Why do act this way with my sister?
August 25, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Why do feel so negative towards my sister at times?

Me and my sister aren't very close at all, we barely talk. She slapped a note on the refrigerator door and moved out at 21(she just turned 29).

I feel like half the time all i'm good for is food and my music collection. All she comes around for is food, to wash her clothes, or to use the bathroom. She rarely sticks around that long, and never really talks to me or my parents. If she gets paid that week she won't come over, if she's started seeing someone she doesn't come over,etc.. She never wants to hang out, and as much as i've tried talking to her it just doesn't seem to get anywhere so i gave up.

But what i find kind of confusing is how i get so pissed off at the thought of my mom giving her any of the clothes i don't want anymore. I'd rather see a complete stranger with my stuff than her, and i don't know why.

I'm planning on buying a new computer, and my mom suggested i give my old one to my sister. Yet again, i get angry at the idea of her having my stuff.

Why do i feel this way about her? I feel so negative all the time in regards to her.
posted by ohtimorousme to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What would you tell her if she were sitting right here and you could say anything you wanted to?
posted by facetious at 10:15 AM on August 25, 2011

Are you living with your parents? Are you an adult? Is it possible that you are jealous of her (relative) independence?

I'm not saying this is the case, but it's unclear what your circumstances are, which might shed a little light on why you feel this way.
posted by greta simone at 10:18 AM on August 25, 2011

Do you still live at home? How old are you?

Are you buying your clothes and your computer, or are your parents?

You list a lot of negatives about your sister, and then ask why you feel negative and resentful. Another way to frame the question is, why do you think this is a question? Have your feelings about your sister changed over the years? Did you use to be close? Do you miss her?

In other words, given the behavior you detail, it's not surprising you should feel negatively about your sister; the question is, why does this puzzle you? What do you want out of this relationship, and is it reasonable to hope to get that?
posted by endless_forms at 10:23 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if I were in your position, and if the story above is accurate, I'd probably be angry because she takes advantage in tons of ways but doesn't return anything, not even any proper conversation.
(But really, it could be about anything, especially about the type of relationship you two had when you still were very small, turf wars and battles about toys and attention - stuff you perhaps don't remember).
posted by Namlit at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2011

You feel negative toward your sister because she is a shitty sister. Alternatively, you feel negative because you are jealous that she's out of the house. Or you resent that she doesn't spend her own money on clothes and laundry. Or she dates deadbeats. Or because she smashed you over the head with a paperweight when you were kids. Who knows?

If you weren't sisters with her, would you want to be friends? Do you think she is a cool person, and you are sad that you don't have more of a bond? Or are you just unhappy because you don't feel the way you think you are "supposed" to feel?

We don't get to choose our families. It's okay to not be BFFs with your sister...as long as you are ok with not being BFFs with your sister, know what I mean?
posted by peachfuzz at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2011

Independence is often seen as a sign of aggression.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, fundamentally, she takes advantage of the resources your family has available, but does not actually participate in the family. That's a straightforward enough reason to resent her. I think it is perfectly reasonable for you to feel the way you do. You may never be able to change her (and it is likely pointless to try), and this is what it feels like to be taken advantage of.

Incidentally, one thing is unclear: are you still living with your parents, or is she coming to your own personal house? If the former, you're probably not going to get over this until you move out and have a life of your own. If the latter, stop letting her come over, and set the boundary that she has to participate in your life if she wants to reap the benefits thereof. Oh, and unless your parents are paying for your clothes and computers and music, you don't have to share them, and you can sell/donate your old stuff (so that you're doing some good and can feel good about it.)
posted by davejay at 10:30 AM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you want an old sister who fits the positive stereotype of taking care of you, helping you, teaching you, passing on her wisdom, bonding with you. I wanted that too... I remember reading a Beverly Clearly novel ("Sister of the Bride," perhaps?) of the older sister brushing her sister's hair and giving her advice on what to pin on her prom dress.

Instead, I got an older sister who called me stupid in a million different ways, and then a little later smoked pot and called me stupid for not liking it. A large chunk of my childhood memories include her having screaming fights with my parents. (We get along ok now, but we have nothing in common.) I had to accept the fact that she wasn't going to be the sister that I wanted her to be, and looked for other people in my life who could be my sister. That's about the only way to let go of the resentment. She isn't going to change who she is.
posted by Melismata at 10:34 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the sound of things your sister has been shitty to your mom, yet your mom is the one who keeps wanting to give your sister your old things. Maybe you are angry on your mom's behalf, that she still wants to keep giving to your sister even though she gets very little back in the way of a relationship.

Or, maybe it makes you angry that your mom still seems to care about your sister as much as she cares about you, and she wants both of you to be comfortable and happy, and this offends your sense of justice. She's been a bad daughter, so it only seems fair that she should have to struggle more than the loyal members of the family. Giving her your old things seems like it is helping to make her more equal in terms of having a nice life, and it makes you mad because you feel like she doesn't deserve it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding the computer, I would focus on what I really want to do with it and the good feeling/satisfaction that comes with doing something that I want to do. For example, either giving it to someone who needs it and who I'd be happy to see take it, or sell it because the money would be useful.

I seems reasonable that you would have some negative feelings about your sister, especially if she doesn't want to be very friendly with you. But some things are beyond your control and it's damaging to you to let resentment take too much hold. Like with the computer, I would focus on living well in your situation. Don't do things to spite her. Don't do things to placate her. If she or your mom are upset that you didn't give her the computer, be confident in your own actions that you took for your own, good reasons.

In the meantime, your sisters actions are out of your control. I would try my best to love her (as cheesy as that sounds) without getting wrapped up in her immaturity.

Could it also be your mom's extra attention payed to your immature sister that bothers you? That would be natural. Being a parent isn't easy. Maybe your mom trusts you more. Maybe she isn't as concerned about you. It may appear as though she doesn't pay as much attention to you. Have confidence that she loves you and trusts you. I'd say cut her some slack and be ready to have her back if you think your sister is taking advantage of her.

As little as I know of your situation, that would be my advice.
posted by beau jackson at 10:53 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer everyone's questions i'm 24, and i still live with my parents. I buy all my clothes, electronics,food,etc...
posted by ohtimorousme at 10:56 AM on August 25, 2011

It's sounds like you resent a couple of things: first that your sister lives on her own (mostly) and doesn't fulfill all the family obligations you think she should. Next, there's the fact that she's not "really" independent and relies on your parents while at the same time treating them poorly while your parents devote lots of attention and mental energy to ingratiating themselves with her.

Living at home and dealing with your parents means that many interactions will always be about "the family" in a collective sense, which includes your sister, who you obviously don't enjoy supporting with mental energy and material resources. So if you don't want to resent this dynamic, move out and make your own decisions about what to do with your personal property rather than having every decision you make be about, "how can this be used to help your sister?"
posted by deanc at 11:01 AM on August 25, 2011

[Y]our parents devote lots of attention and mental energy to ingratiating themselves with her. (deanc)

Exactly. They see her as needing things because she pays her own rent, etc. (doesn't she?) and needs help with the little things. You buy your own little things, but do you pay rent? (Maybe you do, I don't know.)

Proximity is another issue. Once a child moves out, the parents may start trying to ingratiate themselves with the child in order to see them more. If you still live there, they may take it for granted that you'll always be around, but they may want to do things that attract your sister back to the house so they can spend time with her.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:09 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you just don't like her, and that's fine? Have you considered that?

As the cliche goes: we don't choose our family. There is a strong social pressure that pushes the notion that we must love our blood relatives simply because they are our blood relatives. This notion doesn't stand up to even cursory analysis, but it persists, as so many nonsensical yet ancient notions do. You don't have to go along with it.

I don't like many of the people in my family. I don't particularly like my sister. I can tolerate her about one week every three or four years, and I actually see her rather less often than that. It's okay. She doesn't like me either. I wasn't that keen on my dad. I thought he was a dullard and he thought I was a pretentious wanker. When he died I didn't shed a single tear. I thought "What a pity we didn't get on better", and that was about as emotional as I got.

It's okay. Really. It happens all the damned time. Don't beat yourself up.
posted by Decani at 12:10 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I drop into family dynamic questions with a book suggestion, 9 times out of 10.

For you, Deborah Tannen You Were Always Mom's Favorite: sisters in Conversation throughout their lives.

I'm both happy and sorry to tell you that your sisterhood is not the first to be touched by exactly this dynamic. Tannen is a sociolinguist (meaning, she looks at gobs of real data about the way people actually talk, the way they think about their talking, and the way they talk about their talking) who write very readable books about what she has found.

The short answer is: You're sisters. You represent each other, and your mother (and to a lesser extent, your father) out in the world. One of you is older and has known your mother longer. One of you thinks the other is prettier. One of you thinks the other is smarter. One of you had "better" rules growing up. In short, your lives have never been fair, and you may or may not agree on who got the short end of the stick. (In some families the pretty/smart/favorite is the same sister. In others the smarter one wants to be prettier and the prettier one wants to be smarter.)

Also, 5 years! Wow, that's a lot in some families, especially if there aren't any other siblings in the middle. So. Read the book.

On preview, what endless forms says is gold: You list a lot of negatives about your sister, and then ask why you feel negative and resentful. Another way to frame the question is, why do you think this is a question? Have your feelings about your sister changed over the years? Did you use to be close? Do you miss her? What would happen if you decided to just love your sister without having any notions about what she ought to be doing?

Finally. visit the story of the Prodigal Son. Yes. It's a bible story. No, I don't believe in god myself, but this story shows up across the globe, before and outside of Christianity. For a reason. Does your experience with your sister match some of this? The good news (ha) is that you can read thousands of analyses of this one story. You can busy yourself with this dynamic in literature, history, and theology for an entire career. Likely, you'll be bored of it after a week of heavy reading.
posted by bilabial at 12:20 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Damn. Except that I was living in my own place at 24, you've just described my parents, my oldest sister and me. I was once ordered to "lend" her $1000; I quit the automobile club when I discovered she frequently used my membership whenever she had car trouble; our parents yelled at me when I blocked her from going to my bank and putting her name on my accounts --- sound familiar? (And then our parents had the foolishness to make her their executor, because they said she was "the responsible one".... Yikes.)

Anyhoo.....deep breath. You aren't going to change her or your parents, I'm sorry to say; the best thing --- the only thing! --- that will stop this is you moving out to your own place, and never, ever giving any of them access to a key. If your sister wants to take advantage of your parents and they're willing to let her, fine and good; but removing yourself is your best solution.
posted by easily confused at 1:38 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of good input above. I just want to add that as someone with 2 sisters myself, I can tell you that these can be very intense relationships. I've gone through times of great intimacy with one sister or another, only to grow apart for a few years, then come together again. . . and so on.

So whatever may be going on for you now, keep in perspective that both your lives will most likely continue to intersect in various ways, sometimes in better ways than others.
posted by abirdinthehand at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2011

Since you live with your parents, but buy your own stuff, I think the answer is straightforward: accept your sister's occasional, unhelpful presence as part of the living-at-home package -- we can't choose our family, after all, and so you can just be glad she doesn't live there full-time -- and don't let your family dictate what you do with the material possessions you no longer need.

Incidentally, easily confused's experience related above is a good one to keep in mind. You'll move out eventually, and that will give you more control over your environment. Which means no more sister unless you want to, and no more parents influencing your decisions in ways you resent. Hopefully over time, lack of resentment will lead to you having a better relationship, but perhaps not. Don't sweat it; sometimes even siblings who like each other just don't have a big part in each other's lives.
posted by davejay at 4:11 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're angry at your sister because you perceive her to take advantage of you and your parents, and you're sad because she doesn't seem to like you or value your presence in her life. You don't want to give her things because you feel she gives you nothing in return and you probably want to punish her for the hurt she causes you; these are perfectly natural feelings.

I have had a turbulent relationship with one of my siblings in the past much like this. No matter how shitty he acted, it seemed like my parents bent over backward to give him money and resources, and held him to a radically different standard to myself and my other siblings.

First up, I think it's important to accept that parents cannot help loving their children - even when they're kinda assholes - and just as well, because people change through life. So no matter what your sister does, the bad and good news is that your parents will almost certainly always love her and try to make her happy. They do not/cannot want to lose her, and that fear motivates a lot of their behaviour. They do not have that fear with you, and so do not need to pull out all the stops. The sort-of good news is that as you get older and older, this will mean (for you) a closer, more honest, and infinitely more rewarding relationship with your parents, more as equals and friends than parents and children. It's so rich and nice for me to think - not just of the love, but of the mutual respect and pride my parents and I take in each other. I feel sad that one of my siblings (though my parents would weakly deny this!) does not have that level of relationship.

Regarding the unequal distribution of, well, everything, it was helpful for me to think of it almost in a Marxist way, believe it or not, in the sense of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". The fact - as irritating as this is - is that you don't need the things your sister does. You are able to function successfully from an emotional and financial perspective without those things. Giving you all that leeway would be like giving a person with a good job unemployment benefits. It's not going to teach your sister independence or how not to be an asshole or whatever, but the fact is she probably needs that help for her less-together life and witholding it - whilst it might feel temporarily good - would not necessarily help her any more in the long run, and would no doubt provoke even more guilt and confusion.

By the same token, you should not feel that you have to adopt your parents' standards and attitudes regarding your sister. There were many years where I spoke to my brother for perhaps five or ten minutes over the entire course of the year. It is your computer, and you're entitled to give it to who you want. My parents didn't like it very much when I said of my brother, "Well he can go fuck himself, then", but they accepted it knowing that a) siblings fight, b) I didn't need his love or feel responsible for him in the same way that they did and c) I probably had valid reasons (which I half shared) for those emotions.

I know that sibling issues can make you feel like kid again almost instantly, you want to just scream out "It's not fair!", and you can feel hurt, abandoned, angry, and also guilty for feeling uncharitable towards someone you're meant to - and might - love. I say, own those feelings! If your parents try to push you to be more generous, just say something to the effect of "Sister pisses me off, she only ever comes around when she wants something from me, and she's an ungrateful SOB when she gets it. If she wants to be treated like a family member by me, well damn it, she has to act like one. It hurts my feelings and makes me feel used." You will get less stick from your parents about this than you may think; truth is they probably empathise with your feelings x10.

There are no easy to answers to the emotional quagmire and paradox that troubles with a sibling can entail, but just remember:

1) you are perfectly entitled to feel what you feel

2) people can and do change over the years, relationships can wax and wane - this doesn't need be permanent and you don't have to feel you're drawing a line in the sand

3) the brother I hated does not exist any more in any functional way and it's unreasonable for me to judge over something he does not understand and can't really control, you may find this to be the case for you if you're nursing a lot of anger over things in the past and they colour who you interpret present actions from your sibling.

4) it's more than acceptable to put yourself and your needs first and you don't need to feel guilty about it

5) Don't worry about it so much; you didn't do anything to deserve it, some people are just assholes sometimes, and it's not your responsibility to do anything to resolve. Being good can be exhausting sometimes!
posted by smoke at 4:53 PM on August 25, 2011

Maybe your parents are just trying to keep communications open with her, in whatever way they can. Computer? If it's worth a lot, sell it on Craigslist or at school. Or, say to Mom, You really want Sister to have my pc, so I'll give it to her, to please you. Same with the clothes.

Have your own relationship with your parents, and ignore your sister, at least for now.
posted by theora55 at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2011

It sounds like your sister is a jerk who isn't interested in maintaining a relationship with you. Why *should* you like her?

Decani has it, I think. You don't owe her anything, including your affection, just because you are related to her.

Right now, you're giving her your old stuff because you mum wants you to. You are doing that to make you mum happy, not your sister. If you don't like having to do that, you need to move out. In your own place, you control who comes over. And if your sister is not worthy of you, then she doesn't get an invite.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:18 PM on August 25, 2011

Well, I think the root problem in your situation is that your parents are still so involved in the minutiae of their 24- and 29-year-old daughters' lives. Your mom shouldn't still be in the position of giving away your old clothes nor directing you what to do with your old computer.

Not that it's necessarily her fault that the dynamics of the family relationships have turned out this way. The fact that your sister, who's 29 and has been on her own for eight years, is still coming home to eat and do laundry might have something to do with it.

I understand your resentment; it doesn't seem strange at all considering that you're paying for your own food, clothes, and discretionary spending. You don't want to be used; that's not hard to understand. And you don't want to reward your sister's mooching.

But the only way you're going to get around this is to step up and fully act like the adult you are. Ideally you'd move out; but at the very least you can draw lines around your possessions. Drop off your old clothes at Goodwill yourself (or sell them on consignment). Make a plan for your computer and tell your mom it's already spoken for. Don't allow your things to be treated like they belong to the family; you paid for them and they belong to you.

It sounds like the resentment runs deeper, though, than just how to handle hand-me-downs. Honestly, you probably just need your own space and a bit of distance from your immediate family. It's surprising how some of these conflicts tend to evaporate when you aren't living together.
posted by torticat at 10:40 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Name that Sci-fi Novel: Time Travelling Russians +...   |   How do I find focus in deciding a career? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.