Q I am finding it very difficult to deal with what I see as the hypocrisy of my family. I am a 45-year-old woman and I have two younger sisters, both in their 40s also. My sisters would always have been closer to each other than with me, but I am OK with that. All three of us are mothers to pre-teen children. My youngest sister's kids are quite mean to their cousins - my daughter, who is the same age as her oldest, and also their other cousins, who are a year or so younger. I have spoken with my other sister about this and she agrees that their behaviour is appalling but she won't say anything to my sister's face, and when I bring it up, she stays silent or agrees with my youngest sister when she says my daughter is too sensitive. I feel like I am the only one who ever tells the truth and I am a bit of an outsider because of it. What should I do?
A What do you want to happen? Have you thought about what a good outcome would be for you? Start with this as your intention to start seeing what can be done. When faced with a big problem, it can be helpful to identify potential solutions.
Starting with the end in mind can help break a big problem down into something that you can tackle one step at a compassionate time, as you are really hurt. This is an old problem, with its roots painfully and deeply in the past. I hear you, when you say you don't mind that your other two sisters are close and you are OK with that, but is that fully true? Inevitably that must have felt and still feels hurtful? It is only natural to want to belong and there's no place we feel this more than at home. It is very common for a pair of siblings to form a strong bond at the exclusion of the other; three's a crowd may still hold true.
There is often much more going on than that. A common myth we hold about siblings is that we should get on, and that they will be similar in personality and values. But siblings are so individual and many past hurts and unmet needs, such as the need to belong that possibly weren't met as children can play out through your own children deriving from your past.
If you felt your sisters left you out as a child, or were mean to you, the pain isn't just current, it can reel in from the past. Seeing it happen possibly again with your children will re-open any old emotional wounds.
When you ask what can you do, this is the work you can do, to identify your own pain, or any feelings of being left out by your sisters and the subsequent awareness if history seems to be somewhat repeating itself.
When you have a few quiet minutes, ask yourself these questions and write out your answers:
* Have you ever felt this feeling of hypocrisy in your family before?
* What was the situation or feeling about?
* Did it ever get resolved?
* Did you express how you felt about the trigger or situation?
* Did your parents intervene?
* Did it feel fair?
* Write out what you would have liked to have said.
The big question is, having completed the prompts above, what conclusions are you left with? Are there any present similarities in terms of feelings of unfairness, injustice, meanness, being left out that you can see in the current situation? Understanding what is being triggered can be so helpful as seeing the cousins being mean with each other is too close to your bone and you are the only one calling out the bad behaviour, which is doubly frustrating.
There's so much emphasis on helping children get on as siblings, its often the first question people will ask of your children: 'do they get on?' It's not as common to ask this yourself, or be asked this by people when you are an adult.
Bringing this back to the relationship you have with your sisters now. The easier first conversation could be with the sister who has agreed with you that the behaviour isn't acceptable. Ask for her support when you voice how you feel. I would advise against an intervention where you do this altogether.
When comments are made minimising your daughter's feelings with 'she's being too sensitive', it further dismisses your concerns. Was this ever said to you? If so, by whom? How did that feel? Did that change how you expressed yourself or did you feel shame about your feelings or feel that you are being too 'emotional' or 'sensitive'? Are you able to express your feelings authentically now? Rest assured this is incredibly difficult, mostly due to the complexity that you cannot express yourself. It can feel like the distance has become wider as you temper your reactions in an adult but perhaps not a healthy way in the form of withdrawing, or by being passive aggressive. You may do neither, but it sounds like you feel stuck and feel unheard.
You could have many conversations or none. You need to be aware of the consequences of how it will be received and question if the risk will be rewarded. There are no guarantees in life, but as siblings are the longest relationship you will have your entire life, its one that hits a major sore-spot right in the middle of your gut. Like all relationships, don't take them for granted, don't think it will work out. Figure out a way to have a constructive conversation.
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