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I help care for my sister. Should I go away to university?

My parents want me to go to university but I don’t want to go. My sister is 15 years old with chronic arthritic joint pain. If I go away, I won’t be able to care for my sister and check that she is okay, or help my mum around the house. I don’t know what to do because I know my education is important, but I can’t leave my sister either. What do I do?

Question by Pain Concern

3 Replies

Response from psychotherapist who works with people in pain and their families/carers:

This is a real dilemma for carers - how to be fair to people they are close to in the family who have relied on their support, but also how to be fair to their own needs, which include developing their potential through education and making new friends. It's very easy to think of a situation like this as an either/or - either I stay at home to look after my sister and help my mum - or I go to university. But there is another way of looking at it. Instead of seeing it as either/or you can look at it as both/and. That is, perhaps you can be both a carer and go to university. First of all going to university doesn't necessary mean you move away from home. You may find a course that is right for you in the town or city where you live. But even if you move away from home to a university in another town there are plenty of ways of continuing to show that you care for your sister and mum.

One young person who came with her family to see me - in a similar position to you - came to an agreement with her family that she would Skype her brother (to whom she had been a carer) at least twice a week for an hour. They also had email and text contact everyday and instead of it always being her helping her brother, she also asked her brother for his advice on some things. Her brother really loved this because he felt good that he could offer some of his wisdom not just receive it from his sister. Also, they made an arrangement that she would come home for a week-end at least once a month. She ended coming home every three weeks.

I hear that your mum wants you to go to university but I don't get any sense of whether you have discussed this with your sister. From my experience of these situations I would be very surprised if your sister objected to you going. She will ,no doubt, miss you but I bet she is also proud of you and wants you to do well. So if you haven't talked to her about it I recommend you take the risk of bringing the subject up. You obviously have a very close and special relationship with your sister and your mum. That closeness you have will not be destroyed by taking the risk to talk about something which may feel very difficult. Your relationships with your sister and mum will only benefit from taking such a risk. A lot of my work is about helping people to take the chance to talk about something they have never said before and when people do take the risk they usually say something like: "It feels such a relief to say it!"


With a University education you will have access to things that you cannot get without the benefit of the University Education. Another words you will be able to help your sister more.

You will also be able to speak the language of those who decide what is available or not available for your sister in terms of help.

Being at University will allow you to network with people who could help you understand your sister's condition better.

You will also learn how to do research and read papers. This is very important when dealing with consultants and GPs. Being able to read papers will enable you to begin to learn about a lot of the psychobabble which is out there and sounds nice, but in the long run is not helpful.

Hope this helps

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Thank you, John!