*Dear Tamara:

I let my cousin move in with me about six months ago. She was only supposed to stay with me for a couple of weeks until she got her apartment situation straight. She is driving me crazy! She doesn’t cook or clean up after herself.

I go to school during the day and work a second shift job, so I am not home very much, and when I am at home, I don’t want to have to clean up behind her. She works a part time job during the day and spends the rest of her days watching reality television and eating junk food and take out.

And when it’s time to pay the rent or I ask her to contribute to the bills, she always comes up short. Every time I ask her about her apartment search, she has some excuse. I feel like she mooching off of me and taking advantage of my kindness.

I want to ask her to move out, but I know that she doesn’t have any place to go. I was always taught that you have to look out for family. Our mothers are sisters and I don’t want to cause trouble in the family, but I am not sure how much of this I can take!

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

I admire the fact that you look out for family. I think it is important for families to stick together and help one another during difficult times. At the same time, I don’t think anyone, even family, should take kindness for granted or take advantage of someone who is trying to help them. If your cousin is staying with you, she needs to contribute to your household, both financially and physically. But more importantly, she needs to respect you and your household. That means following your rules and expectations. You need to lay down the law. Be clear about your expectations and STICK TO THEM. Let your cousin know what amount of money she needs to contribute on a monthly basis and then collect it. You need to also devise a plan where both of you cook, clean and take care of the apartment. No grown person should expect someone else to clean up after them, and you should not have to take on that burden.

If you have not already done so, you need to sit your cousin down and have a serious talk. I don’t know your cousin’s full situation or if this is a pattern, but you do. Assess the situation and be honest with yourself as to how much you can put up with and how much you are willing to take. Find out how long she really plans to stay with you. Give her a time frame or deadline to find her own place and STICK TO IT! Many times when a person is comfortable and not being pushed, finding their own place may not be a priority.

I understand you not wanting to cause friction or tension in the family. My own family is very close and we help each other all the time. But just because we love our family does not mean we have to turn our blinders on and allow our family to walk all over us. Nor do you want to become an enabler for your cousin. Sounds like you have your priorities together going to school and working and managing your own household. You have to allow your cousin to be just as responsible for herself. Don’t make it easy for her to avoid growing up and living her own life.

Author of the upcoming book Been There Done That: And Lived to Tell About It (due out Spring 2011), Tamara R. Allen is Your Advice Guru giving REAL advice from REAL experience. Email your questions to [email protected]. You can follow Tamara on twitter @tamararallen or check out her daily column and archives at www.tamararallen.com.