Help a sister out!
August 28, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my much younger half-sibling a part of my life? Last week, I found out that my dad's wife is pregnant and due in December. I am 24. Aside from being pretty weirded out, I'm worried that my half-sister will never know who I am. Beanplating inside.

I found out via an email from my father with the subject line "Surprise!" which is so perfectly maladroit that I think it's hilarious. I will say that I'm excited to have another sister and I really hope that we can be part of each other's lives. I'm trying not to freak out that when she's my age I'll be almost 50 and oh Jesus my dad must have done it, but you know. Weird.

Complicating factors:

First (and this one should be easy), they live in Germany. Obviously there's Skype and stuff so I'm not too worried about this part, but suggestions are welcome.

Now, allow me to stretch out on the AskMeFi psychoanalysis couch.

My parents divorced about 12 years ago. My dad moved overseas, remarried, and we pretty much didn't hear from him until a few years ago. In the meantime, my mom became a raging alcoholic with all the fun trappings, and I pretty much raised myself. My dad and I have email contact now. I suspect that he's just better at relating to adult kids than he was at childrearing, plus we share a lot of interests so it's easy for him to send me chatty emails a few times a week. My mom is super overbearing, so on some level, I understand his desire to just get out, even if it meant having little subsequent contact with his kids. I do not excuse his behavior, but I forgave him a long time ago and am comfortable with his role in my life, however limited.

My younger sister, 21, is pissed about this. She doesn't have contact with my father by choice and found out about the baby secondhand. She's immature for her age, and I think she sees this as his attempt to replace her. She's still very angry at both of our parents, which is understandable, but I think that she'll view any attempts to know the baby on my part as a personal affront. I'm not sure what to do about this, because I think that she honestly believes that if I love the baby, it must mean that I have less love for her.

Finally, is there a diplomatic way for me to tell my dad that I hope he mans up and sticks around to raise this one? I would really hate to see history repeat itself.

Thanks for any and all advice.
posted by easy, lucky, free to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Recognize that you're both adults and simply say "I hope you man up and stick around to raise your youngest daughter. I would really hate to see history repeat itself." You're his daughter and have a right to be blunt in this case.
posted by onhazier at 11:49 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Congratulations! A baby sister. That's so neat!

I'm sure it's hard to accept that your Dad is starting over again, and this time he may get it right.

You sound like you have your head on straight and have accepted that your family just kind of sucks, but that it shouldn't keep you from enjoying it on your terms.

As for dealing with your 21 year-old sister, just keep reassuring her that you're there for her, and that by loving this new sibling that you won't stop loving her. Show her, by your actions, that you want to stay connected, invite her out to dinner, see movies with her, do the sissy stuff.

As for the baby, share your baby pictures with her when she's old enough. Go visit if you can swing it. Send chatty letters/emails weekly, about what you're doing, etc.

Call and talk with your step-mom (if there's no language issues) and keep in contact with your dad.

Because this is long distance, you'll really have to make the effort. Also, don't be surprised if your Dad is overwhelmed, or if he's taking to this one like a duck to water. Maturity has a LOT to do with parenting.

You got dealt a shitty hand, but it seems like you're playing it the best you can.

As for talking to your dad about this, just get him on the phone, "I'm really happy that you're expecting a baby. You must be so excited. I feel a bit wistful that she'll have the advantage of knowing you and having your support when I didn't." You're allowed to tell your dad how you feel.

Take care!

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:57 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am 17 years older than my youngest half-sibling, and for most of their lives, we did not live in the same cities. My advice for you would be:

1) Set some boundaries. I didn't speak to my half-sister for years because she had a huige chip on her shoulder about my dad. There was a lot about my history with him that she did not know, understand or to be honest really care to understand. I wasted some time trying to 'explain' it to her and then finally gave up. She just is not going to understand that her experience with him was different than mine. So, where we have left it is here we are now, adults, so let's base our relationship on the here and now and not on the past. Her relationship with Dad is her business. My relationship is my business. And we don't talk about it.

2) Likewise, we have boundaries with our relations with the other siblings. I would never stop my full sister from doing as she pleased with the younger ones, nor her to me. She has some issues with the younger ones which are different from mine. That is her business. There is no us and them, no 'you must be loyal to me because.' I have my relationship with her, my relationship with them, and they are separate things. It took us awhile to get there, but we did.

3) Understand that these things go in phases. Your relationship with a tiny baby sister will be very different from your relationship with a teenaged one. When they were small, I felt very attached to them, missed them a lot, made huge efforts to keep in touch etc. As they got older,it got harder because they were involved in their own stuff and their own lives. One of them is in college now, so his desire to spend time outside of family obligations with a 30-something sister he doesn't know very well is limited. It doesn't mean he doesn't love me, that I did anything wrong or whatever. It's just that this is where he is right now and I can't take it personally.

4) Understand too that there might be aspects of their lives that will be very different from yours. I was raised by my mom, in a big city, with lots of extended family nearby, and with a strong religious upbringing. They were raised in the country, without family nearby, with little to no religion. It was different---not better or worse, but different. It's harder for the younger ones to understand what that means, but for me, it's meant a lot of minding my business and not commenting when they say something which shows they fundamentally Do Not Understand something about me.
posted by JoannaC at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My father and stepmother adopted a baby when I was 20 years old. I always treated her like a sister, etc. I think she appreciated that.
posted by dfriedman at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you think that saying if you say, "man up and stick around", he will think "gosh, i was planning on leaving this marriage in twelve years but since my daughter (that I did leave) tells me not to, I won't do that"? Obviously not.

What is that you really want to say? If you connect to that, maybe it will be easier to say it diplomatically. Maybe "Dad, I know you had your reasons for disappearing from my life when you and mom divorced but it was really hard on me. I'm really rooting for you this time - I hope for your sake and your daughter's that you will be able to make things turn out different this time." This way you aren't telling him what to do and you are focusing on the positive side of the same message.

Another option is to just invite a conversation about what is like being remarried and ask him how he is different in this relationship, how he has changed over the years. That conversation might actually get you a clue to the answer to your question - will things be different this time?
posted by metahawk at 12:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Like any relationship, this one will take work which you may or may not decide is worth it. Especially with your sister living overseas. How do you feel about going over there every 18 months as your big vacation? Or inviting your dad, stepmother, etc to come to your house for Christmas?
posted by shothotbot at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2012

Regarding communicating with your 21 year-old sister, you can acknowledge that you understand her feelings toward your dad (if you do), but that whatever he is guilty of, your new half-sister is [going to be] a baby, and is innocent of all that. Treating the new sister with kindness and compassion does not absolve your dad of his past. It's a new relationship with a new person, who happens to be a close blood relative.
posted by pompelmo at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sure you are a different person than you were when your father left. He's different too. He's remarried, lives in a new country, has had time to think about his earlier decisions and he's tried to rebuild a relationship with you. Your "man up" comment is about the person he was and the situation he was in over a decade ago. Perhaps that's not the best way to kick off your relationship with a step sibling who is distant in both age and geography. Tread lightly.
posted by 26.2 at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have to remember that this isn't about you. It might seem like it's about you or your sister, but it's not.

If he's happy with his new wife and is happy she's expecting, I think you ought to be happy too, until given a reason to be otherwise.

Also, this...

Finally, is there a diplomatic way for me to tell my dad that I hope he mans up and sticks around to raise this one? I would really hate to see history repeat itself.

... seems like a pretty shitty thing to say. If you want to have a separate conversation with your Dad at some point about how he failed you as a father, then go for it, but not in response to him announcing his wife is expecting and they're happy and want to share it with you. Pick a different time, because, again, his new child is not about you.
posted by modernnomad at 12:42 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

My younger sister, 21, is pissed about this. She doesn't have contact with my father by choice and found out about the baby secondhand. She's immature for her age, and I think she sees this as his attempt to replace her. She's still very angry at both of our parents, which is understandable, but I think that she'll view any attempts to know the baby on my part as a personal affront. I'm not sure what to do about this, because I think that she honestly believes that if I love the baby, it must mean that I have less love for her.

Your sister's mileage may vary, but I also dealt with some pretty upsetting situations as a kid. And I had some very well-meaning adults tell me that my perspective of things was wrong/skewed to be worse than reality actually was, that the things that I was worried about would never happen and just weren't real. I knew that this was only meant to make me feel better, but I also knew that my perspective was *not* skewed, that I was right, and in fact, many of the things I was worried about did happen after all. So, this actually just caused me way more distress because on top of being really upset/worried about these things, I felt like nobody even believed me and nobody was willing to HELP me, they just wanted to stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing was happening.

So, you know your sister better than I do. But I think maybe you might have a better result here with a bit more ... respect? ... for how she feels. Respect is not the right word because I don't feel at all that you're being disrespectful of her. But maybe just let her know that you agree she is totally right about your dad in a lot of ways and the way he acted towards her in her childhood was not okay at all. And that she is not just immature and wrong about the things she thinks, like it really is true that a lot of guys skip out on their first family and go start over new with other kids and it's just kind of easier for them to focus on them and forget about the first family completely. That is something that happens all the time.

So maybe just let her know that you are not saying she is wrong for how she feels or trying to convince her otherwise, but you were a child in this situation too and you also have to try to come to terms with it in your life. And the way that you are coming to terms with it for yourself, what you need in order to feel like you can live with it, just so happens to be different from her. That you want and need to know this baby for yourself, as one of the things you need to feel okay in this situation.

You can also let her know that you understand how it could feel for her, if she sees this baby as the way that your father is replacing her, to see you also having a relationship with the baby. But you could let her know that whatever issues of his own that your father is acting out with regard to the baby, that is coming from your father and it's his own issue to deal with. That your feelings around the baby are completely separate and have nothing to do with that. And you can tell her that if she starts feeling upset about the relationship between the two of you, or your interactions with the baby, that it is a conversation that you can continue having. It doesn't have to be a one-time discussion where everything is somehow hashed out and settled or each of you convinces the other of something. New feelings/worries/etc. can come up over time, so this can be something that you guys just keep talking about over the years and keep trying to deal with the best you can. It's just good to make sure communication is always open about it.
posted by cairdeas at 12:51 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

The only way you are going to make a half-sister halfway across the globe a part of your life is if YOU make the effort (for the first 25 years). That means you calling or Skypeing or whatever technology is available. It means you going to visit once in a while.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:03 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's great that you want to have a relationship with this much younger, far-away sib. Your relationship will change so much over time - the difference between a 25 year old and a 1 year old is staggering, but maybe a 67-year-old and a 43-year-old not so much.

At this point she will be so small that she will not be able to engage for several years, even with Skype. For the moment, I would think of myself as being like a fairy godmother - send cool, small, interesting things - particularly things that she can look back on when she's older and continue to re-interpret and revalue. Maybe your very first present could be a treasure box, and then you can send little (but not choking size!) things to put in there, like a photo of something you really liked to do when you were young, or a CD of music you love, or a souvenir of your home city?

That way, some day, she will be able to know that you welcomed her with open arms from the moment she arrived.
posted by Ausamor at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear, I am genuinely happy for him and his wife, and excited to have another sister. I think it's neat that he found happiness and don't begrudge him that, nor do I have any kind of weird blame complex about my new sister, who is, after all, just a (future) baby.

The "man up" comment was meant to be sardonic. I recognize that he's a different, more mature person than he was when he was with my mom. I suppose that the comments about it being "a pretty shitty thing to say" are well warranted, but please recognize that I'm not conflating my relationship with my dad and my relationship with my (future) sister.

Also, I've made sure to let my sister know that I don't think she's wrong, because I don't. She knows I agree that my dad was a shitty father, because it's really not anything that can be argued about. I'm in sort of an awkward position because I've reconciled with and forgiven my dad, and learned that he's actually kind of an interesting person and we have lots of things in common, and my sister hasn't, which is fine. My parents' divorce was extremely bitter and my mother framed it as an "us against him" sort of conflict. My sister and I have talked about it and I know she still views it that way, so now it's as though I've suddenly switched sides. I just don't know how to reassure her other than pointing out that being pissed off is justified but the baby is not what she should be pissed off about. I think it would be easier if I lived closer to her so that we could hang out and do "sister" stuff, but we're over a thousand miles apart.

Also, not sure if it matters, but I've never met my dad's wife, so I feel like I'm intruding on a major part of her life by wanting to know the baby. Like, all of a sudden she doesn't have just one baby daughter, she has a baby daughter and some adult step-daughter who's trying to ingratiate herself out of nowhere. I don't want to add to her new mom stress by inserting myself where I don't belong.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2012

My sons are 21 and 16 years older than their half-sister, but she loves them dearly and they love her. If you can manage to be there physically, especially during the first few weeks after she is born, it will help a lot — there is evidence that babies form strong bonds with the people who are around in their first few weeks, irrespective of how those people are related to them.

And now is not the time to give your dad a piece of your mind, no matter how "diplomatic" you can manage to be. Just join in on the baby love-fest and enjoy. There will be plenty of time later to apprise dad of how you feel about him, if you haven't already.
posted by ubiquity at 1:26 PM on August 28, 2012

Is there any chance you could go see your Dad and meet his wife before the baby is born?

You're not an invader into your step-mom's life; you're a sibling to her child. Getting to know your Dad's wife before the baby arrives would probably make later visits easier for everyone. Parents of newborns aren't always thrilled to have strangers wanting to cuddle their sprog.
posted by 26.2 at 1:29 PM on August 28, 2012

Approach your new half-sibling as if it's a niece/nephew you care about very very much. You're not going to be able to have a typical sibling relationship with the age gap you have, and trying to will just be weird for everyone.

Let your sister work out her issues. You are not her keeper.
posted by Kololo at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My grandma's half-brother is only a few years older than my mom, and my mom has a good relationship with him - warm and fond even if not super-close since they live thousands of miles apart. He's like an extra brother to her, and an extra uncle to me. Just something nice to look forward to if you're considering having your own children at some point.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:06 PM on August 28, 2012

I think it would be easier if I lived closer to her so that we could hang out and do "sister" stuff, but we're over a thousand miles apart.

Can you visit her in the near future, before the new sister is born? I really feel for her and if I were in her position, with all those feelings she's having, I'd really need to see my big sister in person. It may go a long way to allaying her fear of a 2nd abandonment, and help her gain some perspective.

Let your sister work out her issues. You are not her keeper.

This is really cold. The baby sister who already exists deserves more than that. For crying out loud she's only 21, it will probably be at least a few more years before she's resolved all the issues from her shitty childhood. It's no easy task, believe you me.
posted by zarah at 4:09 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My dad moved overseas, remarried, and we pretty much didn't hear from him until a few years ago.

So, how did that work, exactly? Did he reach out to all of you via email? You've reconciled with your Dad but your sister hasn't, and it could very well be because you are more mature--you certainly sound like you have your act together! Really, it's impressive how you've dealt with this all so constructively.

But when your Dad reached out to reconnect, did he actually ever apologize for basically running out on his family, or just reestablish contact like nothing had happened? Because maybe that apology was what your sister needed to hear, and why she hasn't forgiven him. Just a thought.

Honestly, it really DOES suck that your sister only found out about the new baby second-hand. Even if she doesn't want to establish an ongoing communication with your Dad, a simple, hand-written note from him, telling her he wanted her to hear the news from him personally, would have gone a long way, I think, to show he was at least attempting to anticipate how your sister might feel upon hearing the news and showing some respect for her feelings. To me, an outsider, it sounds like it is your Dad, not your younger sister, who has some growing up to do.

I hope your Dad isn't only communicating with you about this new baby because you're the strong one and that makes it easier for him. It's great that you've forgiven him, but it seems like he may be taking advantage of your good nature. I'm not trying to convince you to hold a grudge against him or anything, just pointing out that if he's actually going to parent this baby, this time around he's going to have to do the tough stuff, too, like owning up to the mistakes he made in the past.

I would hope that he would make another effort to reach out to your sister without your having to nudge him in that direction. I would not hold my breath that this will happen, though.

Which is why--and I certainly cannot possibly know exactly what you, your Mom or your sister are feeling--but what I think I would do, what I hope I would do if I were mature enough, is to work on getting your Dad to address your sister's hurt and upset so that the new baby has the best chance at having a real relationship with BOTH her big sisters. You may find that his wife is actually all for this, because anything that helps your Dad be a better parent is to her benefit, too, right?
posted by misha at 4:30 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

easy, lucky, free: "ow do I make my much younger half-sibling a part of my life?"

others have stated great ideas. I would only add that you don't qualify her as your half-sibling. Never use that term. Talk to her, treat her, think of her like the sister she is.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2012

From having half siblings from both sides of the family who are much younger than I, I'm perhaps not the most optimistic about this.

1.) I think it's really hard to connect with people you don't live with (or don't live in the same city with). Do your best to let them know that you exist, which probably means Skyping and hopefully visiting them every year or every several years (or have them visit you). That way, your sibling knows who you are and gets used to you being a person in her life (though not a major one).

2.) With such a huge age gap, it will be difficult to feel like peers. You're not. If you're together, you're definitely the responsible one. You'll either end up feeling like a parent or a babysitter. But that's okay, that's just the age gap.

3.) When your sibling is older, you'll have much more to talk about. Even though you share only one parent, that's actually a lot that you share. Or talk about how he still likes a certain song. Or just the way he argues with people who disagree with him. Or just "that thing he does" whenever... If something happens to him (good or bad), you'll empathize with each other. She'll have plenty of people close to her than you will be, but when it comes to your dad, you (the three of you) will be the only ones who truly understand.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, just be there and don't have super high expectations. But if she turns out to be a decent kid, and a decent adult, then you'll have lots to talk about.
posted by ethidda at 5:02 PM on August 28, 2012

Let your sister work out her issues. You are not her keeper.

This is really cold. The baby sister who already exists deserves more than that.

I read this differently than you did zarah. I read that comment to mean that the OP cannot and should not force/encourage her sister into any type of relationship with their father or soon-to-be sibling. That is sound advice. The OP's adult sister isn't here asking for assistance. When and if the OP's adult sister is ready to reconcile with her father that's her choice. Allowing her adult sister to resolve her own issues isn't cold. It's respectful that not everyone moves at the same pace.

easy, lucky, free, you have zero obligation to facilitate any sort of reconciliation between your adult sister and parents. Your adult sister can accept that you want a relationship with your new sibling or not. You can't control how someone else responds. However, her response shouldn't define your relationship with your half-sister.
posted by 26.2 at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2012

Do make sure that the new half-sibling knows you exist. I had a friend who only learned in his 20s that he had a half-sibling 15 years older than him. It was pretty weird for him, and he still has never met this half-sib.
posted by dd42 at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2012

Perhaps you could write a letter to the new mom with your congratulations and telling her how happy you are about your new sister.

Also, you might tell your current sib whether or not she desires to do so, that you forgive your father for your own mental and emotional health, not his.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:19 PM on August 28, 2012

I second 2manyusernames' comment. I suspect you refer to your new sibling as half-sister just for clarity, so we mefites can understand the situation. I want to be certain you know the best way to proceed in regular life though. This new baby is your sister. Half-sister is full sister, for almost all intents and purposes.
posted by fullerenedream at 7:44 PM on August 28, 2012

Aw man. OP, you sound "together" as everyone above noted, but so so naive.

I usually agree with everything Ruthless Bunny has to say - but here they got it wrong.

misha got it RIGHT:

"But when your Dad reached out to reconnect, did he actually ever apologize for basically running out on his family, or just reestablish contact like nothing had happened?"

Your sister is likely pissed off because she never got a firm acknowledgement and apology. In this way, she has it more on the ball than you do. Picking up like not much bad ever happened is disrespectful to yourself and your sister. Full stop. You make it sound like this is more or less what happened. Respect your sister. She is likely right here.

You'll find out. It's unlikely it will all continue from here on out in a positive way with your father. Your father abandoned you, and while you blame your mother for her shortcomings, those situations and circumastances did NOT develop in a vaccum. Again. You'll find out as time goes on.

History has a way of repeating itself. People don't change without serious effort. Anyone who can abandon their offspring has serious character flaws that don't go away. This man is at a distance, and you are helping him weave an alternative narrative regarding his responsibilities towards you and your sister. This is not about it being easier for him to relate to you "better" now that you are older - it is about him assuaging guilt and re-writing history. Why are you helping to erase what is factual and relevant?

In the short term, you get to pretend you have a caring father. That feels like a "win" right now for you. in the long term, without significant acknowledgement from him that he let you and your sister down, the behavior will repeat, and you will get emotionally crushed.

I have a son, and a father who abandoned me and my younger brother. Now that I have my own child/ren, I see that the way my father and mother acted as even MORE agregious than before I was a parent myself. And I was always pretty clear on how awfully they behaved when my brother and I were minors under their care.

I also went through the stage of trying to embrace my father over my mother in my 20's, as he was the less agregious of the two, because his biggest crime was checking out where our mother was our primary care giver and exceptionally abusive.


Your new sibling is in a foreign country, born to a woman you do not know, and will grow up primarily speaking a different language than you, likely surrounded by her maternal family, who also speak her primary language and will see her more often, share a culture with her, and be involved in her day-to-life.




Any contact you will or won't enjoy with your new sister is down to your father and his wife. Will they fly you out at their expense to meet her? Come visit you together as a family? Fly you in for holidays and such?

This is a question for your father, not AskMe. He has total control and dominion over this issue. You? Not so much.

We're involved even less.

There are no magic words or actions you can take here. It will be what it will be.
posted by jbenben at 12:07 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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