How do I get over my family?
February 23, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop resenting my brother's wife, stop mentally competing with her for the love and approval of my parents, and stop worrying about falling to the margins of my family?

This is long. As a preface, I've been in therapy a long time, and I know that my issues are based on childhood reflexes, but I'm having a hard time with this particular issue. I know I can't control other people's actions, just my own; I just want to figure out how to adjust my thinking and behavior.

Facts: I'm a 35-year-old male and I have a 30-year-old brother. My family all lives in the same metro area.

I have never had a secure relationship with my parents. I was a very smart kid, a nerd, different, and secretly gay. My dad used to verbally berate me from childhood into young adulthood -- he told me at various times that I was manipulative, or a momma's boy, or a snob, or incompetent, or immature. I had a lot of complicated emotional issues growing up, but my dad was emotionally tone-deaf and this was apparently the only way he knew how to deal with me. Also, he hit or shoved me at least a couple of times when I was a little kid. I don't know if this is normal; I know some parents spank their children, but this was more like lashing out in anger at me instead of planned discipline. It was very aggressive and intimidating behavior for a kid to experience, and I was terrified of him. I do have a few good childhood memories of him, but the bad ones predominate. Our relationship has mostly improved, but to this day he can still reduce me to a puddle of self-loathing with a particular comment or tone of voice. And he recently told my mom that he thinks I don't care about him because I never call. Hello? He's intimidating and doesn't know how to have a conversation.

So as a kid, I turned to my mom instead. I loved her, adored her. She was incredibly nurturing and giving. I liked being nurtured, and I was probably a little too clingy -- I don't know if this was a reaction to the way my dad treated me or if it was just in my DNA. All I know is, my dad criticized me for it -- I remember once or twice he accused me of "hanging on my mommy's apron strings." But I tried even my mom's patience sometimes. And despite the fact that I was a smart student, when I got to high school and stopped being number one academically, both parents would accuse me of self-sabotage. They also made me skip a grade in middle school, which totally screwed up my social life. My mom and I have long since made up, and we communicate well. While she wasn't a perfect mom, she's a terrific one.

But I eventually came to feel like my parents and my brother are the normal ones, that they're the ones who know how the world works and how to deal with people and situations day to day, while I'm the family fuckup.

So, my sister-in-law. My brother -- who is much more "normal" than me -- got married a few years ago, and his wife fits our family like a glove. We're a family of affluent northeastern Jews; she has the same background. Although her parents live several hours away, her parents and my parents have become good friends ever since my brother and his wife became serious. I realize this is unusual for the parents of married couples. I seem to see them 2-3 times a year, even though they're not even my own inlaws.

My sister-in-law is the daughter my mom never had, and the two of them have bonded incredibly well. She's similar to my mom in many ways -- I guess sometimes sons really do marry their mothers. My mom and my sister-in-law both like to entertain, throw small parties, be social, give gifts, go the extra mile for people, and so forth.

As for me, again, I'm gay, and I have a partner, who (obviously) is a man. My parents used to have an issue with my being gay, but they got over it, and then I met my partner, and they consider him to be part of the family. We've been together for 5+ years. Unlike my sister-in-law, he's not Jewish, and he was raised in the south, in a more modest socioeconomic background, so his parents are very different from my own. His parents and my parents have met each other once, and although it was perfectly lovely, they have little in common.

My partner is more of an introvert, and I have introvert tendencies. Neither of us likes to spend money; we rarely cook; we're not very good at keeping house or even putting stuff up on the walls of our apartment. Neither of us particularly likes to entertain. We live a very plain lifestyle, although sometimes I wish we didn't. Our apartment is very small and isn't really suitable for a dinner party. And my partner just doesn't put the same premium on family relationships that my sister-in-law does.

Although she's a lovely person, has been nothing but wonderful to me, and means well, I find myself resenting her alot, because I feel like she's taken over the family. I don't really like to see my parents all that often, but she thinks it's important for the family to get together regularly, as do my parents, so we get together. She's very take-charge and very giving. I know my parents have always resented me for not pulling my weight, for taking them for granted, for not taking responsibility for arranging family events, etc., and now my sister-in-law's example makes me look even worse. I really notice the new dynamic when it comes to major Jewish holidays, because since my sister-in-law is Jewish, all of this comes naturally to her, while my partner isn't, and therefore he doesn't seem to care that much about the holidays.

I already feel like an appendage to my family. This will only get worse. My brother and sister-in-law are interested in having children; we aren't. So someday soon they'll have kids, and the kids will rightly become the center of attention, and I'll begin to see myself as the ungrateful son who couldn't even provide grandchildren like my brother did.

Sometimes I wonder if I just need to get away from my family. My family's in the New York area, and I don't necessarily want to leave NYC and uproot my life just to get away from psychological stuff that would follow me anyway.

So how do I get over this shit? How important should family be in my life? Why do I feel like I owe them something? How can I live my life on my terms? How can I resolve all this without moving to a different city?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow...there's a lot of feelings there for you to deal with and wade through, aren't there?

But one thing you yourself touch on....

My sister-in-law is the daughter my mom never had, and the two of them have bonded incredibly well.

There's something to that. Your mom loves you, will always and forever love you, but she never did get to raise her own girlchild, and now this woman comes along, and your mom can indulge in a side of herself that she couldn't or didn't as a mother of only sons.

I think there is a part of you that is terribly frightened that this woman will replace you in mom's heart.

As a mom myself let me reassure you...that will NOT happen. Now of course that won't fix your own complicated feelings about it, but I think the adult part of you can realize and start to digest that it's okay for your mom and your sister in law to be close and that it does not take away from your own relationship to your folks. In fact, if you can see your way clear to it, I think your sister in law could very well be the sister you never had, IF you can allow yourself to permit it.

Because, you see, all you have to be is YOU. You are not in a contest with any of these people. It's like with my kids....the three of them have totally different trajectories in life. One of them used to think we loved the eldest the most. It is true he (the eldest) has accomplished some very unique things in his life. But that is not why we love him, and it has not a thing to do with the equally large love and affection we feel for his sisters. They are who they are and we love them just the way they are.

I think you need to think about what would make you happier with yourself. Because it seems to me that that is more a problem than any attitude your relatives are taking.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:48 PM on February 23, 2009

I think that you should first forgive yourself for being jealous. It's a natural reaction to having a newcomer come into your family and get handed all of the things that you feel you've had to work so hard for.

And then...

You have to realize that this need to have these things is a leftover need. It's that little kid in you who never felt accepted for who he was becoming. You need to realize that you are accepted, and loved, and part of your family - and just because someone else is also accepted and loved and now part of your family that your position will not change. And, once you realize this, you need to look somewhere else for validation (I suggest within, though I realize it sounds trite). Moving away from your family can force a change in perspective, but it seems pretty extreme considering how important your family is to you.

So, maybe it's time to have a talk with that little kid. You have your own life now, and your own partner, and your own worth. Make a note of what you feel is lacking in your interaction with your family and work to get it from them, or find some other way to get it. You don't need to take it away from someone else.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:58 PM on February 23, 2009

Family is fluid. Dynamics change. But there will probably always be a pecking order.
There will always be competition, but you should consider it friendly competition.
Learn how to love yourself - you are not a fuckup.
Learn to deal with your father's *behaviours* - seperate the behaviours from the man.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:11 PM on February 23, 2009

It sounds like part of your competitive feeling with you SIL is that she is very giving and you're not (or don't think you can be). I think it would make you (and your family) happy if you could figure out one really nice/sweet thing that you could contribute to each holiday. You could even ask your SIL for help, since she seems to be a natural at this. You could be--
--the one who makes the cake (or brings the cake)
--the one who brings the really yummy wine
--the one who brings the really funny videos on his iPod

Get the idea? That way, you know that there will be at least one part of the evening when people are genuinely appreciating you and your partner.

And about your future nephews and nieces; it's actually super fun and special to be an uncle. My husband has always been close to his nephew, and it's awesome to see how high this 4-year-old can jump with excitement when Uncle Mr. tk walks into the room.

Yes, kids take up a lot of attention, but unless you don't like kids, you will probably love your bro's kids more than most of the other kids you know. Who knows--maybe one will be a lot like you and you will be the special relative that he/she relates to better than the rest of the family.

It sounds like other than your dad, your family is pretty cool. Your mom and SIL sound especially nice. Maybe just talk to your mom about it? It sounds like you have worked through issues with her before, so maybe she can help you figure this out too.

Good luck.
posted by tk at 7:13 PM on February 23, 2009

Sounds like there's a lot of different, potentially mutually-exclusive stuff going on here. My sympathies. Things that jump out at me:

1) It doesn't sound to me as if you've forgiven your dad for the way he's treated you.

2) It doesn't sound to me as if you're all that excited with your partner.

3) It doesn't sound to me as if you necessarily want to spend a lot of time with your family, partly because of 1 but also partly because of 2.

4) It doesn't sound to me as if you are willing to allow your parents expectations of you to set much in the way of expectations for yourself.

5) It does sound to me as if you want a lot of the benefits that come from spending time with your family and being a conforming part of their world, but 3 and 4 make that somewhat complicated.

6) It sounds to me as if your parents being "okay" with you being gay does not necessarily extend to adjusting their expectations of you as their son.

7) Lastly, and largely as a result of 6, it does sound to me as if your sister-in-law doesn't actually have much to do with this; she is merely the catalyst for issues which reach far deeper into you as a person and farther back into your past than anything she does/says/is could account for.

Honestly, I'm not sure that there is a way for you to get everything you want. I'm going to assume that you don't consider your sexual orientation as the kind of thing which is even open to question, so the idea of settling down with a "nice Jewish girl" is more or less off the table. That's what your brother has done, and that's the kind of relationship that fits well with the culture of your parents and your family. Your sister-in-law is Jewish and the things that are important to your parents--family togetherness, Jewish observance, the trappings of their particular socio-economic status, etc.--so naturally, she is going to fit in better than you and your partner. So it looks to me like you can have either self-definition concerning your sex life or a close relationship with your family. Which sucks, but sucking doesn't make it untrue. Again, you have my sympathies.

Something's gotta give. You want two things--the ability to be recognized as a gay man and full participation in your family's life--which do not appear to be compatible. One way or the other, you're going to have to make a sacrifice if you want to be happy. Either you start living up to their expectations, which may mean splitting with your partner, or you decide that living your life the way you want to live it and with the person with whom you want to live it is more important to you than the benefits of life with your family.

Your parents wanted their sons to marry nice Jewish girls, to spend the Jewish holidays with them, and to raise nice, Jewish grandchildren. Not only are you not married to a girl, but your partner isn't Jewish, doesn't care about Jewish holidays--or family at all, for that matter--and will never give you children. I'm not going to open the can of worms about whether or not your sexual identity is a choice (I'm tempted to say that it is, but I recognize that that discussion would not be helpful to you here) but it is worth pointing out that you did make a choice of partner which seems rather incompatible with your family life. So the nice Jewish girl is off the table. Couldn't you have chosen a nice Jewish boy? Cue observation #2, supra. Is it that surprising that your parents, given their desires, naturally gravitate towards your brother and his wife? Questions of sexual identity aside, this would not be the first time that a son's choice of spouse has alienated him from his parents.*

I think this is the crux of the matter. You want your parents to be okay with you living your life the way you want to live it. And they aren't. This was tolerable until your brother got married because no one really had to deal with it, but once he did, it became very apparent just how much you were not living up to their expectations. And damn, that hurts.

So again, you've got two choices, neither of which is pleasant. You can choose to live up to your parents expectations and sacrifice some of the choices you've made about your life (either your identity or your choice of partner) or you can choose to stand by your principles and sacrifice the approval of your parents.

In any case, the choice to live your own way and have you and your partner accepted as family the way your brother and his wife are isn't really available to you, because it depends on things over which you have no control. Insisting that it just isn't fair may or may not be accurate, but it will resign you to bitterness and is thus not a recommended option.

But to answer your more direct question, the way you stop resenting your sister-in-law is to recognize that really, she doesn't have anything to do with this. This is an issue related to you, your sexual identity, and your parents relationship to that. There are no easy answers here. But a good first step is recognizing that while your sister-in-law, who does sound like a lovely person, may throw the issues you have with your parents into high relief, those issues pre-date her entry into your family's life. Don't hold her responsible for things of which she is not the cause.

How to do that concretely? Talk to her. Tell her what you're struggling with. Assuming she's as great as you make her sound, you have the potential of starting a relationship with her as a new sister, and siblings are always the best people with whom to commiserate over what f*ck-ups Mom and Dad turned out to be. By sharing your hurt with her, you give her a chance to have compassion for you. It sounds to me like you could use a little compassion, and as she really isn't the one responsible for your hurts, having that kind of relationship with her is bound to make resentment harder, replacing something negative with something positive.

Good luck with all of that. I don't think there's any way of you getting everything you want, but I do think that it's possible to live in such situations with grace and poise. Struggling doesn't have to kill you; it can make you a better person.

*While we're on the subject of the completely unexceptional side of this mess, it sounds to me as if your sister-in-law may well be your mother's first experience with a daughter. Of course she's going to bond with her in ways she never bonded with you or your brother. That was going to happen anyways. That's just life. You learn to deal with it.
posted by valkyryn at 7:26 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

hard question to answer... to me it sounds like you have some awfully ambiguous feeling about your family. As already noted you will never truly be replaced, but your role in how you deal with your parents is up to you. If you want, truly want, more obvious affection from them you are going to have to actively and consistently engage with them, often times on their turf and by their terms, and want to do it. You can't be half hearted and expect people, even family, to then be all warm and kiss kiss about it. Yeah, you dad sounds like he was pretty bad. But, it also sounds like he wants you to be part of the family (complaining about you never calling).

Essentially, if you don't want to be marginalized, you have to fight and make the effort. Find things to do with your parents, both of them, either as a couple or singly, even if they are things you may not want to do it is the time and effort more than the event. Be a part of their life and they will be a part of yours.

As to the SIL, as much as this advice sucks... you'll just have to deal. Make your own relationship with your family, you can't do what she does, so as I said find something else and do that.
posted by edgeways at 7:52 PM on February 23, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if I just need to get away from my family.

I would think this would be very unwise and painful. Please do not emotionally disconnect from your family. Sometimes we think it's easier to sever ties, or cut back on contact, because when we do it temporarily diminishes our anxieties. The key word here is temporary. The anxieties you have about your family will never go away until you are able to give your full self, your true self, to your family. This means not being ashamed of who you are. This means being able to talk with your parents even if they don't know how to talk back. This means being able to differentiate yourself from your family. The more emotionally "healthy" you are, the more differentiated you are. Basically, you'll know you're in a more functioning, healthier state when you depend less on your parent's approval.

Your sister-in-law sounds like a lovely person. You and your partner sound like lovely people. The fact that you entertain differently means diddly squat. What is life really about? What is family about? Is it about dinner parties and elaborate holiday gatherings? It's about loving them, spending time, and enjoying yourself and them, no matter your surroundings. I would let go of your worries about being and introvert, not taking initiative, and other such thoughts. If you feel it's important to spend time with your family, go ahead and take the initiative and invite them to a restaurant. Ask your parents, and/or a few other family members to your house for a casual lunch. I'm sure you can squeeze a few people into your place. Spending time with people you love isn't about interior design, the right food, or the right china. The best gatherings are low fuss gatherings. If it's not your style to arrange big family events, it's not your thing. Be OK with that. If you're okay with that, they will be too. You're anxious and care what other people think of you. Nobody cares if there are pictures on your wall. Really. Believe me.

I think inviting them and calling them more often will boost your confidence and your relationship rather than causing more stress.

Please don't become more anxious that you still depend on the approval of your family. Many adults do. Keep in mind that the more you age, and the more you grow as a person, you'll be better at understanding and forgiving your parents' weaknesses as human beings. Keep in mind that perhaps your father called you a mama's boy and said other terrible things because he was jealous and anxious about your relationship with your mother. Maybe he was fearful of your sexuality. Most of us that aren't too evolved are guided by fear and the approval of others. If we lived on a deserted island with our family would we be so cruel? We probably would not. Because we live in a society that judges, and because we are insecure in ourselves, we want our children to be perfect because we are afraid of what others will think of our parenting and our family life. Your father had a lot of fear. Try to forgive him for that. At this point in time (life is short, you're not getting any younger) I think it's best to do a little forgiving and relaxing if you can.

I know how you feel. My father can reduce me to a crumbling mess. I've got a big chip on my shoulder when I'm with him. The chip wears off when I remind myself that he is human and has his own insecurities and anxieties.

Your parents accept you and your sexuality. They accept your partner. They're not so childish or cretinous as to cut you off, thank god.

Also remember that your mother and your sister-in-law are women and since they have many things in common, they have bonded. Good for them that they have a special relationship. This is what is special about family. It's a wonderful thing really, the more family members to love and rely on, the better. The lucky ones are the people that have parents that love them. The lucky ones have families that still like each other and see each other. Consider yourself lucky. Look outward, take note of your good fortune. Please try not to be jealous of their relationship. Instead have gratitude that your mother has one more precious family member to love and spend time with. You'll be happier for it.

We all need the comfort of family. If you withdraw and run, I'm afraid you'll be even more anxious and resentful when you do see them. They don't sound like horrible people, they sound human. They only thing you owe them and yourself is your own self-acceptance and happiness and your ability to live a good and decent life. They really do want that for you. They may be horrible at communicating it, but they do want the best for you and they do love you.
posted by Fairchild at 7:53 PM on February 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Throw your ideas of the traditional "Norman Rockwell" family out the window!

It sounds like life with your dad was pretty bad at times, but it seems like he is maybe changing and trying to be better. People do change. Maybe it is time to develop a bit of amnesia where your dad is concerned and try to look forward instead of at the past. It sounds like you've maybe alienated yourself from your family in a way because you are afraid of being hurt and rejected.

Regarding your you really want to help with all the holidays & hosting stuff? It seems like your sister-in-law is good with all the cruise-director type tasks that help keep families connected and prevent drifting apart...this is a valuable asset for a family to have, particularly as our parents get older and can't do it anymore.

Try hosting a family get-together sometime. You don't have to get all Martha Stewarty or even cook a huge meal. Some of the best family dinners I've hosted at my house involved food I bought from a restaurant and served. You could even suggest the family meet at a restaurant. Nieces & nephews can be a lot of fun. I've had a lot of fun being the "cool" aunt who takes the kids to places their parents don't (art galleries/used bookstores/coffee shops/ethnic restaurants. You could be the uncle who fills that role in your family.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:44 PM on February 23, 2009

Your dad has sent you all sorts of negative messages about who you are as a person. When you were a child, you couldn't help but absorb some of them. Your mom was the nurturing parent who gave you positive messages, or at least messages that you are OK.

Your sister in law isn't replacing you. She occupies a completely different space in your mom's heart than you do. She might be more like your mom than you are, but that's OK. You're you, Mr. Anon. She's herself, Mrs Anon-in-law. You're part of your family. She's becoming part of your family. That requires a lot of work, and perhaps the bond she has with your mother is enhanced by both women trying really hard to fit in together. You don't know what your dad may or may not have said to or about your sister in law. Maybe your mom is trying that bit harder because of the way your father is?

Are you a little miffed that your partner isn't or hasn't been asked to fill the same sort of spot in the family? It sounds like it's just not what he's about as a person. Let him be himself, too.

I agree that you should get to know your sister in law. Just invite her out for coffee, or invite her for dinner with your brother and your partner. Give her a chance to get to know you as you are. Don't see her as Mom II... just see her as herself. You can like her without being disloyal to Mom. I'm sure she'd appreciate the gesture of an invitation, at least.
posted by Grrlscout at 11:37 PM on February 23, 2009

I agree about bringing something to the table. That's a good way to feel important, competent, like you contribute to the culture of the family. Plan for that, every time if you can! Think of a funny story you want to tell, something interesting you learned, whatever, it doesn't really matter. You're still the smart one, after all! Ain'tcha?! What matters is that you praise yourself for setting that goal, achieving it, and being recognized by your family for what you've shared with them. I have a feeling something you'll be sharing with them is an inspiring sense of independence. Don't forget that your individuality and freedom (from children, for example) will always command a little envy, just as you might envy their natural, logical roles as parents. So, refine that freedom. Don't let your SIL be your social planner. You can say "no" whenever you like, for whatever reason, and be answerable only to yourself. And it really sounds like you're being swept up in too much family time and too little processing time, so feel freel to cut down on quantity if it means you get the quality you seek. And of course, be brave in sharing these feelings with them, as you see fit. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if your SIL, for example, was a terrific confidante. You never had a sister, you know!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:29 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you need to pull back on the family get-togethers and start putting some effort into cultivating your one-on-one relationship with members of your family instead.

No matter how old we get, or how much we mature, I think it's easy to fall back into the roles that we had as children when we interact with our families as a family, rather than as individuals in our families. I'm not in love with my role in my nuclear family--I was the baby, and the only girl, and had a very rocky relationship with my mom and constantly felt excluded from my brother's close sibling bond--and even though I would say that my relationship with each of those people has evolved to a *much* better place now that I'm an adult, I really find myself slipping back into those dynamics when I come home for the holidays and see everyone. I still feel like my brothers (and now their wives!) are much closer than I'll ever be, and sometimes it makes me really jealous. Quickly followed by a nice bit of self-loathing for regressing back into the insecure teenage girl who I don't particularly like. Whee, what a fun merry-go-round!

The thing is, I've come to realize going in that that situation (getting together with the entire family) is going to trigger those feelings in me. It's a part of me, a part of my history, that's never going to go away--your family dynamics are always going to be effective at pushing your buttons and making you feel insecure. You need to counterbalance that with solid relationships with each member of your family, so that you can ride out the temporary feelings of insecurity. You need to learn to separate your feelings about your family dynamics from your feelings about people in your family, and the best way to do that is by scaling back your participation in these to-dos your sister in law puts together and instead start making an effort to get to know your mom, and your brother, and maybe even your dad as individuals.

I'm not surprised you're resentful and angry at your sister-in-law. It sounds like most of your interactions with your family are now structured by her plans, and since your place in the family dynamic don't sound so great, maybe you feel like your relationship with all of them has deteriorated. (But you may well be mistaking the family dynamics for your relationship with each of them as individuals.) This feeling will only get more intense if you've started pulling back on one-on-one time because you're spending so much time all together as a family. Plus, not only are her plans causing you to constantly be in this situation where you feel less-than, but I'm betting that you feel even more insecure about your place in the family because adding one more person always alters the family dynamic a bit, perhaps in a way that makes you feel displaced.

Look, the choice here isn't between continuing to suffer through what feels like ever-worsening family dynamics or to make a clean break. You might not see it, but you definitely have the power to alter your place in this. Not your place in the family dynamics--good luck with that!--but with how you're engaging with everyone in it. You really need to stop interacting with them as "your family," and start interacting with them as individuals, so you can escape the dynamics in favor of the relationships. I'm guessing this would take the form of begging off on attending yet another big family dinner or celebration, but starting to invite your brother and his wife out to dinner, just the four of you. Start calling your mom every Sunday night just to chat for half-hour about her week. Offer to drive up and take your dad out out to lunch, just the two of you. I promise you, it's a million times more difficult to feel jealous of your sister-in-law if your relationship with your mom exists outside of her relationship with your mom.

Plus, bonus bit of advice: please take a look at whatever unspoken hopes or expectations you're putting on your boyfriend in this situation. I bet that a big part of what makes you two compatible is exactly that he's not like your sister-in-law, so secretly wishing he'd somehow act like her in this situation and only this situation is only going to lead to resentment on your part. And resentment is the most corrosive thing of all. Don't let your relationship be a casualty of what's going on with your family right now.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2009

I think the idea of becoming closer to your family members one-on-one is a good idea. Especially your SIL. Since she's your mother's daughter-she-never-had, can she be your sister-you-never-had?
posted by bellbellbell at 9:07 AM on February 24, 2009

Have you ever thought about writing? You're pretty good at expressing yourself through words in an interesting way. I know that's not the point of this post at all, but FWIW...
posted by JPowers at 3:57 PM on February 24, 2009

Here's a rather O'Henry-ish hypothetical: What if all this effort your sister-in-law is making is all on your behalf? In other words, what if your family feels that you are emotionally elusive and feel sad because they believe you don't feel close to them - and your sister-in-law, understanding this, hopes to create warm family experiences so that you will be drawn back into the heart of your family (emotionally) and closer to your mom and dad who feel that you are rejecting them?

It would be terribly ironic and sad if the crux of the matter were that they are all thinking of you so much and hoping to be accepted by you, so much so that your SIL goes to extreme effort to construct events that might make this possible... yet, her competence and energy in the matter is actually inadvertently creating these feelings of inadequacy/rejection in you.

A couple of clues that make me think that this interpretation might not be far off the mark is that your dad says he thinks you don't care about him because you never call, and the fact that your SIL is making such a big deal about these being big family events - in other words, it's very important that you be there. They live close to each other, can see each other as much as they like, yet they/she are going to so much effort to pull you in - something they wouldn't do if they felt you were a disappointment, a drag, and someone who doesn't fit into their family scene.

So, consider the idea that things might actually be exactly the opposite of what you imagine, and that your whole family is really wooing you, trying to get your attention and affection. I know it's hard to be objective, but concentrate on viewing all this with new eyes and see if it may possibly be the case.
posted by taz at 1:46 AM on February 25, 2009

I just want to figure out how to adjust my thinking and behavior.

I could have written your letter a few years ago. This is what you need to do. (1) Recognize that this is the "family you grew up in." It is not "your family." (2) Jump for joy because you have gone out and done exactly what healthy adults do -- you have created "your family." You and your wonderful partner are "your family." You've defined an environment that nurtures and celebrates you. Revel in it! (3) Start redefining and looking at everything through the lens of "your family." You'll quickly realize that it is "the family you grew up in" that falls short. It will never measure up to "your family" -- the one you made yourself.
Ok. more details. You were not a misfit in "the family you grew up in." You were a mismatch. The stork left you on the wrong doorstep. You were supposed to be left with the warm nurturing family that understood, adored, and could not believe their good luck in getting a sweet, sensitive little boy. Shame on the adults (parents) that could not alter their behaviors and perceptions to respond to the gift they were given. They were adults and that was their responsibility. It was not your responsibility, as a child, to become somebody else.
Now you're an adult! You made your OWN family. (It sounds a lot like mine!). We entertain (if at all) out of the house, at restaurants where we pick up the bill, because the house is our home and sanctuary. We do not permit the world in to disturb our peace. We like it this way. It's our family. We LOVE our family! and each other!
The "family you grew up in" does not suit you. (mine does not suit me). It is not like "My Family" which I have defined for myself. Mine is better because it suits me. I visit "the family I grew up in" with that in mind. Too bad for them.
So far as the sister-in-law is concerned, she is not part of "the family you grew up in" because she was not there. It hurts like heck though because, without even trying, she waltzed in and got all kind of love and acceptance. WHAT! Ok, recognize the source of the hurt, and do not direct it towards her. She's innocent here. (I regret hating a former sister in law for this same reason).
In sum, use the new terminology above exclusively to describe these relationships, redirect your thinking, celebrate yourself and "your family." This helped me. (It took a lot of time). All my best wishes to you!
posted by inkyr2 at 3:36 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

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