Where's My Gift?
September 13, 2015 8:49 AM   Subscribe

What should I do if a close family member neglected to acknowledge my kid's birthday?

Today is my son's 15th birthday. We had a family dinner at a restaurant last night with just with just the four of us -- mom, dad, birthday kid, and brother. My husband is working today so I am taking kid to out to lunch to buy headphones he wants with his birthday money from his grandparents, and making him his favorite dinner tonight with a gift from us.

I'm sharing this information because we aren't having a "party" and we didn't send out any invitations to anyone in the family. My son wanted to keep it low-key. One set of grandparents is out of town and the other is working this weekend.

My sister and I have a very close relationship. We also live on the same road and live 5 minutes away. My sister is in recovery for alcoholism, in AA, and is a single-parent without much money. She can be very self-absorbed with her alcoholism. She has about nine months of sobriety, maybe a little more, or less. She has a 10-year-old son. I wouldn't dream of not acknowledging his birthday.

This isn't a grab for a gift. We are very low-key family who don't really go all out to celebrate and we don't really care about gifts. We do always give gifts to the kids for birthdays and Christmas.

My sister and I talked on the phone yesterday, and like most days, I spent that time comforting her. She is an emotional wreck over some personal problems she is having and our phone conversations are mostly one-sided. I am supportive and a good listener, remind her how well she is doing by and staying sober and I try to give some constructive advice, but not too much. My sister is very aware of her issues that led to her alcoholism.

I said to her yesterday, "You know I have troubles too that I would like to talk to you about." She was not interested in talking about my life. She had to get off the phone. I'm not broken up about it but I think I was trying to convey that it's not all about her. I know that when you're an alcoholic it's all about you and she can't think outside of her troubles, even she is very self-aware.

She hasn't called yet to wish him a happy birthday, or asked us what we were doing today. She never even said, "Tell kid I said happy birthday." If she would have said, "I'm sorry I can't get kid a birthday gift this year, I'm broke." I would completely understand. Instead she spent the time crying over an ex-boyfriend and told me about a date she went on. It's odd that she hasn't said anything about my kid's birthday. Y

When we spoke on the phone yesterday, she asked if we were going to the beach. I said maybe. We usually go to the beach on weekends, but it's been raining all morning and it's going to continue to rain. She also said she is behind on some CEUs she has for work and will be doing that, but never uttered a word about kid's birthday even though I talked about his birthday. We are so close that I would feel comfortable calling her and asking her, WTF, but not sure if that is the right approach. Our close relationship has been diminishing over the last couple years because of her drinking and self-absorption. She very seldom calls me, I mostly call her.

I want to call and invite her and my nephew to our birthday dinner tonight. If she says no, and declines to give a card or gift or birthday greeting, should I ask what the hell? I can see where I will be pissed if she doesn't acknowledge it and I'll hold it against her. Would you let it go? He's 15 and maybe she thinks she doesn't need to give him a gift because he's getting older. She is not very close with my kids because she's been abusing alcohol for the last five years and it's been hard for her to just survive and take care of her kid, work, and daily life. She has terrible self-esteem. It's all give and no take. I do have hope for her and I'm proud of her because she's in AA and working to stay sober but upset about her self-absorption.

Thank you for any advice on how I should approach this.
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (49 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What should I do if a close family member neglected to acknowledge my kid's birthday?

Nothing.
posted by grouse at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2015 [172 favorites]


Your son is 15 years old. He is perfectly old enough to decide exactly how put out to feel about someone not remembering his birthday. Stop making this about your relationship with your sister. It's your son's birthday, not yours. Stop trying to inflict your difficult sibling relationship on him.

I want to call and invite her and my nephew to our birthday dinner tonight.

Do this.

If she says no, and declines to give a card or gift or birthday greeting, should I ask what the hell?

Sure, I think "it's [son's] birthday and he'd love to have you there" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say (if true), and if she refuses to even get on the phone with him to wish him a happy birthday, then hey, that's pretty shitty, and that's her own deal.

But please, please, please stop this. It's really tough to be a teenager and find yourself in the middle of family drama that is not of your own making. Put yourself in your son's shoes. If you're upset at your sister about this, he has to feel torn between being mad at her to please you and feeling his own feelings, whatever they may be. He really may not care all that much. I know I certainly didn't when I was his age.
posted by phunniemee at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [82 favorites]


She forgot your kid's birthday. Your kid's birthday is not the center of her life right now, and it sounds like it probably shouldn't be, because she has a lot going on. You can let it go, or you can give her a quick head's up in case she wants to call and wish him a happy birthday. ("Hey, I just wanted to remind you that today is Joe's birthday in case you wanted to call or email to wish him a happy birthday.") The idea that she's somehow obligated to give him a gift is bizarre, as far as I'm concerned.

I think you have some issues with your relationship with your sister, and you should really avoid putting your kid in the middle of them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:58 AM on September 13, 2015 [95 favorites]


Invite her - that's a lovely gesture on your part. If she's unable to take you up on it, that's her loss, and you should let it go, and enjoy the company of the family you've built.

Datapoint - I don't suffer from alcoholism, and pretty regularly miss my nieces and nephews birthdays. *shrug* I try to make it up in other ways, but generally I don't think anybody holds it against me.
posted by stray at 9:00 AM on September 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


You keep saying that your sister is self-absorbed, but you have a husband to go to with your troubles. Who does she have?

Your sister is doing the very hard work of staying sober, raising a kid on her own, staying employed, and trying to date in the middle of all that. I don't blame her for not putting her nephew's birthday at the top of the list.
posted by the_blizz at 9:00 AM on September 13, 2015 [52 favorites]


Perhaps revisiting the nature of alcoholism would be helpful. None months sober--good for her. rewrite your question using lupus/insulin dependent diabetes/rheumatoid arthritis etc as a substitute for alcoholism. Even if she did not have alcoholism the first poster is still right--the answer is nothing and it is not about you and your sister.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:01 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm with grouse.

Maybe I'm the bad uncle, but I honestly have a hard time keeping track of my siblings' birthdays, much less their children - even if I have the data on the calendar, I often don't realize it's coming up. There's lots of things going on in everyone's lives and it sounds like your sister has other things that take up most of her attention. Maybe it would be better if that weren't the case but it is what it is.
posted by dismas at 9:02 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


WTF

What do you mean, WTF? She's trying to get over an addiction that arose from lacking the resources to cope with other big problems. I wouldn't hold her to normal expectations for at least a year.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:04 AM on September 13, 2015 [19 favorites]


IME this is not super unusual for someone in their first year of recovery. it's also not really unusual behavior for addicts. I wouldn't bother saying anything about it to her, and I definitely would not drop any kind of passive aggressive hints, which I understand may be very tempting, about how selfish in general you feel she's acting right now.

(actually that is not true, if she doesn't have a regular therapist to whom she can pour out her personal issues on a weekly basis and is using you for that instead then i would definitely be like "so anyway therapy have you considered it" or whatever.)

your kid is old enough to understand that shit happens and that forgetfulness (or self-centeredness) doesn't mean that she doesn't care about him.

also, you personally might benefit from going to Al-Anon to connect with people who are going through the same kind of family stuff are.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:04 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thank you for answers so far. I would like to note that I would not involve my kids in my difficulties with my sister. Maybe I am unconsciously because I'm worried about this and asking this question but I am nothing but positive about my sister when speaking to my kids. It's really none of their business how I feel about her alcoholism. My kids most likely have no clue that I'm peeved with my sister at times. My son asked my about my sister this morning and a potential gift from my sister because he is a bit of entitled teen who has always received gifts from her in the past. I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."
posted by Fairchild at 9:04 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seems like you've reached your limit with your sister. You've outlined all the reasons why she's self absorbed and acknowledge them, but still want her to act according to your standards in this one instance. She's not going to. Call her and tell her you're going to put your son on the line to wish him a happy birthday. Dont invite her to dinner. Just give her simple instructions.
posted by charlielxxv at 9:05 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wow....lots of drama.
Boil it down to the facts-- she forgot his birthday.
What I noticed is that this really isn't a big deal until you make it a big deal.

Why didn't you just remark when asked about going to the beach:
"we're probably not going but I do want to make Kid his birthday dinner-- can you come over for that?"

In my family, we are constantly reminding each other about birthdays--because we all forget!
You really are adding the drama to this--I suspect because it isn't about the birthday.
posted by calgirl at 9:06 AM on September 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Invite her tonight, specifying it's for his birthday.

Getting this upset over no acknowledgement is, imho, unreasonable, she may have just not remembered. I routinely forget really important birthdays, and to my knowledge those around me don't resent me for it because they know I love them. It sounds like you're upset over what you feel is a generally unbalanced relationship leading to you feeling unloved- that's something worth having a conversation with her about. Being an alcoholic doesn't necessarily mean she can't support you, if you're kindly offering specific suggestions of what that support may look like.

If she can't do that, then I suggest loving her anyway, but setting limits that make you feel emotionally safer (maybe only listening to her problems for fifteen months before having to go)

Best wishes. All relationships worth loving go through troubled patches.
posted by cacao at 9:07 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

sounds like you've already said all that needs be said. And well said.
posted by philip-random at 9:08 AM on September 13, 2015 [38 favorites]


Not even remotely a big deal. Invite her to dinner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you would genuinely like your sister there -- she sounds like an alcoholic mess despite her sobriety, so you wouldn't be a bad person to not want here there -- then do call and invite her to dinner. If you just want to set her up to fail to acknowledge the birthday properly even though you just reminded her of it, though, don't invite her.

It's clear you know what's likely to happen, and you're already planning to be disappointed by it. Why go through with making it actually happen just so you can play out the disappointment you have planned?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think I was trying to convey that it's not all about her.

Do this with actions, not with words. For example, when she called today to talk about herself, cut her off after a minute or so by saying "hey I'd love to talk more but it's Son's birthday! Hurrah! So I've got to go. Can you join us tonight?" and then end the conversation.

Ditto what many people said about not remembering niece & nephew birthdays. My kid has four uncles and I would be very surprised if anyone of them knew his birthday. (I understand this is not really about the birthday but about projecting your relationship with your sister onto everything she does. I just wanted to again reassure you that forgetting birthdays does not equal a lack of love.)
posted by lyssabee at 9:11 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

Substitute as follows:
You know Sister is having a hard time and if you don't get an acknowledgement of Kid's birthday it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much energy to spend on others. Don't take it personally.

Repeat this to yourself. Over and over until *you* accept it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:15 AM on September 13, 2015 [18 favorites]


Sounds like a hell of a lot is going on in her life, and sometimes other stuff can fall by the wayside. Recovery is hard.

Also, when you're struggling to make ends meet, even acknowledging to someone else "I can't [fulfill societal obligation that costs money]" can be embarrassing or remind you of what a failure you are.

This isn't a big deal. Let it go.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on September 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


What should I do if a close family member neglected to acknowledge my kid's birthday?

Keep calm and carry on.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Accept her as she is or end the relationship. Stop trying to control her.

Either she doesn't remember* and will be embarrassed and stressed if you scold her for not acting the way you want, or she does remember and she just can't even right now for whatever reason. Is it really worth whatever it will do to her to force her to act the way you want?

*It can take years (if ever) to recover from the cognitive effects - the brain damage - of a) heavy drinking b) stopping heavy drinking. Nine months sober is probably biologically a tougher time than 9 days or weeks, and is not a point where she should be all done with all that annoying alcoholism stuff and acting like you want. That enormous self-absorption is probably a) significant to remaining sober right now, b) a symptom of serious clinical depression that is probably as much or more neurochemical/neurological as it is situational, and may not be well-manageable with medication because of the neuro factors and/or dependency issues.

Teach your son how to be generous to people who are struggling by modeling it for him. If it is just too hard for you to have a relationship with your sister now/ever, at least do her a final favor of a slow-fade rather than telling her what a horrible person she is and leaving her to deal with that on top of everything else.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2015 [17 favorites]


You are TESTING your sister to see if she independently remembers the birthday and invites herself to the celebration. You're chiding her for caring more about her own (clearly complicated) life than your son's happiness, but if your first priority was your son's happiness, you'd drop the pettiness, invite your sister to dinner and hope that she can make it.

Besides, 15 is old enough for your kid to realize that birthdays do not make him the center of the world, that he can have a positive relationship with someone even if they don't give him a toy, and so on. Oh, and that you can't have your "low-key" cake and eat it too.
posted by acidic at 9:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [36 favorites]


If she says no, and declines to give a card or gift or birthday greeting, should I ask what the hell?

No. Barring any history where you know an offer of aid would offend, say, "This is really awkward and I hope it doesn't come off as patronizing. But I know you have an awful lot on your plate these days, and I just want to make sure that this is a thing you can't come to for reasons that I cannot fix. Just say the word and I will cover the cost of gas (bus, Uber, as applicable) for you to be here, and if you want to bring something I will throw you some $ for that. I don't want you left out for money reasons. If you are just not up to a celebration right now, I understand."

I am a single parent who has been very broke and very sick recently. I am probably forgetting birthdays and generally being socially sub-par. I am at a point where I do factor gas money into visiting/not visiting. Depressing stuff.

If I was a recovering alcoholic I assume I would have other, deeper problems, too.

I was not always sick and broke and focusing on keeping it together to raise a kid instead of doing things that might help fix sick/broke. It is a thing that is really impossible to understand unless you are living it. So I get that it is hard to understand, and it also sounds like your sister is too wrapped up in her own issues to extend any friendship in your direction, and that sucks, but, it sounds like you are both pretty much living on different planets at present. You are upset with her for being self-absorbed, but it sounds like you have a bit of that going on yourself with the expectation that she hop from planet to planet with ease.
posted by kmennie at 9:58 AM on September 13, 2015 [24 favorites]


My son asked my about my sister this morning and a potential gift from my sister because he is a bit of entitled teen who has always received gifts from her in the past. I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

I think you should take the advice you gave your son.

Also, if your sister is in recovery from alcoholism but you are so upset that she forgot your son's birthday that you brought it to us, I have a feeling I know where his "entitlement" may have come from, in part.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on September 13, 2015 [45 favorites]


I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach.

You are TESTING your sister to see if she independently remembers the birthday and invites herself to the celebration

That's my read on this. I grew up with a not-in-recovery alcoholic and there was a constant "I wonder if he will remember...." cycle we'd get into where instead of me telling him "Hey don't forget the thing damnit" I'd wait to see if he'd remember. Bad cycle. I got to occupy the (lonely) moral high ground but it came at the cost of actually being able to, sometimes, do the thing that he forgot we were going to do.

I am sorry your sister is a mess, but she is a mess. Maybe for now and maybe forever. You can decide how you want to manage that but one of the things you don't get to decide is whether or for how long she remains a mess. I know it's hard because frequently the alcoholic (sober or not) can blame other people for their success or non-success and this can make interacting with them challenging because you can wind up feeling responsible for propping them up and that is exhausting for someone who is not doing it themselves.

My friendly advice is that maybe you are getting worn out with her "me me me" approach and should draw some firmer boundaries. Either tell her about the events (I agree that inviting her is a nice idea) and just assume that's the way it's going to be, or be more pointed and say "Look, it's my son's birthday and I'm going to spend time with him and don't have time for this talk now" I mean you opened the door to talk about your own stuff with her but then waited for her to give you an opening instead of just "Enough about you, let's talk about my stuff" and to this outside observer it seems like you are playing some sort of "told you so, she sucks!" game but I'm not sure who you are playing it with? Like, yes it's really hard and shitty to be the non-alcoholic when dealing with people with problems because sometimes it can feel like your own problems pale by comparison. But I think it mostly means you need to find other non-sister people to talk about some of the things that are hard for you, including having a sort of broken sister.

I am sorry because this sounds frustrating and annoying but I think you're managing it pretty well. However the answers are going to all be things that YOU can do differently because your sister may not be capable of changing in a way that is useful for you.
posted by jessamyn at 10:08 AM on September 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Your kid's birthday is not her problem or responsibility. It sounds like you don't get how big of a deal her alcoholism and recovery are.

Invite her to dinner if you want, and if she can go, great. Otherwise, just accept the fact that she has a lot of shit on her plate and don't go making drama.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


My son asked my about my sister this morning and a potential gift from my sister because he is a bit of entitled teen who has always received gifts from her in the past. I said, "You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

This is fine, but as his parent, at an appropriate time and place that isn't his birthday, I think that you need to address your son's entitlement issues. And your own.

You seem to be of the impression (and you've passed it to your son) that a birthday gift is expected from every family member on every birthday. It isn't. Gifts are to be freely given at times of the giver's choosing, and gratefully accepted by the recipient whenever and wherever they come. It's a little different for little kids, because adults tend to build up their expectations around birthdays, and they're too young not to be disappointed if those expectations aren't met. But 15 is plenty old enough for your son to understand both that he's not entitled to any gifts and that his birthday is not the center of anyone else's universe.

And I think that in order to teach your son that lesson, you need to really internalize it yourself. Your sister is battling a life-threatening illness. She is a single parent to a young child. She is working very hard to repair her life. Those are, rightly, the things she is focused on. You and your son are not entitled to her time and attention, much less her money. And it's selfish for you to ask that right now.

Separately from that, you seem to be having boundary issues. You resent spending so much time talking with her about her problems. But the solution to that is not to insist that she take on your problems. It's to draw boundaries about how much of your own time and attention you are willing to freely give without expectation of anything in return, and without feeling upset or resentful if you don't get anything from her. The issue of the phone calls is unrelated to your son's birthday, but the fact that you spent so much of your question talking about it indicates that in your head, you think that she owes your son money and attention because you've spent your time helping her.

You keep using the word selfish. I do not think that word means what you think it means. Your sister was dying, and now she is getting better. It's possible that she is a selfish person, but her behavior right now is not indicative of that; it's indicative of the fact that she is using all of her energy right where she should be, on keeping herself and her family together. Your son needs to get over himself. You need to help him do that. But absolutely, under no circumstances should you ever say anything to your sister that indicates that even for one second you thought she was wrong or selfish or bad for not buying your son a present.
posted by decathecting at 10:14 AM on September 13, 2015 [62 favorites]


The advice you gave your son is good. I'd take it one step further and remind him that no one is owed a gift for any reason, and that having compassion and understanding for other people is an important skill to develop.

It sounds like you're serving as your sister's emotional support and you're burning out. This is extremely common under these circumstances. Can you do things to refill your bucket? Al-Anon, therapy, a day off? Take care of yourself, and see if that changes how you feel about the situation.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:14 AM on September 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have a close family member who sometimes forgets birthdays. It can be hurtful. So now we make sure to remind that person.

The gracious thing to do here is to invite her and specifically say it's for your son's birthday. The generous thing might be to offer to pay for a present for him from her: "I know it's been a tough time. I have an extra iTunes card. Would you like to give it to him as a present?"

She's going to fail your test, I think. So don't let this be a test.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


It sounds like your sister forgetting your son's birthday isn't the problem but part of a bigger problem, in your mind. you can't control what your sister does but you can control your own behavior and modeling emotional generosity towards your sister right now would be a wonderful gift you could give your sister, your son, and yourself.
posted by kat518 at 11:02 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


My daughter's birthday was yesterday and I only heard from one of my four siblings. It never even occurred to me to notice the oversight much less get worked up about it. She's not their kid and they have a lot going on in their lives - why would I expect them to remember it? I didn't invite them to a party, so there isn't even a trigger for them to think of it.

You say your sister is self absorbed and that may be true, but don't make this the straw that broke the camels back - it's fraught and unfair and will happen every year to remind you of it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:38 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's also a good idea for you to steer your sister back toward her treatment program, meetings, therapists, whathaveyou, so that you don't find yourself overwhelmed by her needs.

You get to decide your limit when dealing with an addict. You don't have to inform them verbally what exactly that limit is, you just have to consistently enforce it. Addicts have poor boundaries but respond well to appropriate boundaries and structure.

Be less available for her to exhaust you with her needs and you might not end up being so resentful.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:45 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I honestly think your sister has a right to be selfish right now. If you want to be there for her, then be there for her. Don't be there for her with conditions. You clearly know she has a lot going on. Don't expect anything from her! If you can handle putting the phone on speaker and knitting or whatever when she needs to talk, then do that. Don't expect anything from her end and don't get offended when she doesn't do something.

Also, the recovering alcoholic, only sober for less than a year, single parent, isn't the person you should go to with your problems. I get that you maybe used to have a different relationship in the past, but things have changed.

I agree that this birthday thing is more a test of the relationship and an example of all the reasons you're annoyed at HER more than it is about your kid's birthday. She's being tested every day by her addition and doesn't need to be tested by her sister right now. You can graciously remind her and invite her to something with no hard feelings (and I mean no hard feelings) or you can go on like nothing happened.

Lastly, your son is a big kid now. I think what you explained to him is fine. She has things going on. At some point he needs to learn that while birthdays can be fun, they don't make you entitled to anything (including, unfortunately, people remembering.)
posted by Crystalinne at 11:51 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


If she's staying sober, that's a kind of gift. I know that's not very generous toward you -- I know you've put up with a _lot_. However, your life with her sober vs. your life with her not sober are very different propositions; her sober will make your life better. Probably your son's also.
posted by amtho at 11:51 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


You have a 10 year old nephew that is struggling because his mom is an addict and a broke one at that. Ask him to join you for dinner. He could use a good meal. And then get over yourself. Seriously. This woman is fighting for survival and losing. It's all she can do to get out of bed in the morning. She doesn't have the mental energy to check the calendar for birthdays. Let it go.
posted by myselfasme at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


For people like you and me, we toss this stuff on the calendar and it is unfathomable to forget someone's birthday. I get it. You want your sister to remember this on her own, but it's not going to happen. So you're going to have to give her a little hint (again, I'm sure) and say "Hey, we're cooking dinner tonight for Son's birthday. You and nephew should come."

And if she says she has no money for a gift or card, make your decision. Either make this a teaching moment for your son and let her come sans gift, or tell her to pick up a Visa gift card found in any of a billion drug and department stores out there and reimburse her for it on the QT. (I'm also of the opinion that 15 isn't too old to have a fuss made on his birthday. He's still a kid.)

For Christmas, get your sister a lovely planner and pre-write all important dates in there for her.

This sucks for you and I'm sorry. I hope you have a warm and loving night.
posted by kimberussell at 12:53 PM on September 13, 2015


For Christmas, get your sister a lovely planner and pre-write all important dates in there for her.

Respectfully, I would suggest you not do this. It might feel good for you, but I think the only message it would convey is "you aren't observing occasions that I think you should observe." It would also keep you focused on an aspect of your sister's behavior that would be healthy for you to let go of.

It sounds like you've been hurt a lot by your sister's behavior, and I truly am sorry for that (as yet another person with a close relative who was an alcoholic, I can relate). However, as others have noted, it also sounds like you're trying to control behavior that you truly can't control, and are in need of stronger boundaries for your own well-being. Even the title of your question is interesting - why "where's MY gift," and not "where's my son's gift"? Maybe take a step back and consider how personally you're taking this.

Others have already said this, but let me nth the idea of attending Al-Anon - they really can help.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:25 PM on September 13, 2015 [17 favorites]


Is your sister totally self-involved? Are you getting tires of it and feeling resentful? I'm guessing yes to both. I also suspect you know she's not going to change. With people like that, you accept whatever they have to give. You give as much as you choose to give. You aren't going to have a balanced relationship.

It's a drag that she forgot your kid's birthday. Invite her if you want. Expect a barrage of excuses for forgetting. Ignore that.
posted by theora55 at 2:00 PM on September 13, 2015


Deal with the sense of entitlement now, because it will only get worse.

One of the things I was talking with someone about recently was the way relationships change when one person begins to do a lot of psychological work (be it recovery from alcoholism, anxiety, PTSD, whatever). Previously the relationship was unequal - everything was because of the alcoholism/alcoholic and now it isn't. Now you're having to rework your relationship and deal with underlying issues (like, for example, a sense of entitlement regardless of context or situation) which, for the non-recovering person, can be dreadful because what was the status quo, what was 'normal' is revealed to not be and the other person's issues cannot be blamed anymore (well, they can, but it elides the foundational problems).

You can absolutely say to your sister "hey, I don't know that I'm helping you, have you talked to your therapist about it?" or "we're getting a little heavy with all our conversations lately, wanna hear about something neat?" - that's helpful. Testing her to see if she fits your standard of what you think you and your child are entitled to? That's unhelpful.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:05 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


You seem to have a lot of contempt for her alcoholism. You mentioned it at least a dozen times. If the things that she put you through as an active alcoholic are hard to forgive (which is okay and understandable) I think you need to spend some time quietly working through that on your own. Maybe some day you'll talk about it, but not right now. It doesn't sound like she has it for that type of conversation.

In answer to your question, it's not that weird to forget a nephew's birthday or not make a big deal out of it. Maybe she's working through some of that selfishness you mention repeatedly. If so, I'd let her do her work on her own.

You aren't required to like her or be close to her or listen to her problems. If you've had it up to here with her it is okay to pull back and there's nothing wrong with doing so. If you want to continue to support her, maybe try to do so a bit more wholeheartedly.

Your post seethes with resentment. Again, this may be 100% understandable, but I think that you may need to work through some issues surrounding her addiction and think about maybe forgiving her someday. Maybe not just yet. Maybe you can't trust her yet (maybe you shouldn't).

But you should at least be aware that it's something you are not yet able to do and that you might be putting a ton of emphasis on not making a big deal out of your kid's birthday when that is not necessarily the central issue.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:41 PM on September 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


"You know aunt is having a hard time and if you don't get a gift it's because she is having a hard time and she doesn't have that much money. Don't take it personally."

Your advice to your son is good.

Take your own advice.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:25 PM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I mean you opened the door to talk about your own stuff with her but then waited for her to give you an opening instead of just "Enough about you, let's talk about my stuff" and to this outside observer it seems like you are playing some sort of "told you so, she sucks!" game but I'm not sure who you are playing it with?

This.

You are doing a lot of unpaid emotional labor: "Where's My Gift?" could be an echo of "Where's My Cut?", and it makes total sense that you resent this work and want to quit, or at least cut back drastically. At the same time though, it's easy to become invested in your own self-image as a good emotional laborer, one who has never even considered not fulfilling her role:

She has a 10-year-old son. I wouldn't dream of not acknowledging his birthday. ... I am supportive and a good listener.

So in order not to feel like a 'bad' emotional laborer, you need to turn your sister into a villain. But your sister is not a villain. She is just a person who badly wants/needs your support, and can't/won't give much back (except for her continued existence, maybe). You can support her all the way, or none of the way, or some of the way, without thinking about how your behavior, or your understandable wishes, might affect your resumé.

What should I do
Figure out who your imaginary audience is -- your son's grandparents, for example? -- and why you want to please them, and why you think this is the way to do it. Also, figure out where you want to draw lines with your sister. Make these two separate questions.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:30 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


OP, I just want to say that I'm in a similar situation with someone close to me and it's emotionally exhausting. I read your question and thought to myself, "this could be me and x when my kid is 15." It's hurtful. It's draining. It's scary to watch someone you love go through such a destructive period of her life, and then it's emotionally difficult to be dragged into her daily pain as she recovers - because you love her. It sounds like you're at your limit with this and I empathize. So. Much. When will she thank you for standing with her through her pain? When will she have the time and space to acknowledge your feelings? When will it ever be a two-sided relationship again? Your son's birthday is important to you - why can't she spend a minute of her life on it?

In this case, I agree with the people saying that (as disappointed as you may feel) this is between your sister and your son. He's old enough to handle someone forgetting his birthday. While my person x was in denial about her issues, she was on the spot with presents. Now that she's getting her life back on track, she's missed several birthdays. Last Christmas she didn't buy or make a single present for anyone. It was enough for us that she made it to Christmas in one piece, but she felt (and still feels) guilty about it.

Take care of yourself and remember that you are being the best sister you can be. I'm sorry it's so hard these days. Be thankful that you're not going through what she is right now. My heart goes out to you. And especially to her 10 year old son.
posted by Pearl928 at 5:11 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


By age 15, are most people even expecting a gift from extended family?

Granted I don't come from a particularly gift-oriented family, and I am one of a *lot* of cousins so if every aunt/uncle was supposed to get a present for every niece/nephew's birthday ad infinitum, it would add up to quite a lot of money.

But by high school, in my experience, birthday presents come from your parents, your grandparents (usually in the form of money or a gift card), and maybe a significant other if you have one. Maybe your clique of close friends get together and do something time/effort intensive like a mix tape or photo collage.

The rest of the baggage with your sister and alcoholism? Let it go.
posted by Sara C. at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Forget about it. Like entirely forget about it forever.


I said to her yesterday, "You know I have troubles too that I would like to talk to you about." She was not interested in talking about my life. She had to get off the phone. I'm not broken up about it but I think I was trying to convey that it's not all about her. I know that when you're an alcoholic it's all about you and she can't think outside of her troubles, even she is very self-aware.


She has her own problems. This problem is all yours.
posted by 256 at 7:55 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


If I understand you correctly, you're saying that she had been buying him presents all the past years?
That, to me, would be a reason to think she actually cares.
I'm sorry to hear there's so much tension between you and your sister right now.
If you could find the energy, I'd seriously recommend you read The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner (can't link on my phone). It describes the overfunctioner - underfunctioner dynamic you seem to be stuck in, and gives some very interesting advice that I personally found spot on.
Your sister might be stuck in this pattern and it might be liberating for both of you to get unstuck.
Have a great family birthday. Kudos to you for treating your sister with love and respect.
posted by M. at 10:18 PM on September 13, 2015


One of the key things I'm getting from your original post is that you have absolutely no freaking clue how difficult sobriety is. Not one iota. Nine months is a drop in the bucket. It's not even long enough for all of her cognitive skills to recover. Couple that with being present for her own kid, struggling financially and trying to keep her head about her for work ... Um, your kid is not a priority. It's not even her 10th priority right now.

I agree with others who noted that you might show your teenager what compassion looks like by inviting your sister and nephew over for a birthday dinner do-over.

I wish her luck.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:37 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


If I were your sister I'd be staying a mile away from you right now because it really sounds like you have set up a test for her to fail. You sound tired, you sound hurt, and it sounds like your question has maybe 5% to do with your son's birthday and 95% your issues with her.

I said to her yesterday, "You know I have troubles too that I would like to talk to you about." She was not interested in talking about my life. She had to get off the phone.

She did have to get off the phone. Just because you're in a place where you're emotionally ready to talk doesn't mean she's emotionally ready to listen. Say she did stay on the phone - it sounds like you have a lot of expectations about exactly how she should respond. If that's the case, if you at all want to hear a specific thing from your sister in return, now is not a good time to talk to her. The only part of a conversation you can ever control is the part that comes out of your mouth.

I'm not broken up about it

You've written a lot about something you're not broken up about. Look, I get it, believe me I get it. But for all she's done to you over the years, right now you're a victim of your own expectations.

Also other people have touched on this plenty but my goodness if you're so torn up about your self-absorbed sister, now's a great time to have a chat with your entitled (your words) son. This is a simple, low-stakes lesson. Not "she's going through a tough time," not "she doesn't have much money," the correct answer is, "You're 15. You're not a kid, gifts are not a guarantee, and also, what are you getting her for her birthday?"
posted by good lorneing at 8:48 PM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


On top of what everyone else has written which I agree with whole heartedly, in my family when various family members have hit that 15/16 year old age they kind of drift out of the present rotation as presents are really just considered something for the little kids.
posted by wwax at 7:26 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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