My parents are ruining my sister. Can I fix her?
June 17, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

My parents, who became fairly wealthy after I left home, have (unintentionally) turned my little sister into a horrible human being. How can I (a) help fix her; (b) forgive them; (c) help them break their enabling patterns?

I'm much older than my only sibling, my little sister (let's call her Jenny). (I am also a girl.) As a result, she's grown up in a very different financial and social universe than I did. To put it bluntly: she's a rich kid. I wasn't. That's fine, and I don't have (too m)any problems with the disparity in e.g. the quality of our respective material lives growing up. The problem is this: My parents have indulged and pampered Jenny to such an extraordinary degree that at age 21 (still in college) she's grown into a terrible, terrible person. Entitled, selfish, manipulative, academically unintelligent (she was coddled, rather than reprimanded, when she brought home terrible grades; now she's at one of those "we have no grades!" liberal arts colleges that are basically holding tanks for artsy rich kids), and unequipped for most basic life tasks. (She's never so much as applied for a job or internship, let alone landed one; she gets a monthly allowance from my parents that she exceeds regularly without repercussion.)

I am horrified by the level of indulgence my parents have demonstrated with her -- she's become exactly the sort of person that my mom would, once upon a time, have pointed out with disdain as "one of those horrible entitled suburban shitheads." Since Jenny left for college a few years ago, it's only become worse -- she used to be a sweet if dim kid who was clearly just trying to please her parents and get love from them; now that she's left home, that's crystallized into a Bad Person, one oblivious to the rudeness she projects to others (my friends who don't know the backstory have commented on it to me, when they've met her) and emotionally violent when confronted with any personal criticism.

Unfortunately, any attempt I've made to suggest that my parents give Jenny the opportunity to develop independence and learn how to fail has been met with hostility, defensiveness, and accusations of jealousy and immaturity. When I try to treat Jenny the way I would treat a friend who was demonstrating such entitled behavior, she calls my parents in tears and rails against me for not loving her enough.

I feel like I've become a villain. In the last several years, not only have I lost a formerly lovely, sweet sister to this new and terrible monster, I've also lost the comfort of having parents who I feel listen to me, support me, and are capable of making me feel like a priority. In the last few months I've been cutting communication with Jenny down to a bare minimum, and have tried to go home only when she's not there. But I don't want to spend the rest of my life estranged from my sister, and with my parents thinking that I'm a jealous, petty, resentful person. I want both my sister and my parents back. Is it possible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is one of those situations where all you can control is your own reaction. You refer to your sister as a "horrible human being" and a "Bad Person"- any chance you're catastrophizing? She's not raping and murdering people, right? I can understand perfectly why it would be upsetting to be in this situation, but wishing things were like they used to be is never going to be productive. You might consider talking this issue through with a therapist, you might be able to map out some coping mechanisms that let you deal with your family as they are now, and not as you wish they were.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [21 favorites]

Honey, as heartbreaking as it is, you can't fix this. You can only try to be loving to your sister so that when she crashes and falls-and she will-she will know you will be there for her.

And as a parent myself I am officially ashamed of your parents for doing this to her. They could have and should have known better. But it is on them, not you. This is how the boundaries fall.

You do have the right to insist your sister treat you with respect, that much you can do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:50 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

I want both my sister and my parents back. Is it possible?

Maybe, maybe not.

The thing is, your sister and your parents are not likely to accept your view of things; either the idea that they spoiled her or that she is indeed a horrible person.

And in the long run, she is not your responsibility. You love her, and that's great, but she's not your child. Part of the resentment you get may be from the fact that you're in effect trying to parent her (or at least affect how she is parented) and really, that isn't your place, no matter how much you might not like it.

Let it go, step back, live your own life how you want, and stop trying to run theirs.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

The best thing about communities like MeFi is the realization that you are not alone even with your strangest/worsest problems.

You and I share similar stories. You and I share similar sisters (arguably mine is worse : she became a cheesy attorney and made BS appearance on Fox news {heh}). The circumstances you described are very much like my own - in my case I gave up on my sister as it was a lost cause - she became a horrid person and that was out of my control.

You asked:
How can I (a) help fix her; (b) forgive them; (c) help them break their enabling patterns?

The answers to a and c - in my opinion - are that you can't. It's over. Your sister is a grown woman and her pattern is set. You can not make her change into something better - only she can do that. You can only live a decent and honorable life and hope your sister notices but my experience with such people is that they rarely do. Sorry about the bad vibe on your issue here.

I can't help you with (b). I'm really bad at that - others are much better. I never forgave my parents but I let it go a long time ago. Better people than I are able to forgive such things - it's a personal thing and apparently I am lacking. The best that I have been able to do is realize that lack of forgiveness does not have to turn into obsession. It was what it was and it is what it is.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Is she not happy in her current situation? What exactly do you think you need to save her from? Are you embarrassed by who she is? It also sounds like you are jealous of your sister and your parents relationship.

Overall, these sound like your issues, not hers or your parents.
posted by TheBones at 7:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [18 favorites]

she's at one of those "we have no grades!" liberal arts colleges that are basically holding tanks for artsy rich kids

I guess the school she is at might fit that description, but the no-grades liberal arts colleges that I am familiar with are extremely rigorous, more so that places with grade inflation and multiple choice tests.

The point being, it kind of sounds like you have made up your mind and are seeing what you want to see, which may have rather little to do with the actual facts. Time spent dealing with your own feelings and your own relationship with your parents would be much better spent, as compared to focusing on your version of her life.
posted by Forktine at 7:52 PM on June 17, 2011 [23 favorites]

Sorry, I don't have a magic wand for you, but one thing that strikes me about your question is that maybe you should examine your own assumptions.

she was coddled, rather than reprimanded, when she brought home terrible grades

This especially puzzles me since what, really, does academic discipline have to do with financial situation?

Just saying this might be some kind of first child/second child dynamic rather than a prosperity one. Additionally, your sister might be the leader in manifesting horrible personality traits, and your parent's behavior, while enabling, could be their shruggo reaction rather than the cause.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to figure out new ways to connect with her. If you have any shared activities or interests, pursue those -- this will give you a chance to see her in a new light, and to lead by example without the harsh glare of Judging and Lecturing. Let this (and some space, and some time, and a lot of flexibility) help you determine whether she's actually a Bad Person. If she ultimately turns out to be (and remember -- she's a baby yet!), then I regret to tell you that there's not much you can do. Otherwise, congratulations, you will have rescued an extremely important relationship.
posted by thejoshu at 7:56 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that you could be unaware of some issues affecting your sister? What you characterize as "Bad Person" behavior might be caused by other factors, perhaps even mental illness. As you're no longer part of the household on a daily basis, you might be missing some of the nuances of your sister's situation that might explain your parents' attitude toward her.

Of course, maybe you're correct; maybe she's going through a nasty phase. She's 21; she is still, by most measures, a kid. She's still working out who she is. Maybe she'll grow out of the nastiness; maybe she won't. Not much you can do about it, either way, except to model what you consider appropriate behavior. It would probably be more effective, too, to hold the self-righteousness; even if you're really right, overt moral judgement is not usually not a good premise for pleasant interaction, let alone trying to convince a family member that her weltanschauung needs an adjustment. If you really can't stand being around her, spend less time with her. If she (or your parents) notice and ask about the distance, tell them in a matter-of-fact way (without accusation or drama) that you find your sister's behavior is offensive, and you find it difficult and unpleasant to spend time with her. They (and she) will get the message.
posted by Spinneret at 7:58 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold the phone. You're out of line.

Have you considered that your sister's tears might be genuine? You're the one forcing your parents to choose between their children by refusing interaction with her. That's a terrible thing to do to your parents.

You're not a co-parent to your sister, and you're not her friend. Treating her in either way is not your place and is not going to work. You're her sister. She's the closest genetic link you have on the planet, and she'll be the aunt to your children and one day, he only person left in your family after your parents pass on.

All you can do is try to be the bigger person. She really doesn't sound that bad. You come off as intensely jealous and, ironically, entitled.
posted by Nixy at 8:00 PM on June 17, 2011 [30 favorites]

Oh man ... Okay, don't get defensive, but 2 things.

1. Honestly, the way you talk about your sister is shameful, ugly, and terrible. The level of contempt is actually repellent:

horrible human being
a terrible, terrible person.
Entitled, selfish, manipulative, academically unintelligent

akin to "one of those horrible entitled suburban shitheads."
a Bad Person
You speak with horrible contempt about her school "a holding tank for rich kids."

This is a horrible, abusive way to talk about your sister and I think you need to cut it out, period. A (much) secondary problem is that it's just insane hyperbole. People who harm children are horrible human beings. Not your sister, who sounds like just an inconsiderate 21 year old. This is I'm sure part of why you're getting a massive pushback.

2. Your motivation here in wanting to fix her actually DOES sound jealous to me. You talk about her grades, but it does not sound AT ALL like it's coming from a place of concern -- it just sounds like you're using it as evidence of her Bad Personhood. You talk about her allowance, which is none of your business. And then this:

attempt I've made to suggest that my parents give Jenny the opportunity to develop independence and learn how to fail

It really comes off like what you really want her is to see her struggle and fail, out of jealousy. Now, I'm not a mind reader and can't tell you that's what is going on in your head. I can only tell you that that's how it comes off.

It sounds like the cruz of the jealousy thing is this: I've also lost the comfort of having parents who I feel listen to me, support me, and are capable of making me feel like a priority.

Your parents don't make you feel like a priority. I think it's totally understandable and legit to be upset by feeling that way. But the way you are dealing with it, is not okay IMO. If you feel like you are not a priority to your parents, work it out with them. Don't compare to your sister, don't make your sister your target.

Buried in everything else is the one complaint that actually sounds legit, that your sister isoblivious to the rudeness she projects to others.. THAT is something you can work out with her.

But when you say you treat her the way I would treat a friend who was demonstrating such entitled behavior -- what exactly do you mean by that? How DO you treat friends who do that? Do you try to talk it out, patiently and civilly? Do you set boundaries in a calm friendly way? Or do you tell them off and rage? Or do you get passive aggressive, distant and cold?

It might be worthwhile to consider seeing a therapist together around this.

I know this was blunt, but I just think the way you are going about things now is only going to lead to more and more alienation.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:09 PM on June 17, 2011 [54 favorites]

I am in your situation too-complete with the entitled pain in the ass younger sister and parents who seem to be clueless as to how that happened. For me, I washed my hands of my sister. I decided that I was her sister, not her mother, and thus didn't need to give a crap that she was a pain in the ass who I could barely tolerate. This had two immediate effects----a) I was no longer bothered by her cause I didn't talk to or think about her unless she was standing right in front of me and b) my relationship with my folks improved dramatically because at the end of the day, they didn't care to hear my criticism of their parenting job and frankly, it was none of my damn business anyway. Now, ten years later... she has grown into a... mostly functional adult who still requires financial bailout because she is terrible with money and keeping a job but I have a lot more tolerance now because walking away allowed the people who created the problem to reap what they sowed without dragging me into it. Moreover, as she has money troubles... she doesn't DARE ask me for help because I made myself crystal clear a long time ago... I was done with the drama.

So that's my suggestion.. stop bringing it up with your folks, it's really not your business how they choose to raise her, and that relationship will get better. As for sis, do not engage. She will either grow out of being a waste of oxygen or she won't and nothing you say or do will impact that.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

she's at one of those "we have no grades!" liberal arts colleges that are basically holding tanks for artsy rich kids

I sympathize with your overall issue. But I went to a college fitting this description and you may need to check your assumptions somewhat; it's definitely not all like this. I personally worked hard and got a good education. You sound a little jealous and a little concerned and a little conflicted. I'd try to tease out what's an immediate problem [you want to get along with your sister and your folks] what's a longer range concern [you worry your sister is developing different values from you] and what's maybe not your business [telling your folks how to be parents rarely ends well]. Trying to find some sort of happy place where you can accept what you have now while you still work to make things better without sounding like you really are just being jealous and overbearing.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [11 favorites]

Wait, I'm not done with this question.

Let me try to provide some limited perspective of what it's like to be a younger sister. I worshipped my sister when I was a little girl. She was my favorite person in the entire world, even above my parents, and I'm pretty sure I was her biggest fan. She would yell at my six-year-old self (she's seven years older) for going into her room, when she didn't realize that the only reason I did that was that I was absolutely fascinated with everything she owned, touched, thought and did. She was my hero. I wanted to be around her just to catch some of her magic, her engery, and her courage.

I was an accident, I'm fairly sure. My parents have completely different stories about this, but I was essentially an oops. It's very difficult to grow up in a family with kids spread out in age, I know. Furthermore, my parents had an ugly divorce when I was 12 and waited until my sister was 18 to go off to college. "Save one kid" philosophy- they just couldn't wait for the "backup" kid. Parents in general tend to be more relaxed, more laissez-faire the second time around. This, despite outside appearances, is not always a good thing. It was really, really, really, REALLY fracking hard for me to go through that, alone, with my sister away, and my whole family suddenly changed. My dad often bought me presents instead of being there when it mattered. They showed no interest in where I went to college. They pretty much gave up and stopped caring after the collapse of our family. So, yes, I was less competitive and type-A than my sister was.

When I got old enough to realize that my sister had always resented me and would never be close to me, it broke my heart. Seriously, she fell off the pedestal much, much harder than either of my parents. I still can remember my original impression of her as some sort of otherworldly creature who could do no wrong, a tough hardworking, deeply inspiring figure. I mistakenly thought she might be the one person in the world to understand my parents and commiserate with me about them. I wanted to reach out to her. That dream died hard.

We never talk anymore. This broke my heart, and it broke my mother's heart. She keeps saying "maybe when you're older." My sister just turned 30. It's probably not ever going to happen at this point.

Don't be like us.
posted by Nixy at 8:33 PM on June 17, 2011 [31 favorites]

I just want to add to what I said, because I feel like it was hard on you in an imbalanced way -- I understand very well how hard it is to see someone close to you, someone you'd hoped to have a lifelong relationship with developing values that you find to be anathema. And I also understand very well how hard it is to struggle and almost claw at times for the things you have, while someone else gets to just sail right by. On top of it, struggle really lends itself to developing pride in certain traits (say, thriftiness, hard work, self-sacrifice, ability to do without, restraining oneself from complaining) -- that pride can carry you through a lot of situations, but the flip side is becoming a harsher judge of people who don't have those traits. And then, if you've derived some (or a lot) of your self-esteem from having those traits, even when your situation changes and now there's the chance for some unearned luck to come your way, or the chance to take it easy, it almost feels wrong to take it for yourself. But still resent people who do take it.

I don't want to project onto you, but if any of this resonates with you, I just want to say, I do understand it. There's just a healthy way to work it all out, and unhealthy ways too, and I think this is really one of the unhealthy ones. I really really think therapy would be best here -- with a focus on your own feelings.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:34 PM on June 17, 2011 [17 favorites]

Nthing other posters that actually you do sound kinda jealous of your sister, and moreover kinda jealous of the relationship she has with your parents.

But... I'd also like to through out there that it is by no means uncommon for young people in their late teens and twenties to go through a really intense "arsehole" period - especially if they didn't do it when they were teenagers in school.

Don't forget, people change. Your sister can, and so can you. Lighten up a little bit; it sounds like there's a lot of hurt feelings all round, and seeing you take the first steps towards rapprochement may instill a lot more good faith in both your parents and your sister. It's very difficult to hear what someone's saying, if you're worried those words are gonna stab you.
posted by smoke at 8:42 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you really want to help you need to dial back your vitriol about 300% and approach your sister and your family with kindness. I suspect you have way more problems with the imbalance between the material provision for you vs. your sister than even you realize. To me, you sound very angry, and you need to address that before you address your sister's behavior. She may behave selfishly and in a way that you don't approve of or even want to be around, but nobody deserves the kind of angry judgement you're spewing here, let alone your own sister. "Sweet but dim" seems to be the nicest thing you can say about her - I think you really need to examine your feelings in therapy. In fact, I'd urge you to. You don't need to live with all of this negativity and pain.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:54 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was an idiot when I was 21. I got a lot of negative feedback from my family about it, but it was obvious to me at the time -- clueless though I was -- that my parents were frantic I would hurt myself in some way, and they couldn't bear to see that happen. (And looking back, they weren't so very wrong. I was incredibly lucky.) My brother wanted me to stop acting so stupid and upsetting my parents. I can't imagine what kind of permanent damage that situation would have caused me if I was being labelled with all the ugly, nasty words you've used towards your sister. She's just being thoughtless and selfish and rude, for heaven's sake.

There are Horrible People in the world. They're not going to an "artsy" college and overspending their allowance from their wealthy parents and being obnoxious and 21 years old. Horrible People are doing horrible things to other people (and animals and themselves).

Goethe said "Each man sees what he carries in his heart." If you're serious about changing this situation, you need to talk to someone about why you're framing this problem in the toxic way that you are. That said, such strong feelings mean that there's a lot there for you to work with, close to the surface. A true opportunity. Good luck.
posted by kestralwing at 9:05 PM on June 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

From what you say, I am not entirely persuaded (a) that she is horrible, (b) that it is your parents' fault, or (c) that the way they ruined her was via financial spoiling. You have an entire theory here, and there are a few pieces of info here that make me willing to believe you may be right, but the evidence and mechanisms are not entirely established. You might want to construct alternative narratives to reawaken your curiosity, caring, and openess towards her. You might want to ask what you're protecting yourself from in this rush to certainty. You do sound hurt and angry.
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of good advice above, so I just want to suggest thinking about one part of your question... So what if she goes beyond her allowance? This is a girl whose parents are happy to give her money, and she's happy to accept it. Where's the wrongdoing? Maybe it bothers you in principle, or maybe you're just envious that she has access to funds that you didn't when you were her age - but I don't see how it shows that she or your parents are doing anything wrong. They're fine. You're the only one feeling unhappy. It's obvious that you are incredibly resentful and that you don't have any respect for your sister - yeesh, the best thing you can say about her (optimal, in your eyes) younger self is that she was "sweet, if dim". Yikes, right? Why should she trust you?
posted by moxiedoll at 9:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't have the money or large age difference variables that you have in play here, but I did have a rough patch with my younger brother for a number of years when we were in our early-mid twenties. I was the type A school oriented older sister and my brother was kind of more reckless, less interested in school but great at work relationships -- that's a major abbreviation but it's the gist.

in the last few years our relationship has improved steadily, I think in large part to his maturing a lot and realizing that I really didn't look down on him at all, and so much of that was invented in his head ( and I'm sure there was a lot about his attitude toward me that was my perception).

But I feel like our relationship improved even MORE just in the last year, because at one point I realized what it must be like from *his* perspective. I was so used to being the older child with all the pressure who could never do wrong, and I realized that even though he's a professional, no longer reckless, late twenties, very responsible, etc, my family basically gives him a round of applause for showing up to Thanksgiving dinner when he said he would. i think for so long I felt like it was unfair that I had such huge expectations and pressure on me, and all he had to do was show up, but then I thought about how infantilizing and frustrating it must be to have people make a big deal out of your performing simple expected tasks, just because you used to be sort of a screw up and you're the "baby." Ingrained family dynamics are hard for everyone and they are hard to change.

My brother and I have never even discussed this, but I really do think this attitude change of MINE really helped our relationship, I think just even in unconscious behavior I'm not fully aware of. So try it. Just think about what life must be like for HER. I'm sure she's not really a horrible person. You just have different spots within the family and you need to be able to understand each other.
posted by sweetkid at 9:27 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like part of your anger is at your parents and this phrase made me see that: she was coddled, rather than reprimanded, when she brought home terrible grades. All of a sudden there you seem annoyed at your parents rather than your sister. If your parents had a certain set of values and such that they raised you with, I can totally see how it might bother you that your sister has a different (more lenient? more forgiving?) set of values as her standard. Why did your parents change and how did that affect you?
posted by bendy at 9:31 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm from a large family with a considerable gap between the oldest and youngest children. I'm second eldest, and I do see a LOT of pampering of the younger kids, and much more relaxed rules, and so forth. I don't think it's quite to the level you're seeing, but it's on the same end of the spectrum. My siblings are also a little younger than your sister, so perhaps there's time for them to grow into repellant snot-heads, but we'll see.

The only thing you can control here is your behaviour. You're not going to be able to force your parents to behave like they were with their first child, any more than they could force you to treat current friends like you did when you were 13. We grow, we learn, we make mistakes, and we change our ways to make new mistakes. You're also not going to be able to force your sister to uphold your particular set of standards for How She Should Behave. I completely understand that it must be miserable to see her change into someone you don't like, but it's just not something you have the power to change.

So. The only thing you have power over is your behaviour, and you're choosing to alienate her, to describe her in truly awful terms, and draw battle lines between her and yourself by making this about who's the favourite. What if you saw her more often, let her know gently when particular behaviours of hers offended others, and stopped obsessing about her upbringing and past (really, it doesn't matter what grades she got or how they were received). What if you spoke to your parents, passed the time, and didn't even mention your sister in anything but a passing 'oh yes, we caught up on the weekend' way? Don't you think that might make it more likely that the four of you will be a happy family?

I do think you've described a bit of a poinsonous relationship, but to be quite honest, it seems like most of that poison is sitting in you (with your invitation).
posted by twirlypen at 10:03 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

You don't sound jealous one bit. You do sound like you just don't like your sister, and you're having trouble accepting this because your family. Your sister might just be a jerk. Continue with minimum communication.
posted by spaltavian at 10:04 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

It is possible she is just a jerk, and always was going to be one. That happens. All you can do is set a good example, and be there for her. And give up your negative, judgmental feelings towards her, because it surely comes out when you are talking with her.

(And for all you older siblings, you have to realize that your younger siblings grew up in completely different families than you did. Accept that their experience of the same events was completely different for them. My younger siblings might be a little more spoiled and entitled than me, but I got to know our grandparents and great grandparents. I'm only 9 years older than my youngest sibling, and I have a connection to two more generations of our family than she does. It is kind of humbling.)
posted by gjc at 10:41 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Who cares what grades she brings home? She's not her GPA nor her resume, and neither are you.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Entitled, selfish, manipulative, academically unintelligent (she was coddled, rather than reprimanded, when she brought home terrible grades; now she's at one of those "we have no grades!" liberal arts colleges

Regardless of anything else, the no-grades colleges that I've heard of have pretty good reputations and are not that easy to get into. Of course, maybe the one in question here is different. Still, being bad at school is not a moral failing and it shouldn't be a reason to love or like someone less.

The other thing is - have you considered that her behavior around you may be worse than it is around other people? People tend to reflect the treatment they get, often unconsciously. You might have a vicious circle going where her behavior feeds your disdain, she feels your disdain and behaves worse, etc. You said she becomes "emotionally violent" when criticized. Maybe that's a general character trait of hers; it's also possible that you've lit into her so many times that it's become an automatic stressed reaction.
posted by egg drop at 11:24 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

she used to be a sweet if dim kid who was clearly just trying to please her parents and get love from them.

When I try to treat Jenny the way I would treat a friend who was demonstrating such entitled behavior, she calls my parents in tears and rails against me for not loving her enough.

I've also lost the comfort of having parents who I feel listen to me, support me, and are capable of making me feel like a priority.

So, your sister has always been the sort of person who clamored for approval. She's lost yours, but gained some ground with your parents.

Your parents may feel guilty for spoiling your sister and/or guilty for not being able to spoil you. But you disapprove of their personal fortune and their parenting of your sister, yet are also upset that you're not getting their approval.

Um, aren't you maybe helping drive Jenny straight into the immature codependent approval loop that is frustrating you in the first place?

Look, this is totally a thing that happens. But put yourself in your parents' and sister's place -- what, they should be poor to ensure that they're more noble? And hey, you can do that and yet still think that the entitlement has gone too far...but I think you've gotta take the high road and snap out of the bitterness first.
posted by desuetude at 11:34 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

desuetude's excerpts are interesting. Is this one of those families that always has a good kid who can do no wrong and a kid who is "the problem," and periodically the kids trade roles? Those kind of insider-outsider dynamics can be tough.
posted by salvia at 12:56 AM on June 18, 2011

You know, my family is similar and my youngest sister is 10 years younger than me. Her growing up and collegiate experience was fairly different than mine, largely because there was a lot more money around in her era than mine, but also because she's a very different person. Her baby and childhood years were a delight. Her teen years were like living under a regime. Although she wouldn't be thrilled to hear me say this, she'd probably agree that she was a very late maturer, with a super-long teen phase, who was still throwing tantrums at 23.

She'd pretty much pulled it together at 27 and is practically unrecognisable at 30. She's actually an ace person I thoroughly enjoy spending time with these days. I don't know what to tell you. You can't parent your siblings and you can't parent an adult. The only thing you can do is maintain a relationship on a manageable level now, let life kick her around a bit, and hope for the best. Praise the good, ignore the bad, and wait it out.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:06 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

And for all you older siblings, you have to realize that your younger siblings grew up in completely different families than you did. Accept that their experience of the same events was completely different for them. My younger siblings might be a little more spoiled and entitled than me, but I got to know our grandparents and great grandparents. I'm only 9 years older than my youngest sibling, and I have a connection to two more generations of our family than she does. It is kind of humbling.

This is a really good point. When the spread between oldest and youngest is large, and there are big family changes during that time, you really did grow up in totally different families. I grew up without any of the material goodies, but like gjc, I actually met my great grandparents and had close relationships with all of my biological grandparents. And, since I was born while my parents were super young and still in school, I spent countless hours with them, and especially with my father, something that my younger siblings didn't have in the same way.

So while I might feel jealous about the money side of things, it wouldn't surprise me if they were jealous about those relationships and memories. There is no amount of money you could give me to make me want to give up hanging out with my grandmothers as a kid, for example. The point being, these things cut both ways, and it's hard for everyone.
posted by Forktine at 4:29 AM on June 18, 2011

Honestly, you're coming off as kind of an ass. You're being incredibly judgemental about your parents and your sister because they don't fit your preconceptions of how they should behave. You don't give any examples of anything bad they've done to you. The only thing you can change in this situation is your own behaviour. I suggest showing your parents and your sister some love might be a good first step.
posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on June 18, 2011

I'm sorry things are currently bad with your sister and parents. It must suck to see her behave in ways your past-mom would have distained, but as you've found, there's little you can do about it.

I'm definitely in the "change your interpretation" camp bcause I've recently been watching what happens 40 years down the line if you don't with my in-laws. And what can happen is not pretty - lawyers in the grieving process because any sense of trust or fellow-feeling is gone. It's really horrible and probably going to keep me from having more than one child.

My advice is to accept her for who she is and stop trying to tell your parents how to relate to her. Be proud of who you are and talk to your parents about yourself and themselves, not your sister. Find common ground (even if it's just surface stuff) to talk with your sister about, enquire about her studies and try to turn a blind eye to the stuff you dislike. The one thing you can do is "model" the behavior you value - like hard work and respectful actions.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:26 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, you're coming off as kind of an ass.

I don't think she's coming off as an ass. This isn't a matter of her sister got to go to Disney Land more times than her or had a bigger room with more toys. It's a fundamental break down in parenting by people who did an ok job before. That change has her feeling estranged from her family.

OP, you need to step back a bit. Yes it hurts and is painful, but her life is not yours to fix. For whatever reason, things have gone horribly wrong with your parents and sister as it has affected both you and her.

As the more mature and grounded one, it's up to you to be more mature and grounded. You described her previously as a sweet kid who was clearly looking to please her parents. Then she morphed. As a parent, I can tell you that happens with kids in their teenage years, they almost become an alien life form. That's ok, it's natural. It may be worst because of your parent's new wealth, but still it's natural.

Your job here is to be the older sibling: somebody that's cool and fun, and has good advice. You can't fix or control the relationship she and your parents have. To even try just throws a wedge between all of you and makes you crazy and sad. So don't do that. Call your sister and parents once a week (or something similar) to stay in touch, find a thing ya'll can do together (there's got to be some crossover of likes) and live your life. Let the BS go, it's not your problem so don't make it your problem.

Good luck, be well.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:29 AM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think the statement that she "used to be sweet but dim" is very telling.


You didn't respect her much back then, either.

Maybe from her perspective, she resents her older sister who has NEVER respected her, and her doesn't-give-a-fuck attitude reflects her decision to live life on her own terms, and not worry a bit about what a condescending older sibling may think.

If so ... good for her.
posted by jayder at 6:32 AM on June 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

If I took your description of your sister as objective, I'd hate her too. But from her perspective:

"I'm much younger than my only sibling, my big sister (let's call her Amber). (I am also a girl.) As a result, she grew up in a very different financial and social universe than I did. To put it bluntly: she had it hard. Things were easier for me. That's fine, and I don't have too many problems with the disparity in e.g. the quality of our respective material lives growing up. It seems like she does, though. The problem is this: She thinks our parents have indulged and pampered me to such an extraordinary degree that now, when I'm in college and practically an adult, she treats me like our parents shouldn't love me because I don't share her values. Growing up comfortable and with enough money for everything allowed me some privileges she didn't have, like following my muse instead of focusing on things like grades, which just aren't important to me. What I really care about is life experiences and how I can learn from things around me. I'm still working on these boundaries, but I think this is the right age to do that. That's why I'm so grateful I'm able to attend Ranbow University, where the focus is on what I'm good at rather than what has held me back in traditional school. It's embarrassing that my sister thinks this kind of education, and my way of learning and living, has no value, and how apparent she makes it to me by her words and her body language. It's like she's trying to pull the "I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow" schtick our grandparents tried. So at 21, maybe I don't have a total grasp on living independently, paying bills, money management, etc. But most of my peer group doesn't, either, and we expect we'll land back home with our folks after college until we get a job. It's just different now than it was when Amber grew up.

The worst part, though, is how poorly Amber treats our parents, because she blames HER treatment of them on ME. I love mom and dad, and it's so unfair that she basically blames them for not creating a clone of her to be a more perfect little sister.

Amber has never really thought I was smart - I can tell by the way she's always talked to me - and I'm clearly not as smart as she is. But I've grown and changed from someone who just wasn't book smart to someone who uses social smarts to get ahead, which is something Amber just doesn't seem to get. When she insults my intelligence, she's insulting me, period. When your own sister thinks your best qualities are those of the simple but kind, I'll choose complex and bitchy every time.

Mom thinks Amber is just jealous because I grew up differently than her. Mom and Dad have changed with the times and are raising their Millennial differently than they raised their Gen-Xer. I don't even think it's the money, but she's just convinced that money changes everything. While I wouldn't go so far as to say it's immature like Mom does, I think it's failing to recognize how different thinks are now than when she grew up. It hurts to know that she basically doesn't love me. I can't exactly make her love me, all I can do is be me, and hope that one day she figures it out."
posted by juniperesque at 7:04 AM on June 18, 2011 [22 favorites]

FWIW, I went to a small liberal arts college where several of my classmates let me know their guidance counselor told them to apply because of their grades. The cruel, rich boy who made everyone's life hell was eventually called out on his actions by his fellow students and kicked out.
posted by brujita at 8:24 AM on June 18, 2011

It doesn't matter why your sister and parents are that way, and it doesn't matter why you feel how you feel. Who's right or wrong (usually it's a bit of both) is irrelevant -- if your goal is to have relationships with your sister and parents, you have to back off on this and not try to fix any of them.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:32 AM on June 18, 2011

I have to agree that your description--she used to be "sweet but dim" and now she's a "horrible person"--seems, if not jealous, at the very least incredibly disrespectful.

She'll have a harder time learning how to be an adult than you did, because of your parents' decisions. That's unfortunate. You're lucky that you didn't have to go through that.

I don't doubt that she's displayed some rude, entitled behavior, but your approach clearly isn't working, and moreover, it's not your business to "fix" her. I suggest you try to find a way to mend fences with her: apologize for any un-asked-for advice you've given, apologize for being judgmental. Say that you and she grew up in essentially different cultures, and that it's hard for you to relate to her. Say that you want to have a positive relationship.

Then, if she is rude to you or to another person in your presence, call her out on it--"That was rude"--and move on (not "That was rude, I can't believe you're so entitled and oblivious..."). Make it about the thing she just did, not the thing you think she is. If she says something entitled, shrug and change the subject. Yeah, she annoys you with her entitled attitude and obliviousness, but the only thing you can do is object to something she did/does and ask her to change that. You will not succeed if you make it about what she is. We change who we are by changing what we do: focus on that.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:19 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's amazing to me how so many people here are pissed at you because your sister is turning into a crappy person and your parents abandoned the values they raised you by when they came into money. Lots of people maintain their true values after making money...your parents chose not to...their choice. I don't want to send them to jail or anything, but just as they get their choices, you get to choose how you react to the things they did.
I speak from long experience from a similar background. Believe me sometimes it just turns out that your siblings grow up to be narcissistic, self-entitled, users. My younger brother, who fits your sister's description, was given chance after chance to "grow out of" that bullshit. He used those chances to rip off every member of the family to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars (this was mainly when he was in his 30's and 40's). He's still the same piece of crap at 50 that he was at 21. We live in the same town and see each other at family gatherings. Never have a meaningful conversation and go home early is my advice.
posted by txmon at 11:16 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think your current approach is fundamentally contradictory. On one hand, you diagnose a lack of self-reflective awareness, and then approach your parents and sister in a way that could only work if that was not the case.

You've connected the dots and you're confident that you're right, but you're 10 steps ahead of everyone else. In addition to them being in denial and preferring ignorance, asking them to make that leap is humiliating. They're afraid that if they concede that you're right and they didn't see it, you can use that to assert yourself as the supervisor of all their actions. Telling the truth to someone in denial appears to them like you are asserting your superiority over them.

You have to let everyone come to their own conclusions instead of convincing them of yours. At the same time, you can and should respond authentically to the things that your sister is doing that are bothering you. But this should be in the spirit of giving them feedback and information about you and your feelings, not characterizing them or diagnosing the problem and telling them how to change.

If your sister complains that this means you don't love her, apologize and assure her that you don't mean that at all, and then reiterate how you felt when she did what she did. If she or your parents tell you they don't want to hear it, then express your disappointment and respect their wishes.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:24 PM on June 18, 2011

Sorry, this is WAY more about you than it is about her.

Yes, it sucks that you had to work really hard and she doesn't. But lots of people grow up spoiled and turn out just fine.

Give it some time.
posted by miyabo at 12:44 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You asked what you can do. You can have influence only within your relationship with your sister.

If she doesn't treat you right, you can talk with her about it. If she asks for advice, you can give it. Both of those are valuable things.

Really, your parents and sister are the only ones who can change the dynamic among them. That may happen in time. Meanwhile, don't assume that you can't connect with your sister. Try it. You may find things you like about her.
posted by wryly at 3:10 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

21 is very young. I was engaging in some horrible behavior at that age. As the older sibling, it's really up to you to show your sister that you respect her as an adult, even if you don't like some of her current behavior.

I say this as a middle sibling who's been on both sides of this one: your sister knows you look down on her and if you don't change that, she will eventually tire of trying to win your respect and decide she no longer cares what you think. In fact, this may be what's already happened. You need to change your behavior towards her if you want the chance of a good relationship. As an older sibling you inevitably have a big effect on her - use it well.
posted by 8k at 4:09 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

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