When the reasonable person makes so many concessions in attempting to keep the peace that they start wondering what they've done wrong when it's the other that's off the wall...
If LW ever did anything wrong, it was thinking that "unconditional love" meant never calling the sister on her bullshit, and not reasonably expecting the sister to meet her even part of halfway in empathy.
There are some people who will appreciate support and love and will be careful not to take advantage of the person offering kindness and then there are those who take what is offered and say it isn't enough - they use love or kindness as a means of leverage. The sister is obviously the latter sort and I think allowing people to blame it on her upbringing is harmful, because people have to take responsibility for their actions at some point. LW had the same parents, but no sister to love/protect her and sister is now a married mother with children who has made no progress towards becoming less dependent on LW or at least showing proper appreciation or, minimally, respect. LW still has to take time off work to help her sister and her sister says, "that watching her kids for a few weeks or months at a time is 'not the same' as being a mother"! It's the best possible preview a person can get, and why is LW taking care of her sister's kids for weeks and months at a time?!
In my opinion the sister is a spoiled brat who doesn't want to lose her on call nanny and mommy (for her adult self). As Dan said, though, the reason is kind of moot. As Xiao said, if anything this LW has made too many concessions. At a certain point she can't fix everything for the sister and if her sister isn't gonna be reasonable, then maybe it's better for LW to have a break from this one-sided relationship. LW can't be expected to take up the burden of keeping her sister happy, but I think that's what both of them have come to expect. LW should give herself the freedom to enjoy her own life without constantly worrying about her (adult) sister and think of it as an opportunity for her sister to learn to stand on her own feet.
LW -- If I could rock you in my arms, I would.
Your need to appease/apologize/keep the peace comes from growing up in an abusive household. I recognize that need. And I know that you can learn to set boundaries to stop negating yourself the way that your sister is forcing you to.
Please take Dan's words to heart. Your sister has taken on the role of an abuser. You do not owe her any explanation of why you want kids. When she bemoans the fact that you didn't go over the moon over her third, do not apologize. She did not go over the moon about your wanting a first.
Defend yourself. Show yourself gentle love. You do not deserve to be abused. EVER.
Yeah, this is some high-level narcissistic assholery on LW's sister's part. She's literally making EVERYTHING about her. Including LW's decision to start a family. Sister is completely self-absorbed. Maybe LW has let that happen in the past, but it's time to put a stop to it now. For LW's own sanity and for the healthiness of her growing family.
Well, at least now we all have a clear example of Momzilla behavior. Just how entitled does one feel to reach a state of assuming to get to dictate the level of excitement that must be expressed when one reveals plans to attempt to conceive, bear and raise a third child?
As for the sisterly dynamics, this seems classic OS/SS stuff, in which the SS sibling is expected to be the tagalong while everything that happens to the OS sibling is real. Fictional case in point - QaF and Lindsay's ongoing struggle to get her parents and sister to respect her life as valid when they cheerfully finance all Lynette's weddings (three in five years) but won't contribute to or even attend Lindsay's (not legal at the time) wedding to Melanie, and demonstrate in other ways that they consider Lindsay's relationship and family to be pretence.
Dan's right about how to handle the asshole sister, but two little things pop out that probably say more about me that they do about LW, but;
(a) LWs language about providing unconditioned love, always giving what you never had, etc. is also, in my experience, how terrible parents talk when they aren't getting the recognition they feel they deserve. Here's to hoping this isn't the case and to recognizing LW's fantastic job of helping raise her younger sister, but that raised some red flags for me.
(b) Are we really talking about bringing a child into a relationship after being committed to each other for 6 months? LW doesn't owe anyone an explanation, but I've spent more than 6 months picking out a couch.
No matter what, that sister can fuck right off.
Wow! After all that work trying to protect the younger sister and be a good big sister, she went nuts anyway!
@8 She wrote that she'd mentioned wanting a child before entering into her relationship, so I'm assuming that this is not a flighty idea based on honeymoon euphoria.
To be honest, children are more impervious to stains than are couches. Everyone knows to keep wine away from the kids, but nobody thinks twice about sloshing Barolo all over your cream colored divan. You should definitely invest extra time in picking out the sofa.
Dear LW, as someone who also grew up in a dysfunctional household, I resonate with your story, and had a similar, if milder, conflict with one of my sisters around my own pregnancy. The boundary issues and co-dependence you are describing are classic for those of us who were children in dysfunctional homes. It is possible to recover and detach with love. The key is to focus on oneself and one’s own self care. There are resources out there that can help us heal this inter generational trauma and help us avoid inadvertently recapitulating the cycle with our future families. You are worth it and you are not alone.
I'm sorry to hear that your sister has been so awful toward you. Regardless of the relationship dynamics, her behaviour is unacceptable. Like others have said, you don't owe anyone an explanation or an apology for wanting to have a child on your timeline and your terms.
I came from an abusive family and my sister has been similarly terrible and dictatorial toward me over the years. I used to blame it on the abuse we both experienced, but I can no longer let that be an excuse for her to treat me badly. Accountability is part of being a grown adult - both for you and for her. If the abuse is impacting her ability to behave like a decent human being then she needs to get into therapy. If the abuse is impacting your ability to stand up for yourself, then you need to get into therapy too.
Either way, her baggage and outrageous demands are not your problem. Just as you get to make your own mind up about how/when you want to have children, so too do you get to decide how you want to be treated, and to set healthy boundaries with others. You can't control how someone treats you, but you can control how you respond to that treatment.
My relationship with my sister isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than it used to be. I'll tell you what worked for me: I took a very long break (several months) from having any contact with her whatsoever. I used that time to reflect on things, including the ways in which my behaviour contributed to hers. I worked with a therapist to build up some clear boundaries that I could employ with my sister and with anyone else in my life who treats me poorly.
There's work to be done, and your sister might not be cooperative or even acknowledge any wrongdoing. It doesn't matter. You'd be amazed at how much progress and change can be made unilaterally in a relationship. For example, I've become very attuned to my own feelings, and when I start to get that dread in the pit of my stomach while talking to her, I take notice and respond accordingly. I've become really good at sensing when things are going sideways and simply drawing the line, either by defusing/deflecting any conflict, changing the subject or simply ending the phone call or visit.
The more I stand up for myself in this way, the more my sister has been picking up on the new state of things and adapting. Yes, she still has blow-ups toward me but they've become much less frequent and therefore much more obviously inappropriate.
A family relationship can be just as toxic as a romantic one. People who are being abused - regardless of what type of relationship they are in - have no obligation to 'make it work'. If she doesn't get her shit together, cut her out of your life. Life is too short to spend with people who treat you badly.
I hate to overuse the word, but I find this very triggering. I also come from an abusive family, with a very dysfunctional relationship with my older sister, and tried to 'rescue'my younger sister. It was a complete disaster- 5 years of having her live in my house, caring for her and all that resulted was manipulation, the co-opting of my friends into a victim-bully scenario where I was the bully and she the victim, and endless tears and trauma as I faced the loss of many of my friends. What I learned from this-
Don't ádopt' professional victims- their world view requires a 'bully'for their victimhood to fly and as the closest person to them, you are very likely to be recruited into that role
Don't expect your friends to see through them, because ultimately most disputes will be won by the least reasonable person in the room- they will keep on racking up the stakes until the more reasonable person folds.
An approach of calm dignity will therefore not work.All that results in is more tears and histrionics. And more people considering you are at fault, because you refuse to engage.
No matter how much you give that person, it will never be enough. In the center of every manipulator is a vast, empty black hole that sucks in affection and destroys it, so more is always needed.
If I knew then what I know now, I never would have stepped in and let my hard-won peace be compromised in that way.
What should this letter writer do, IMO?
Drop the sister, accept that she tried her hardest and it didn't work, and grieve the loss. Don't bitch to her or about her, and go separate ways, practicing calm detachment.
And for the love of all that's holy, dont have a baby with someone she has only known a year. If this woman is right for her, she will still be right in 2 years time. Don't perpetuate the family cycles by having an ill-conceived pregnancy with a woman she doesnt really know yet. Don't let the pain drive her to folly.
@3 usedtobeotter2 and @5 callie - agreed! - LW's sister is narcissistic and self-absorbed, so she will continue controlling and abusing LW until LW sets (and enforces) boundaries. I really hope LW's girlfriend treats her well and gives her lots of love and support.
@8 Dougsf - she isn't the parent, though, and her sister is upset because LW is finally trying to have a life that will limit her ability to be at the sister's beck and call. Despite the sister being completely irrational the LW has continued to try to talk to her reasonably and affirm her love and care throughout the situation. It's completely fair for LW to recognize what she's done for her sister and also for her to get frustrated that her sister is now throwing a selfish tantrum when she should be happy for and supportive of LW. It doesn't seem like she wants any more "recognition" than to be given a modicum of love and respect, or at least civility.
I’m so sorry this is how your sister is treating you, LW. It is cruel and unhinged.
She is a grown woman now, you did well to look after and protect her when she was young. She’s not that now and you can step away and have your own life, with or without her blessing.
I have a fractious relationship with my younger sister, she has a list, which gets longer, of chronic illnesses that she identifies with and my role for years was to hear about them. A bit like your relationship with your sister, we didn’t make it to equal adults. I was just there to hear about illnesses, my life had no importance in her mind. I’ve cut the connection down to a very casual one.
You have a partner and are looking forward to getting pregnant and becoming parents.
Cut her loose, and tell her why. That her toxic words are bringing you down, and until she’s on board with your plans for your life, and being positive about them, then you won’t be in touch with her and that she please don’t contact you.
Then stuck to it.
"Unhinged assholery masquerading as concern". Bravo, Dan the Man---you just beautifully summed up both my older, controlling and manipulative sisters to a T (thus why I avoid family get-togethers).
@11 Capitolhilldenizen, @12 KBW, @13 Libby - thank you all for sharing your hard-won experience and advice with the LW and with us. Good vibes, virtual hugs and best wishes for continuing to learn from the past <3
@15 LavaGirl: Agreed and seconded. BRAVO and big hugs, positrons, and VW beeps for your spot on advice to LW:
"Cut her loose, and tell her why. That her toxic words are bringing you down, and until she's on board with your plans for your life, and being positive about them, then you won't be in touch with her and that she please don't contact you."
Amen, Aussie sister!
I would really like to buy the brilliant genius who invented Caller ID and Call Block an elegant dinner accompanied by a bottle of vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, topped off with a decadent dessert. After a forever losing five-decades' long uphill battle dealing with "family", the mountain of bullshit from blood relatives has since then blessedly evaporated. And I can always delete unwanted emails from my sisters.
LW: I would encourage you to stop apologizing to your sister. People like her push and push and get you to apologize when you've done NOTHING wrong. I was in a relationship with one of these for 6 years.
Your sister is truly acting mean and selfish and cruel. And you don't have to put up with any of that from anyone, whether they are related to you or not. My advice would be (like the other commenter above) to cut back on your contact with her, and find others who can support you in your decision to have children.
And good luck getting pregnant. You sound like a person with a good head on her shoulders who will make a good mother. We need more of you.
Genetics ≠ destiny. But it's real, all the same. Ditto for psychology.
No harm taking a clear-eyed look at the ways you, your sister, or any other relative might tend to individually mirror (or together, recapitulate) some of the patterns you grew up with (or for that matter, overcompensate instead). But knowing what's there isn't a magic wand that makes those things go "poof" and disappear.
Ignore your sister, and ask yourself about you. (Always a good thing to do, when contemplating parenthood.)
You're taking your sister as a rational actor, or at least, expecting her to be one. Why? (People mostly aren't.) You're signing up for a lot more of that, as a parent.
You're presuming that someone raised with at least one loving and supportive family member should automatically themselves know what it is to be loving and supportive. Why? (There's no guarantee–albeit, it helps.) You don't get a guarantee as a parent, either. Cool with that?
You're assuming that, having assumed a quasi-parental role towards your sister, it should be easy to pivot back to a position of equals. Why? People don't give up the habits of their assumed roles easily. You get to do this all over again with your actual child / children (as likely as not).
You're assuming that someone who grew up with uncertainty...and is now in an artificial social situation (the military) where regimentation and surface certainties are used to paper over the large uncertainty of never knowing when you will move, where you will live, and whether the person you're married to will (as part of their actual job) kill or be killed or be irreversibly marked by what they've seen and done...is going to deal gracefully with changes to the patterns they've clung to. Unless your sister is remarkable for having unusually large reserves of open-mindedness and coping skills–Why is this something you'd expect? And, were you on some level expecting or counting on her being as supportive and present for you and your kids, as you've been for her, and for hers?
Your sister dealing well with the world isn't a referendum on your skills in keeping her whole. (Heck, it's not even a referendum on her, broadly speaking. She doesn't deal well with the world being "other than as pictured"–fine. Some people are like that.) So....on some very basic level, why would you need, or even seek, her approval, or be rocked by her disapproval? Ready for a lot more of that, when your actual progeny yell some version of, "I hate you / you're a terrible mom / you're not my real mom / I wish I were adopted"?
It's not the 6 months / a year that worries me. Mixed couples get pregnant faster and less intentionally than that, often enough, and many muddle through fine. But as much thought as you've clearly put into raising kids...those are some pretty glaring things to skip by, in the name of "unconditional love."
Rock on @17 kittenwhiskers. Give me the serenity to accept those I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can and the wisdom to know that one is me.
My guess is in line with one of Dan’s- she selfishly and probably correctly assumed you’ll no longer be immediately available for her needs and the needs of her children (since you mention extended babysitting etc).
My younger sister (there are just the two of us sibs) started trying to get pregnant the second I had my first child, even though she’s six years younger than me and had been planning to wait, prior to that. I was happy for her when she got pregnant pretty much right away, but I’ll be honest, a part of my brain was really annoyed that I was going to lose her previous proclaimed excitement for babysitting and auntie help. And beyond that I was gonna lose 50 percent of the potential grandkid visits and babysitting from our parents too, and right away. I was hoping to have more time (selfishly) for family help before we had to split the pot.
Of course I said NONE of this to anyone because I’m not a fucking monster. But if your sister has issues anyway, she may be being panicked and threatened by losing you there are her primary go to, support and babysitter. She will lose her primary positioning on your ladder of energy and care.
Not an excuse, just further insight.
There are some genetic components to mental illness. it seems like her sister might have drawn the short straw on that lottery.
LW, how old were you when you took on the responsibility of protecting and providing stability for your sister? By my math, you were a child yourself. However much you loved her, however many bullets you threw yourself in front of, you couldn't have shielded her from it all. And you certainly couldn't have stopped her from witnessing trauma, which is also traumatic and deeply damaging.
I see in your letter a deep desire to keep doing what you've always tried to do - make things alright for her. And her anger is an indication that you're failing at that. If I had to guess (which is why I'm here), she's lashing out at you BECAUSE you're safe and stable. Becoming a parent brings up really dark, complicated shit for children of abuse. She's got her own kids and it sounds like she's broken the cycle with them (or I'm sure you would have mentioned it). Maybe immersing herself in mommyhood is how she does that. But you having a baby seems to be making her anger overflow and she's directing it at you, her rock.
None of this excuses her behavior, if it's true, but maybe will allow you to go a little deeper with her. Instead of trying to logic her into being happy and supportive, instead of trying to defend something which needs no defense, bypass all the red herrings and ask her where this is all coming from. Then listen. Somewhere among all the platitudes will be a kernel of truth. She's angry or afraid of overwhelmed or jealous or something. If you can find that, maybe you can begin a different conversation.
I don't think your sister's an asshole. I think you both still have healing to do.
The sister does seem like an asshole, but it always makes me suspicious when the LW tells the story is such a way that she herself comes off as not just blameless but saintly. No one has the right to decide whether her sister has a baby or not, but this whole thing would be more credible if the LW acknowledged that she was capable of making mistakes.
Very hard to break from an annoying sibling. A deep dive and asking and listening about where all this is coming from, as @24 suggests, seems worth a shot.
I wonder what the sister's side of the story is.
@27: We never know, so that's why we give letter writers a default credibility.
I think your sister still wants you to mother her, LW. Especially now she is pregnant with her third child. And here you are talking of having a child yourself and taking the focus off her.
Her rage is infantile, maybe because of her fears and anxieties around a third child. Whatever her reasons, she has to own her responses and find an adult way to process them. This is not your responsibility to sort, because it’s you she’s dumping on.
Get out of her way and suggest she do some work on herself with a professional. This path might be beneficial for you as well.
Also, as Mirea @24 suggests, give her a chance to look inside herself and see where this energy is coming from. Block all the excuses she throws around about becoming a mother for the first time, she was one herself, and one learns.
@11 Capitolhilldenizen: Bravo and so well said! Bless you. I can relate, having grown up in a dysfunctional family. too. Mine was something of a Kevin McAllister upbringing (think of the movie, Home Alone). My three much older siblings were born a decade ahead of me, all selfish, spoiled, and sanctimonious. Although it was not uncommon way back when, my parents had their first three kids very young. I think of it as my parents actually having two families instead of one because of the age gap; their first family with three children, their second family, with me. The role playing was long established by the time I came along, having to answer to The Bully, The Queen, and The Star. I have learned and accept that I cannot change them, and instead, am infinitely happier and healthier moving forward and addressing my own shortcomings instead. I can only find my own peace, comforted in that I cannot be held responsible for theirs.
One little bonus I have quietly relished recently, from a safe distance since my parents have both passed away: now that family reunions are down to those who have do their own fetching, carrying, and cleaning up, they can only blame themselves. And the circle continues to shrink.
Thank heavens, too, for Caller ID and Call Block.
@17 kitten whiskers and @21 Capitolhilldenizen: Amen, both of you.
Wow, your sister is an asshole. I agree, distance yourself and live your life. Your sister is an adult now and no longer needs you to protect her -- and hasn't earned your closeness. Just because she's younger doesn't mean she can't be the bully in your dynamic. Your decision to have kids is none of her beeswax. Perhaps respond to her abusive e-mail by saying "I'm sorry you feel this way, but I won't put up with your abuse. My decisions are mine. Have a good life."
Respond to her email by sending her a link to this column.
It’s going to be a chance for both of you to reset boundaries, LW. With her being pregnant, it will be hard to abandon her completely, and by the sound of the connection you have with her, you don’t want that. Then again, if she can’t stop that abusive behaviour, you have to stand for you.
Cut contact for a month or so, to start. Telling her you need some space because her words have distressed you too much. Then don’t answer her texts/ calls and don’t send any or ring her.
First up from her is an apology for behaving this way to you. Wait until she offers that.
You do her as well as yourself no good, indulging this behaviour, LW. So you need to
be decisive with your sister, without closing off the love between you. She has to grow up some more, and she has to do that herself. Nothing like no contact to make one recognise the worth of a relationship.
You are saying no to behaviours, dysfunctional behaviours, not to your sister.
There is a reason that I have two siblings with whom I have not had any contact/communication for 20 years now (not related to this story).
It gets better!
Ms Grizelda - Is Cabernet Sauvignon on a par with Veuve Clicquot or Dom Perignon, or are you being similar to Miss Brodie when she pronounced that the greatest Italian painter was Giotto ("He is my favourite.")?
Unfortunately, the devoted older sister produced a judgmental, entitled snotty Brat. Put her into a Time Out. Don't wait for permission from that Prig to live your life.
Parentified kids and the siblings they "parent" often have really weird and unhealthy dynamics as adults. I have a lot of empathy for little sister; she's clearly in a lot of pain and she's clearly lashing out because she doesn't really herself understand why she's hurting (this kind of weird, illogical yelling has all the hallmarks of "I'm hurting but I don't know why so I'm reaching for something, anything that I can throw at you as an explanation"). But Dan's right; none of that gives her the right to treat LW as shabbily as she has, and LW should definitely focus on herself and her own needs in this time.
I'm really sorry, LW, because I know how hard it is to feel like you're losing family when you have almost no family to begin with, especially if you just never had anyone to be your loving parent. But I think you just have to not engage with her pain and irrational behavior, set (and critically, enforce!) whatever boundaries you need to deal with the situation, and keep letting her know gently that you love her and that you'll be ready to have her in your life again when she's ready to treat you with the love and kindness that you deserve.
Good luck to you and your partner on this next part of your life!
Venn @7 "As for the sisterly dynamics, this seems classic OS/SS stuff, in which the SS sibling is expected to be the tagalong while everything that happens to the OS sibling is real."
Piss right off. I have a straight sister (with 4 kids!) and I have loads of lesbian friends with straight sisters. Your claim of "classic OS/SS stuff" is BS. And the fact that you base your "pronouncement" on a pretty shitty tv show - well that's just bonkers.
Of course maybe it's different with OS/SS brothers. I wouldn't dare speculate.
Dan and everyone did /such/ a magnificent job.
SISTER, you can't change people, but you can let them know you won't accept unacceptable behavior. In other words establish a boundary that you don't tolerate abuse. If they value your presence in their life, they might respect your boundary. If they don't, withdraw your presence; that's your leverage. In any case, you get free of the abuse.
They'll probably still abuse /others/, but it's up to those others to establish their own boundaries. And who knows, sometimes people take it upon themselves to change, and your not accepting their unacceptable behavior could be the most helpful thing you can do to illuminate for them their need to.
I'm going to be less harsh than Dan b/c this definitely sounds like one of those family drama things that if we heard from the other side would make us say fuck this other person. I hear enough family drama that I've learned the signs. One person sits you down and tells you how hurt they are by the unreasonable behavior of the other, and then you sit down with the other person and they tell you the same about the first- yikes, families.
Here's what I'd say. The two of them definitely need to establish new boundaries. The elder sis has been a caregiver, sounds like she's been too indulgent of the younger one. There is no reason she has to tolerate all this drama and long emails- the younger one needs to learn to hold her tongue and stop making shit all about her, and the elder one needs to figure out how to establish her own boundaries so that she is not indulging her anymore.
The facts are simpler. The elder sis, as a single woman, told her younger sis, a married mother, that she was considering having kids. Younger sis tells her to stop romanticising, raising kids is hard, harder still to do it alone. All this is true, also narrow minded, and sounds like younger sis is in love with her own opinion. Elder sis, who likely was being foolish about what parenting would involve (as are most people who don't have kids, it's natural and normal) is hurt by this and can't let it go- holds on to that hurt secretly for years, never mentions her wishes again. This is her right- it might be the best way to handle the younger sis. Nonetheless, if her strategy is going to be to remove intimacy without discussing it or creating a new normal, then she can't likewise be surprised that when she abruptly tries to re-establish intimacy (dropping the we're-having-kids-too on her unexpectedly when she is sharing her news, revealing that they've actually been considering this for a long time and have thought of various options) then she can't reasonably expect the younger sis not to likewise be hurt about it. Then younger sis responds the way she does, selfishly, with no filter, telling her what to do, making it all about her, and older sis responds the way she does, indulgently, listening to and reading all this drama and trying to manage younger sis's feelings.
So sure, she could isolate herself from younger sis's life for her own sanity, but I suggest if the relationship does also have its merits and if she does love her and if she does want her kids to have cousins and if she wants to be in this family (lots of ifs) that she sit her down and establish a new normal, enforce those boundaries, allow the younger sis to be hurt but refuse to take responsibilities for the younger sis's feelings- she is not in charge of regulating younger sis's emotions and she should not be indulging her these conversations after a reasonable amount of time.
Easier said than down because, yikes, family.
As for the abuse vs homophobia, why not both? But really the elder sis is in the situation of knowing if there is any merit to the homophobia accusation. It could be, but it sounds like the younger sis was not opposed to elder having a child earlier because she is a lesbian but rather because she was single which is narrow minded but not in a homophobic way. She expresses no opposition now that she's in a relationship, but rather hurt about being kept out of her intimate life which as I've said is a product of their dynamic and probably has way more to do with the abuse and the sis being in an elder/parent role. And as has been pointed out before, it seems far more likely that younger sis is responding the way any spoiled and insecure child might to discovering that their parent figure is going to start a second family.
LW mentioned to her kids that she wanted to have kids A YEAR AGO. Two things here that make the whole thing seem weirder still.
1) This means the younger sister's explosive reaction and then elder sister's keeping her plans/wishes to herself were all only one year ago. It's only been ONE YEAR that the elder sister has kept her thoughts to herself- all this hurt that the younger sis is expressing about being left out of the elder's plans has all only been over 12 months of lack of intimacy. This is really bizarre- it's not like the younger sis can reasonably say she has been left out of the elder life for a long period of time. It's literally just that she did not repeatedly reaffirm things she said one year ago.
2) The LW's current relationship is less than a year old. In between the time she had the explosive response from her sister, she moved from being a single woman who has never been in a long term relationship to meeting someone and starting a relationship with them and moving on to planning children together. They've been committed for 6 months. People move fast and nothing can prepare you for child rearing anyway and loads of people do it on their own anyway, etc. But I can see a more reasonable and emotionally regulated sibling rationally questioning if she is moving too fast, especially if they were not let in on any of the considerations that led to this decision.
*mentioned to her sis, not her kids (obviously)
Here's what you say to your sister:
"Whether you approve or not, I'm having a baby. My expectation of you is that you'll be supportive of my choices the way that I've been supportive of yours."
And if she isn't, don't try to reason with her. End the call and try again another day.
You may be dealing with some after effects of abuse still. It can be difficult to realize when somebody is treating you badly if you grew up being treated horribly. Perhaps some counseling, if you can afford it, would be good to help you set appropriate boundaries with your sister.
Some more thoughts… It resonates too closely with some of my own family dynamics so I’m probably obsessing here.
Younger sis had an unstable chaotic childhood, since elder was in the parental role we can assume that her real parents were not reliable. She's taken a different path to motherhood in response- more traditional, married, and to a military man which means she's likely got secure housing and benefits, etc plus a community of other moms. Not to romanticise military family life- there are loads of serious problems there, but in terms of security and community and tradition, military families often have this. So her freak out about the elder sis being non traditional (considering raising a kid alone, considering it now in a new relationship) might be triggering to her.
Sounds like she's compensating for her own childhood insecurities by being a control freak (very common) and she's extending that to the sister- the sister isn't doing it the "right way", she's going to raise kids in potential instability, she can't even explain when/how she started to feel this way, she can't explain her emotions to the younger's satisfaction. "Address all my points until I'm satisfied" is definitely the response of someone clinging desperately to a sense that they can control things.
Someone like this probably can't handle anything surprising or potentially destabilizing. Especially coming from the only person in her life who has ever been stable and dependable. Again, none of this is the elder's responsibility but it doesn't mean the younger is being heartless. BOUNDARIES again.
Generally, children who lack stability, who feel out of control and insecure, do not respond as well to indulgence as they do to enforcement of boundaries. The problem with indulgence is that the child can keep pushing at it, looking for borders of their experiences. If it's all just open-ended, if anything goes, then anything is possible, and they know from experience that this means bad things can happen and they can do nothing about it. They often respond better to clearly stated boundaries, enforced rules. Then at least, they know what the possibilities in their reality are, what can enter and what can't, and how to act accordingly to build and control their own life in a stable way.
It seems to me that this younger sister, despite being an adult and a mother herself, is still struggling with this. And now she's demanding that her elder sister (the only person she had that was stable in her youth) likewise act in a controlled and predictable way, and if not, then elder sister must explain herself.
The younger is pushing for the elder to regulate her emotions/experiences, the elder indulges it boundlessly (many conversations, emails, taking off work to help her when she needs it) so the younger is still pushing- where are the boundaries of the elder's indulgence? She might have just found them.
The elder's response to her freak out a year ago was to withdraw intimacy- didn't talk to her for a year about it, then suddenly told her she was considering it- probably made the younger realize there is a world to the sister that she's not in control of.
Elder needs to calmly and directly state her boundaries, repeat them, be consistent, and then refuse to feel responsible for how the younger responds/feels about it and refuse to respond to any of the younger sister’s demands for further explanation.
I seriously suggest establishing the new normal before allowing the younger sis to be a deep part in the lives of the elder's new family. There is a reason why the affects of childhood abuse persist into future generations.
And as an aside, there is probably another side to this story as well. Is there any merit to any of the younger sister's unskillfully and judgmentally expressed concerns about the LW's ability to be a parent or maintain a long term relationship? The LW does not say much about herself except that she has always been her little sis's stable and "mentally healthy" and reliable person. Maybe that's true, but the LW seems to be taking on a lot of the little's sister's emotions and needs in a self-sacrificing way that seems very unhealthy to me. And we have no other evidence about her stability because she says almost nothing at all about herself.
I had to move away from my family, and all the cousins my kids missed out on knowing well, it was so dysfunctional at its core. I think I produced half a soccer team so I could create a new family. I don’t recommend the work load.
LW’s sister is pregnant with all its changes of a woman’s body and mind. The third child upsets the balance in a nuclear family, which I’m guessing an army wife has. The parents are outnumbered, two kids jack up against one, and if they are three under six say, they never have their daily rests together.
I have empathy for my sister, LW. I’ve tried to suggest ways to improve her health, for years. Then, as a commenter said above, the manipulations my sister tries on , I check out. Straight away. Now that our mother died a month back, she was an abusive/ loving woman, I’ve decided once her estate is finally sorted, that I’m cutting ties with my sister. One tries for so long.
SHE WATCHED THE KIDS FOR A FEW WEEKS OR MONTHS?
And now to get slammed like this.
These words keep floating around my head at the moment, I forget the song.
🎼Nobody said it was easy..
A lot of people seem concerned about the lw wanting to start trying for a baby, but in vitro is a much longer process than straight couples just deciding "let's try now" - picking a donor, hormone injections, fertilization and implant. Oftentimes that has to be repeated. On top of that LW says, "having a family (with or without a partner) has always been a given in my mind". A year ago her plan was to become single parent, it sounds like she just met a girlfriend she was willing to parent with. She is still planning on being the birth mother, so if something happens in the relationship it doesn't change her plan. She takes care of her sister's kids for weeks and months at a time, not to mention what she did as far as helping take care of her sister when they were young.
@Kitten, I don't think we have enough info to know whether or not the LW is ready for a family, plus no one is ever really "ready", it's just something you have to finally decide to do or not, and moreover, it's not what the LW was asking about and therefore really none of our business anyway.
But I think it's a valid thing to discuss with regards to the relationship with the sister. Though in the end, it's none of her business either and she obviously has some pretty serious issues with boundaries and emotional regulation, it might change the reading of the situation a bit if it turns out that the sister does in fact have some reasonable concerns about the LW becoming a parent. The sister seems to think the LW has issues with commitment for example that might require therapy. This could be the sister being a controlling spoiled selfish bitch, it could be the sister projecting mental issues of her own, or it could be the sister knowing some stuff about the LW that she is not expressing skillfully but is nonetheless true.
We have no idea, but since it's normal to speculate about the larger context of the letter's situation, I think it's natural that people would ask questions about it, just because it might shed some light on the sister's point of view and behavior.
I'd also like to know what watching her kids for weeks or months means. Like, she came over and sat with them a couple hours a day after school for months? Or like she actually raised them for months herself? There's a huge difference there and would point to a much more serious situation between the sisters if the LW is acting as a surrogate mom not just to the little sister but also to the little sister's children.
In any case, no it's not the same thing as raising your own kids but it certainly is an experience of child rearing and family life that could give a person a sense of what children are like in their daily routines, etc.
@7 Venn, @40 JibeHo
When I read the OS/SS comment I thought it had to have an alternative meaning I wasn't aware of. The sisters have a pretty distinct, dysfunctional relationship in which one has been the caregiver of the other since they were young. That has continued into adulthood without proper boundaries. I definitely understand where JibeHo is coming from in saying it's pretty offensive to say that, "As for the sisterly dynamics, this seems classic OS/SS stuff".
@EmmaLiz - yeah, nobody can ever be completely ready, but my point is it's not like this is a spur of the moment decision and if anything LW is more prepared than a lot of parents. Either it's none of our business like you say at first, so then nobody should be talking about it or it's normal to speculate and could shed some light on the sister's pov like you say later, meaning it's fair for me to throw my opinion in the ring with everybody else's. (If that last part sounds snarky I didn't mean it to)
@ Kitten, no snark, I agree, we can speculate about all of this. I was just saying that I didn't read any comments above as being speculation about the LW's fitness to be a parent but rather about the possibility that the sis could have reasonable concerns about the LW's fitness to be a parent which strikes me as a subtle but important distinction. But I might be projecting my own interpretation, because looking at some of them again, it might be that you are correct and that's exactly what some of us are doing.
Speculating why a woman wants a pregnancy and how she goes about it, is best left alone when that wasn’t the question. Now it has been raised, I agree with KW, the LW has wanted the experience of pregnancy and motherhood, long before meeting her partner. How she goes about it, c’mon, not our business.
How it relates to her explosive pregnant sister, yes, it’s about motherhood. And where did these women lose out, being properly mothered/ fathered. The damage is in both of them, as the comment by toasteroven@39 points to.
Having children brings up one’s own childhood, as the adult lives the experience again, except they are on the other side.
It’s a powerful time for these two sisters, and a chance for deep healing.
Lava, that's an interesting interpretation. If they could both sit down and be honest and receptive to one another, this could be a moment in their relationship that really bonds them and sets a new intimacy and strength going forward, really breaking that abuse cycle. It would require the younger sister to be more willing to consider the others' pov and also to set aside her defenses, it would require the elder to feel less responsibility for the younger's emotional management, but you are correct that it could be a real opportunity for them and their kids if they could get there. There's probably a ton of baggage to sort out.
Maybe they need a weekend away, just the two of them.
And some therapy/ join survivors of abuse group, EmmaLiz. These two are in the patterns, and by the sound of their story, these are deep wounds.
Ms Whiskers - Maybe it's a Gentile Country Club Set thing. When I was still socially active, plenty of SS people of all genders I knew with GCCS connections reported family dynamics in which the lives of the straight siblings were celebrated fully, while similar events in the lives of the SS siblings on average were brushed off with, "That's nice, dear." I can even provide a recent example. When my bi sister visited from the West Coast while still not really out, she was always put up by my father and stepmother, with or without her son. Her last visit, when she came with a female partner, they were not invited to the house at all.
I meant not that it is a general pattern but that it is a classic one, and not entirely limited to the GCCS. But I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify and sorry to have given offence. If it were to be true, for instance, that there is now no appreciable difference between family interest in/contribution to same-sexer weddings, pregnancies, adoptions, etc., then that surely would be something to celebrate. But it certainly wasn't always the case, and I'd be rather surprised if we get there in my lifetime. Good for Ms Jibe if she knows only cases of fully equal treatment, but, if so, our worlds do not intersect.
Venn @59 - Nice try. You didn't talk about the treatment of OS/SS sisters from the perspective of how they are treated by their family. You specifically said: "As for the sisterly dynamics, this seems classic OS/SS stuff". I'm not putting words in your mouth, so your attempt to clarify your remark completely misses my point, and doesn't address what you actually said.
As for my family, there are 4 sisters, no brothers. Two of us are gay and the other two straight. My gay sister is my father's favorite, hands down. I was my mother's. If anything, my straight siblings got the short end of the stick from our parents.
Seeing as how I've never been a part of the "Gentile Country Club Set thing", you are correct that our worlds do not intersect. My mother was an avid, and I'm told brilliant bridge player though. As a Navy officer's wife, she hosted weekly bridge get togethers in our home. When I came out to her at the age of 18 (in the early 80s!), she couldn't wait to see her bridge friends to give them the news! I was mortified of course. But seeing as how these were other officer's wives, I suppose that doesn't qualify as GCCS enough for you...
LW, as a fellow child raised in an abusive home let me tell you it skews your understanding of love and boundaries. I've found reading books about boundaries to be very helpful. Your childhood experience shaped your world even beyond what you can tell is right and wrong behavior. But the good thing is as an adult you can seek out other sources for shaping your personhood.
Start eating through your libraries books on love and boundaries. Knowing how to set and keep boundaries is vauble in parenting too. For that my fav one on boundaries specifically was "parenting with love and logic". The author is a bit overly prideful but his concepts are valid and highly usefull for toddlers.
For all of you debating if she's ready to be a parent or not, mind your own business. She wrote in about her sisters interaction with her, not if she should be a parent or not. The perfect parent does not exist, having the desire and the means to support the child is all you need. Maybe you can wait until perfect emotional maturity, 100k savings, and having a stable relationship for 10 years if you are a man, but being a woman means you have to take the plunge by 35 for a good chance of success (fertility if you have never been pregnant before falls off a steep curb past then and your health risk skyrockets).
She's a 30 year old not a 16 year old. Bugger off. A child needs real love and stability, not millions of dollars or even two parents.
"Gentile Country Club Set...GCCS"
Kudos for defining your acronym!
(Sorry just noticed this skimming, and felt my duty to praise given all the shit I've given Venn about defining acronyms.)
RE: The USC Swim Team. Yowza! And that's a whole lot of body waxing going on there.
@ 59 Venn - ah, I think I may have confused "classic" as meaning "typical" as opposed to "traditional"? Either way I do agree there are /certain/ settings where it is more likely to occur, particularly where the entire family takes part, where there are conservative religious values, or as you mentioned in spaces where very old respectabilities are rigidly maintained. I just definitely understood where JibeHo was taking offence, and I didn't want her to think she was was without support when I didn't see how it was at all a classic manifestation (of either definition as far as we can tell) in this situation.
While I agree SISTER's sister is being an asshat, I also think her conduct is almost entirely based on a mix of childhood trauma and her being used to SISTER as the mom role. My wife (I'm a cis man) has a similar history and this sounds nearly identical to how her sister reacts to a variety of things in my wife's life.
While I agree SISTER's sister is being an asshat, I also think her conduct is almost entirely based on a mix of childhood trauma and her being used to SISTER as the mom role. My wife (I'm a cis man) has a similar history and this sounds nearly identical to how her sister reacts to a variety of things in my wife's life. SISTER's sister DEFINITELY should stop what she is doing, but there is also plenty of room to have sympathy for her given why she is feeling this way and her background. We don't hate kids who are upset that their parents are having kids with another person. We can call out their behavior and still be kind. I mean, I guess Dan can't, but that's the right way to respond here.
LW, what a hard thing to have to go through. Dan's right: don't spin your wheels trying to guess why she's behaving this way. And the other commenters are also right, you need to choose some boundaries, establish them and enforce them. There have been a couple of good suggestions in the "block all contact until she starts behaving" dept or for X months, etc. And those are fine if they work for you. In the event, that a complete cutting off of contact doesn't feel workable to you (nieces/nephews, for example), here are a couple of other techniques you may find useful:
* rate limiting - this is when no matter what the person contacts you about or how (email, voicemail, etc), you wait a minimum of for example a day before responding (if you respond at all). This slows things down, and makes it hard for drama to maintain momentum. Don't even look at the email until say 3p the next day. You are not on call.
* enlisting a trusted friend to preview for you - This doesn't work in all situations, but sometimes its helpful to ask someone: can you read this for me and tell me if its abusive or something reasonable (nephew's school play scheduling).
Take a breath, give yourself some space, and some of that unconditional love. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Establishing healthy boundaries can be really hard, but its so worthwhile. Good luck with your relationship and your family plans.
As it happens, I feel a lot of compassion for the sister--who is behaving appallingly, in the most irrational and petulant of ways. As to why she's behaving like this, I would weigh on Dan's reasons 2) a lot and his reason 3) a little. That is, her self-conception is bound up in her being the mom, and her elder sister and protector not having that--maybe because she looks after her, the younger sister.
I would guess that motherhood is the one thing she supposes she has that her elder doesn't. So she feels threatened, psychically undermined, by having to share this. The sister would also, perhaps, find it important to be the giver, not the receiver or person who is dependent. She married into a military family. Now, not all military families are homophobic or staunchly Republican--but we know that some are; and being in the non-dependent, mothering role may well have provided the sister some compensation or cover for having been so needy, so dependent, in her upbringing. And she may have faced down, or been on thin ice with, her new family in explaining being raised by a lesbian elder sister, a position which an exclusively-held mothering identity could have gone a long way towards bolstering.
But whatever the reasons behind the sister's attitude, it's unconscionable; and the loving elder sister does not have to take it. She should go ahead and have a baby and work on her happy romantic relationship.
@14. Kitten. Yes, the LW will no longer be at the younger sister's 'beck and call' as an aunt and surrogate mother. That's plausible--and surely accurate as a reading of the sister's underlying mindset.
@22. Qapla. I don't see why you couldn't have said that to your partner (if you had one).
@39. toasteroven. Yes, the person my heart goes out to is the younger sister (most of all). As Mike Friedman said, the LW cannot count on a symmetrical relationship of equals between the pair in adulthood.
@46. Emma. Yes--the younger sister is reverting to childhood in her fears about a nephew/niece being raised in an unstructured or non-traditional setting. This is surely a good insight. The advice for the LW to establish that her child is being stably cared for is also good.
This letter resonates more with me now than it did a few days ago. My younger brother, who was basically emotionally abusive to me when we were in middle and high school (due largely to his own issues), just came home last night to stay for a few days for Rosh Hashanah (I still live with our parents and he does not). While I am lucky to have two wonderful (though thoroughly human) parents, my dysfunctional relationship with my brother has been very damaging to me and has skewed my perception of how interpersonal relationships, trust, and boundaries should work. I can only imagine how damaging it would be to have such a relationship as a child with one's parents (or worse, one with actual physical abuse).
People often don't understand how a younger sibling can be a bully to an older sibling. Shouldn't the dynamic work the other way, with the older sibling in a position of power? While our situations are extremely different, it feels like the LW has yet to actually recognize and acknowledge the bullying role her sister has taken on in their relationship. While perhaps it hasn't always been that way, it certainly seems like the sister now holds the power in this relationship.
Simply recognizing what is happening and that the other person is being controlling/a bully/irrational can be hard when you feel like you're supposed to be in a position of authority or responsibility (which certainly seems like it would be the case for an older sibling who acted as a surrogate parent), but it can help shift the power dynamic back to an even setting, if only in your own mind. To a large degree, being able to label my brother's behavior as wrong helped me compartmentalize it, even if I couldn't do anything to change the situation (we were both minors living at home, and my brother's issues often make him basically impossible to reason with).
Before the LW even starts to think about what her boundaries should be or how to respond to her sister's behavior, I think it is important that she try to internalize some things that seem very obvious from the outside but can be difficult to accept internally (talk therapy can be helpful for this): it is not the LW's fault her sister is behaving like this, the LW does not need to apologize for things she did that weren't wrong (unless absolutely necessary for her own sanity), this behavior does not reflect in any way whether the LW is a bad person (she's not), and it is not the LW's job to troubleshoot her sister's emotions.
Certainly, trying to understand what is prompting the behavior and where the sister is coming from may be helpful, but the answer is inevitably going to be some variation on, "It's a manifestation of her own issues." The critical first step for the LW is to recognize -- and attempt to really internalize -- that her sister's behavior is more about (and says more about) her sister than it is (and says) about her. No matter what the dynamic used to be, it is now what it is -- and whatever the cause, that's not the LW's fault.
Now I need to prepare for three days of not being able to sing in the shower, laugh, talk at my normal volume, do my laundry, walk around the house, turn lights on, have the air conditioner in my room on, pull my car out of the driveway, hum along to music... (And I have a Molecular Biology exam to study for. Yay.)
Military wife? Yeah, she sounds like a Dependapotomus. Having encountered many military wives (including to being married to one who thankfully is not like that), I can say with confidence it's a mother-identity/superiority thing. She's probably the type that says things like "as a mom" and "you can't POSSIBLY understand what it's like to" constantly. It's like there's a class they put them through when they're having their first child (that my wife thankfully missed) that makes them like that.
I wouldn't take it too personally. She probably behaves like that with everyone now. Starts drama, treats everyone who isn't a mom like they're incomplete, tells those that want to be a mom that they're doing it wrong, etc. Her entire identity is probably being a military spouse, which is what makes her a Dependapotomus (or a Tricaretops).
Suggestion? Lay it out clearly that if she behaves like she did when you share anything with her, you won't share anything with her. And don't get mad. Let her rant for a minute, then reiterate that you won't be sharing if she responds like this. She can find out on Facebook after the fact. And DON'T LET HER RANT! If she starts up again, end the conversation. Whenever she does the rant thing again, politely end the conversation. Make it clear you won't engage. Make yourself drama-proof. If she wants to hear about your life, she hears it on your terms. Just as you will hear news of her life on hers.
TBH, to me, this sounds like an underlying mental health issue, and she should really get some therapy to help with this. It's funny (not haha funny) that she told LW to get therapy. I'm no psychologist, but there's quite a bit of narcissism, displacement and hostility from her end. If it all went down as LW said, LW is the most caring, level-headed and compassionate person I've seen in a while. Sister is taking advantage of that, is abusive, and can't see she's doing anything wrong.
My mom's sister was like this to her. I told my mom to tell my aunt to go fuck herself on a regular basis. I kind of feel like LW should do the same.
Muse, why do you let your brother bully you? It’s not his house and he is a visitor. Tell him to shut it or send him my way and I’ll tell him for you.
Man your sister sounds like a raging c-box. I would think hard about how much you really want to have her involved in your life and start her on an information diet ASAP.
LavaGirl @75 It's not my house, either. And I do tell him to shut it, he just keeps arguing back about why it's my fault. This weekend hasn't been so bad. Just one incident at the big dinner we had with 12 people over for Rosh Hashanah last night -- he accused me of being about to interrupt him because I was looking at him (I was looking at him because he was talking), and started getting angry about the thermostat setting in front of everyone (even though I wasn't the one to change the thermostat setting). He leaves at some point tomorrow.
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