Helping my sister through divorce?
November 21, 2011 6:52 PM   Subscribe

How do I be the best most supportive brother I can while my sister is going through a divorce?

A little background I'm 25 and never really dealt with divorce at all. My sister is 28 and will be separating from her husband of 3 years in a couple of months. They have a 3-year-old daughter together.

They are staying together through the holidays because they think its important that their daughter wakes up on christmas morning and sees both of her parents there with her. However he will be staying at his parents house.

The divorce comes as a huge shock to my sister he's been working out the country and told her that he just doesn't feel anything for her anymore. She gets full custody of their daughter and they will soon be putting their house on the market and moving on.

So what can I do to help my sister through this time? I can't help her financially but I'm already planning on taking time off to watch my niece. What else can I do? I know that this holiday season is going to be really rough on her. What are some words of encouragement that I could give her and what are some things to stay away from talking about?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Just be there. Listen. And listen again. She will probably go through a wide range of emotions. Knowing there is someone who can (patiently) listen when you vent, cry and gnash you teeth is heartwarming.

This is also a good time to bond more strongly with your niece. Kids can't always articulate, but they notice a lot. Consistency and a real connection can help tremendously.
posted by cat_link at 7:21 PM on November 21, 2011

I know that it may not exactly be much advice, but the best thing you could do is just tell her that you will be there to help in whatever way you can. It's great that you're already going to help with your niece. Unless your sister is the type of person who won't ask for help, I think she'll be grateful just to know that you're willing to help with whatever she may need.
posted by erstwhile at 7:22 PM on November 21, 2011

I'd say let her do the talking. Let her talk about what she wants to talk about when and IF she wants to talk about it. Sometimes being there is just 'being there'.
posted by matty at 7:22 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

The best thing to keep in mind is that this is her relationship and her divorce, and she gets to set the ground rules as to how she gets supported by you. Don't try to force her to talk if she doesn't want to talk, don't try to get her to cheer up if she's grieving, and let her be alone when she needs time alone.

It sounds like you already are a very supportive brother, and I'm sure she appreciates having you around.
posted by xingcat at 7:25 PM on November 21, 2011

This may sound odd, but I wouldn't do much, other than listen. And here's why: her life is changing, and her husband is stepping out of his role; you should remain true to your role as her little brother, rather than inverting the relationship by comforting her.

Of course, that's just a generalization. Nobody here knows her like you do.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:31 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound great! And like you're already on the right track. Getting your life together post-divorce seems like it's no picnic so offering her some time on her own every once in a while is likely the nicest thing you can do, along with listening. Everyone will benefit from the time you spend with your niece.
posted by hepta at 7:46 PM on November 21, 2011

Don't bash the husband. If she gets angry, say you understand why she's angry, but don't take sides against him yet.... he is still the child's father and is a part of her. You don't want the kid growing up thinking half of herself is evil.

Also, you can help her pack when the time comes to move. Moving is overwhelming--a change of setting is good, but that can be hard to see when there are so. many. boxes. to. pack.

You sound like you're doing all the right things already. There is no magical gesture that will make everything better. Just being there while she gets through it will mean a lot to her.
posted by elizeh at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who went through a divorce, I greatly appreciated people who would listen to me talk over and over and over and over again. I had a couple of very close friends who would challenge my irrational thoughts when I started blaming myself, but we had a very huge level of trust between us so that was OK. YMMV with your sister. But I know I talked a lot about things because I process verbally so having people who knew that about me and was willing to just let me babble was a big help.

Also, being willing to help your sister with anything would be good too. Sometimes I was so emotionally spent that I just wanted someone to cook and clean for me, or at least keep me company while I did so. Helping with your niece will also give her some time to just mentally and emotionally rest, even if that means staying in bed all day. So don't freak out if she does that a few times...daily is another issue.

And just love your sister like the person that she is.
posted by MultiFaceted at 8:38 PM on November 21, 2011

Talk to him if it is okay with your sister. I know, not the way to go in this culture since it may be intrusive

But. I believe a family should be involved. In many cases, there can be misunderstandings. Most likely he is gone mentally and wants nothing to do with her. But. If you believe that maybe there is a chance, I would suggest confronting him to help understand why he is leaving his wife and child.

I dont believe family should be a spectator. Be nice, thoughtful when you speak to him and respectful. He may have his reasons but make sure you try to get his point of view.
posted by pakora1 at 8:53 PM on November 21, 2011

I'm not experienced with divorce either, but if you live nearby, something that popped into my mind is to help her with "everyday life" for awhile. Things like making meals, cleaning the house, running errands... she will be taxed to the limit just getting used to life as a single mom while dealing with the aftermath of an extreme trauma, but time won't stand still while she heals, so having a helping hand to keep up with the daily needs while she ramps up in her new life would probably be a very welcome relief.
posted by inatizzy at 11:13 PM on November 21, 2011

Some people are good for talking and some people are better at doing. Doing is really fucking important. Childcare. Box packing. Dinners. House cleaning. Yard work. Car crap. All of that totally counts and is so supportive.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:15 AM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Listen, listen, listen. What made my brother awesome during my divorce was that he listened, and when I was done crying he told me that I'm beautiful and special and that my ex-husband was an asshole. (Don't say that in front of your niece, though!) He gave me a big hug and then sat down to listen all over again.

While you're listening, take note of things she's become accustomed to him doing and do those things for a little while. I wish someone who lived close to me had noticed that my husband had always handled the car insurance paperwork and reminded me to renew it [before I totaled the car]. Sometimes very basic, simple and routine things are beyond the capabilities of someone who is divorcing. Look for those things and make sure they're taken care of until she can remember a routine beyond brushing her teeth.

Also, nthing a million to be there for your niece. Not only will it help your sister by giving her some breathing room and getting some time to herself (and her girlfriends and a bottle of wine) but it will provide some attention and consistency to your niece. Some of my fondest childhood memories are about one of my uncles who (at 19!!!) stepped into my dad's empty shoes for playtime, storytime and getting-ready-for-school time. When I did marry (her mmv), my first thought was for that uncle to walk me down the aisle (if he'd still been my uncle).
posted by motsque at 3:44 AM on November 22, 2011

I got divorced (albeit mutually, and with no kids) around that age, and my brother was about your age as well. I think he felt a lot of the things you're thinking: that he didn't have much experience with divorce in general, much less with his sister.

We had fought a LOT growing up, and we had lived very different lives. He had moved about three hours away, so we didn't see each other a lot. But the divorce happened at a time when we were finally ready to start getting to know each other as adults. Divorce is both a super-adult thing and a completely irrational thing that makes people act like twelve-year-olds. My brother and I could relate to both sides.

So take this time to be there for her, but also use this time to get to know the adult she has become. Especially with a kid, it's probably been a while since she's focused on herself so intently, and that's a hard transition to make. If she's anything like me, she'll appreciate your efforts even more as she struggles to refashion her life around "me" instead of "us".

Also (I give this advice in every breakup thread): do NOT tell her he's an ugly git and she's better off without him. That will only make her feel worse about her own choice to be with him and/or ignore the bad things about him. If she gives you the okay to talk shit about him, go right ahead; feel free to think whatever you want or vent to people who don't have an impact on the situation. But be careful about putting down the person whom she obviously loved for some part of her life. It reflects back so much on her own hopes and dreams, and those are pretty fragile right now.

You're a good brother to look out for her. I'll check in with my brother and see if he has any other suggestions.
posted by Madamina at 7:42 AM on November 22, 2011

The Divorce Moose.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:28 AM on November 22, 2011

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