I are pretty sure they won’t be able to keep the baby, but my mom is too old to take care of the child (She’s 76 years old.) I love the little girl with all my heart and want nothing more than to keep her in the family but I’m only 20. I’m still in college. I can get a full-time job but would I be throwing away my youth by taking in this precious little girl? Is it selfish for me to not want to take in the girl? I mean I want to but I don’t want to grow up feeling like I threw away my life. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

Folk replies

It doesn’t sound to me like your sister has much interest in raising her child. She’s content to allow you and your mom to take care of her daughter and hasn’t even bothered to contact either of you in weeks to check on her or ask when she will be coming home. More importantly perhaps, your sister’s home is not a healthy environment in which to raise a child: there is cat feces everywhere and your sister and her husband are both bigtime drug users. Given these circumstances, there’s a very good chance that you and your mom are right when you say that your sister will most likely not be able to keep her baby. And, honestly, this is probably for the best. Your precious little niece deserves better.

If your sister and her husband’s parental rights are terminated, you (and your mom) could apply to foster the child. As foster parents, you and your mom would receive a monthly stipend for your niece’s care from the state. This might allow you to provide care for your niece without having to quit school and get a full-time job. The trouble with this solution though is that you may not want to take on responsibility for the care of an infant. After all, you are only 20 years old with your whole life ahead of you. As much as you love your niece, you may not want to change all the plans you have for your life in order to raise your sister’s child. Plus, your mom is 76 — and, in a few years, you may need your help herself. If you have to care for your mom and you already have a toddler to take care of, all your plans for the future could go up in smoke.

If you think there’s a chance that your sister and her husband will get their lives in order anytime soon, temporary foster placement for your niece might still be a solution — even if you and your mom choose not to do it. You can stay in touch with your niece by visiting her regularly.

But if you don’t feel that your sister and her husband are likely to clean up their acts anytime soon, it would be a shame to let your niece languish in foster care indefinitely. She deserves a home and parents of her own. So, another possible solution is to encourage your sister and her husband to voluntarily give up their parental rights and release their daughter for adoption. I know that the idea of giving your niece to strangers to raise is hard. But I urge you to at least think about it. There are families waiting for child who would love your niece and offer her the chance in life she deserves. You could go on with your life guilt-free knowing that she is being well cared for and provided for.

You didn’t create the circumstances that you are being forced to face. If it were possible, of course, you would want to keep this precious little girl in your family. But you should not have to give up your youth and your dreams to do so. If you make this great sacrifice, in time, you might wind up resenting the little girl for whom you gave up everything. I am so sorry that you have to make this tough decision. But the sooner you make it, the easier it will be on you and on your niece.

I hope this helps. I am always here if you need to talk more about this or have any questions or comments. Please write back and let me know your thoughts and what you decide to do. I will be thinking of you.

Letter #: 435278
Category: Children

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