My sister offended my girlfriend. Can or should I do anything about it?
August 14, 2014 8:44 PM   Subscribe

My sister made a careless remark about a coworker being "too old" to have children that really offended my girlfriend. Ever since, my girlfriend has been making snarky remarks about my sister whenever I mention anything about my immediate family. My sister has no idea that my girlfriend feels this way. Can I do anything to change how my girlfriend feels about this situation, and should I even try?

This situation has a lot to do with age and kids, so it's important to note that my girlfriend and I are both 33, while my sister is 29. My girlfriend has one child from a previous marriage who lives with us, and she and I are planning to have a child together once we're more financially stable. My sister has a three year old and is expecting her second child early next year. My sister is my only sibling.

A few months ago, my girlfriend and I were in my hometown visiting with my sister's family and my parents. My sister and my girlfriend have always gotten along well in the handful of times that they've met each other. My girlfriend overheard my sister talking with my mom about one of my sister's coworkers. According to my girlfriend, my sister said it that her 34 year old coworker was "too old" to be having children and going on maternity leave. My girlfriend found this comment very hurtful, but kept her feelings to herself at the time.

Ever since that trip, my girlfriend has made several remarks about how offended she was by my sister's comment. She never lets the subject of my immediate family come up without making a statement about how much my parents have helped my sister in life, and that "not everyone has such an easy life that they can have kids at the perfect age." She has stated that she is no longer interested in possibly moving to my hometown in the future because "Why would I want to be around someone who feels that way about me?" She also told me that when we finally have a child together, that the child will be "no big deal" to my parents, because they will have already experienced having a grandchild twice.

As far as I know, my sister has no idea that my girlfriend overheard her remark or that she feels this way about her. I don't want there to be a permanent rift between two people that I care about, but I also want to support my girlfriend and let her know I agree that my sister's comment was really thoughtless. Is there a way that I can be a supportive partner and do something to smooth things out between them, or am I better off staying out of it and just focusing on supporting my girlfriend?
posted by Chuck Barris to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm sorry that my sister offended you. However, I don't share her point of view. I also feel like I am being caught in the middle, and sometimes you make me feel uncomfortable when you talk about my sister. Is there anything I can do to help mend fences? I want to help fix things if I can, but I want to move on and stop discussing my sister."

Then just be real careful about how you would help mend fences in order to avoid being caught in the middle.
posted by Nevin at 8:57 PM on August 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

Oh, for... your girlfriend is overreacting majorly. One thoughtless comment and your girlfriend now doesn't even want to move to the same city?

She can take comfort in the fact that she's not too old for kids, judging by the fact that she's acting like a petulant teen right now. That said, this level of anger seems indicative of a deeper issue. Perhaps a talk, and possibly therapy, is in order?
posted by Tamanna at 8:58 PM on August 14, 2014 [67 favorites]

This is rough, but I think your girlfriend is being pretty ridiculous. Yes, the statement made by your sister was rude and terrible, but WE ALL say stupid things. And now that one statement negates everything else about your sister, and further, means that your future child would be overlooked by parents who didn't even say the offensive thing? Your girlfriend sounds insecure, and this catastrophizing seems like something you might want to watch for in other parts of your life. I have found that a partner who can forgive with grace is a huge part of a working relationship.

I say all this as a person older than 34 with an infant.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:00 PM on August 14, 2014 [18 favorites]

I can imagine getting mad about a comment like that -- pretty obnoxious and judge-y and jeez myob. I like Nevin's advice.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:02 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you sure your girlfriend is mature enough to be a parent?! She needs to get over herself. If you eavesdrop on a conversation, you run the risk of hearing things you'd rather not. Should your sister have said it? Probably not, but it clearly was not directed at your girlfriend and she's entitled to have her own opinions (this coming from a mother who had her second child at 39, and I'm not offended in the least.)

She's now taken a fairly innocent comment and blown it out of all proportions, turning it into a witch hunt for your sister who doesn't even know she's done anything wrong! I would ask your girlfriend if she feels that strongly, to have a respectful conversation with your sister about it, and say that she accidentally overheard it and was offended and give your sister the chance to apologise.

If she's not comfortable doing that, then ask her to drop it and never talk of it again because it's making YOU feel negatively about HER, and you won't allow it to drive a wedge between you and your sister. Chances are if she keeps it up, the person who will come out of this badly will be her. Put the onus back on your girlfriend to put on her big girl pants and grow up.
posted by Jubey at 9:04 PM on August 14, 2014 [26 favorites]

Is it possible that your girlfriend is getting impatient to have this child with you or otherwise move the relationship forward?
posted by alphanerd at 9:04 PM on August 14, 2014 [15 favorites]

It sounds to me like your girlfriend has probably never particularly cared for your sister, and the thoughtless comment your sister made has given your girlfriend justification for how she already felt.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 9:13 PM on August 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't about your sister, it's about your gf having a sore spot on the subject of her age and childbearing prospects. So, since you love your girlfriend, start with that. "Phyllis, honey, I feel like we need to talk about that thing you heard my sister say the other day. I love you and I can tell something really hit a nerve. Let's talk about it. Why did it bother you? Are you worried about having another kid? Are you anxious to get started? You know I don't think we're too old to be good parents, right? I think we're going to be great." Etc.

Then once you have dealt with whatever this underlying anxiety is, you can ask her to stop badmouthing your sister, who meant her no harm. (Of course if I'm wrong, and she really is just randomly being a bitch about your sister, then that's another, less pleasant story.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2014 [42 favorites]

Bearing in mind my comment above you really need to set a boundary and then cut your girlfriend some slack. It's an irrational reaction, but, then again, the biological imperative is also irrational.
posted by Nevin at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2014

Dear girlfriend, I'm sick of all your snark about my sister. Please stop it.
posted by zippy at 9:22 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your girlfriend is over-reacting, but your sister was being judgy. A coworker's decision to have a child is none of your sister's business. If your girlfriend wants children and she feels like your sister (and mom) think she's too old, well then yeah, that's a problem. What exactly is your girlfriend supposed to do? Reverse age to meet your family's expectations.

Your girlfriend feels like your family is dismissing her based on something she can't change. That stings and it will probably bug her for a long, long time.

Do not try to moderate their relationship. That way lies madness. Tell your girlfriend that you love her and that you made the decision about children together. And that it doesn't matter if your family isn't excited for your child - you're excited to build a family together. That may reduce some of the sting.
posted by 26.2 at 9:23 PM on August 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

fingersandtoes has it. This is about your gf, not your sister. Bring some gentle empathetic curiosity to the underlying issues, and see if that helps.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:28 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is it possible that she's trying to get you to confirm or deny if you agree with your sister?
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:28 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

This isn't about your sister, it's about your gf having a sore spot on the subject of her age and childbearing prospects.

My thoughts exactly. Your sister said a bad thing, but the fact that it made your girlfriend so uncomfortable says more about her than about your sister. I think if you talk to your girlfriend about this it should be less about who said it (it was just a stupid comment and not meant for your GFs ears, could also be your sister generally dislikes her coworker or something) and more about why it hurt so much.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:33 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, your sister said something dumb. She didn't say it to your gf, nor was it about your gf. Your gf (who has undoubtedly put her foot in her mouth at some point in her life) is overreacting. Agree with all those pointing out it has more to do with what's going on with your gf. Is she worried she's getting too old to have kids? (She isn't.) Does she want to have another kid now even though it makes sense to wait for other reasons? Etc.

How to bring it up: next time she makes a snarky, passive-aggressive comment about your sister's faux pas, call her on it. Say, look gf, I love you and yes sis was a thoughtless boor with that comment. But I'm worried that it's still bothering you so much and is starting to affect relationships within the family. Is there something else going on?

Ultimately, if an apology is required, it's up to your gf to talk to your sister. Personally I can't see that going terribly well and think your gf needs to suck it up and move on. But you can make it a bit easier for her to talk about the problem, which will make it easier for her to move on.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:38 PM on August 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Geez.. has your girlfriend never, ever said anything in the past that she might later regret, or that she didn't mean?

I think there is a possible course of action that would depend a lot on your sister's personality, and your relationship with her.

If your sister is not the type to get defensive or potentially escalate things in a negative way, I don't think it would be out of line to mention your girlfriend's feelings to her, in a casual, non-accusatory way. Maybe get your GF's blessing to do so first, but how about .. "Sis, GF overheard something you had said about [issue], and took personal offense because [reasons].. I know you might not have meant what she thinks you did..." Give her the opportunity to reach out and help mend the fence, and clarify her actual feelings on the whole thing. Not that she should be forced to, per se, as from your account I don't see her as having done anything wrong at all, but I feel like she might appreciate the chance to correct any kind of misunderstanding that has taken place here, especially if they otherwise get along.

Again, whether this is a good approach or not would depend greatly on your sister herself and whether you would feel comfortable approaching her in this manner. Something to think about anyway.
posted by wats at 9:40 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your sister is pregnant and hormonal and yes, she said something dumb and judgmental. But it was probably more about her, in that she has a toddler and another baby on the way and is just feeling worn out. She's probably imagining herself five years in the future and just thinking she couldn't handle it.

Your girlfriend, on the other hand, is taking that comment personally. She's thinking that your sister would perceive her as too old to have a child. Your girlfriend is probably anxious about having a baby, she's probably read the statistics about fertility, she's probably worried that this dream will not come to be.

You don't need to discuss your sister with your girlfriend. You need to support your girlfriend, tell her that she's a wonderful mom now and that she'll be a wonderful mom to your son/daughter. Tell her that her child will be a great older sibling. Make it clear that you don't agree with your sister, and it's your opinion that matters -- you're going to be her life partner after all. This is one of those things that will (hopefully) blow over. It doesn't sound like your sister intended this as a jab towards your girlfriend.
posted by Ostara at 10:13 PM on August 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Chuck, just in case you don't know, there's a crazy amount of pressure on women to have babies at a particular age (with the acceptable age range varying geographically and socially). Also, I think that some women truly believe that they will suddenly wake up infertile on their 35th birthday. Your sister has obeyed the "rules" (in her mind at least) and maybe she's feeling smug about it. Your girlfriend will feel a lot better if you have the conversation that fingersandtoes suggested.
posted by superfish at 10:17 PM on August 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

I can understand why your girlfriend is upset about the comment but I think that her not wanting to move to your hometown is a major overreaction.

If I was in your position, I would talk to her about why she is taking the comment so personally.
Is she worried about being too old to have another child? Is she concerned about how long it might take for you to both feel settled enough to start trying for one? And what's with the crazy talk about your parents potentially not being excited about another grandchild? I am one of 10 grandchildren and my grandmother loves all of us.

I would also have a chat to your sister and just say something like, "Hey, I know that you might personally think that having kids in your mid-30s is leaving it a little late and you're entitled to your own opinion, but please be careful about how you talk about this around [girlfriend]. We're planning on having a child together in the next couple of years, and that's a sensitive subject for her."

I feel like a lot of people would advocate against this approach, because they would be concerned about you getting stuck in the middle. But the fact is, you are in the middle of it! I think that you know your girlfriend and your sister well enough that you can hopefully work out the best way to communicate them and diffuse the situation.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:18 PM on August 14, 2014

Best answer: She never lets the subject of my immediate family come up without making a statement about how much my parents have helped my sister in life, and that "not everyone has such an easy life that they can have kids at the perfect age."

I think this is about your girlfriend's issues with not just the child she wants to have with you, but the child she already has. Did she have family support during her first pregnancy? It sounds like she's had a much bumpier road with building a family than your sister has-- a first marriage that didn't work out, one child that she presumably had before the (bullshit) "perfect" age window and now another one planned for after. When you've struggled to make something in your life work, as it sounds like your girlfriend has done with her family and kids, it's incredibly painful to hear someone who has never had to fight that fight judge your lifestyle for being less perfect than theirs. When your girlfriend talks about your parents spoiling your sister and her fears that they won't care about your planned child, I think she might be saying something like: they think I'm inferior to [sister], they think my inferiority means I deserved the harder path I've had in life, and they will think my future baby is inferior too.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:26 PM on August 14, 2014 [21 favorites]

I do not sympathize with a couple commenters' judgment of your girlfriend for "overreacting." I don't think it matters in a moral sense whether she is overreacting or not -- her feelings are her feelings, and for her partner they are not less important or less worthy of a caring response because they are determined to be "out of proportion" to their immediate occasion.

Inevitably, your girlfriend isn't "overreacting" to what your sister said, she's just reacting to what your sister said in the context of her full set of problems, anxieties, etc. I agree with some other commenters that she may be worried about her age in the context of childbearing or have a pre-existing dislike of your sister. I would first raise the issue of anxiety around age and childbearing without mention of your sister, and work in your sister from there if she affirms that she is worried about that.

If there doesn't seem to be a connection, I mostly like Nevin's suggested script, but I think that some of the language it uses ("I want to move on," "I am being caught in the middle") puts the emphasis on your feelings when the conversation should entirely be about understanding her feelings, and also puts the onus on her to move on before the conversation has even begun and before you understand everything that is at issue to her.

I think an important issue, which you did not address, is whether your sister's remark was characteristic or uncharacteristic of her personality. If it is uncharacteristic, I think you should tell your girlfriend that. If it is characteristic, I think you should tell your girlfriend that too, and share any frustration you may have or have had at similar behavior of your sister's that bothered you in the past, but try to convey to your girlfriend why you love your sister anyway.

Separately, I would tell your sister that her remark hurt your girlfriend so that she has the opportunity to apologize, and without being controlling offer some guidance as to what tone would make the apology most effective.
posted by Cucurbit at 11:07 PM on August 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Minimizing the comment your sister made as merely "thoughtless," when she knew your gf was in the house, is simply wrong.

I do not find your gf's comments snarky.

Your sister was being malicious. It's unknown if she was backhandedly insulting your gf or not. It's likely, tho, considering your gf's age and plans.

I have no idea how you smooth this over, but it's pretty serious.

Your gf can never really trust your sister's demeanor or sentiments towards her ever again - even with an apology or some significant acknowledgment.

Or at least your gf can't trust your sister until she matures emotionally and gets a clue.
posted by jbenben at 11:26 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you can model good behavior by setting a boundary with your girlfriend. You're allowed to let her know that, while your sister's remark was insensitive and uncool, your girlfriend's behavior is as well. She's putting you in a really uncomfortable, untenable position. Her words are hurting you -- she's talking smack about your sis, your family, your hometown. Not cool, and not OK.

If I flipped my shit every time I overheard someone making a dumb-ass comment regarding women of my age, I'd be in a state of permanent rage. Part of growing up and being an adult, at any age, is not taking other people's shit so personally; and moreso, not using other people's shit as an excuse to take it out on loved ones (in this case, you) just because they happen to be nearby.

Girlfriend needs to start treating your feelings with the respect they deserve, and start exercising some emotional regulation by keeping her vindictive thoughts in the thought-bubble, not the speech bubble (or get therapy if she is stuck in that anger-loop).
posted by nacho fries at 11:47 PM on August 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

Is gf trying to force a wedge between you and your sister. Possessive? Jealous?
posted by Cranberry at 11:50 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do not sympathize with a couple commenters' judgment of your girlfriend for "overreacting." I don't think it matters in a moral sense whether she is overreacting or not -- her feelings are her feelings, and for her partner they are not less important or less worthy of a caring response because they are determined to be "out of proportion" to their immediate occasion.

While one should take the content of one's partner's feelings seriously whether or not one thinks one's partner is being reasonable or unreasonable, surely one's response to those feelings should be sensitive to their reasonableness, in at least some cases. Imagine, for example, the different responses that are called for when one's partner is reasonably jealous versus unreasonably jealous--presumably one shouldn't respond in the same way in both cases. Sometimes it will be unclear whether someone's emotional response is reasonable, and people's emotions are often dismissed for bad reasons, and so on, but in other cases we do know that our partners are being unreasonable.

In the case at hand, the OP's girlfriend is being unreasonably pissy about some out of context comment she overheard between two family members. This does affect how the OP should respond: it would be good for him to reassure his girlfriend and check in about any anxiety that she may be feeling, but since his girlfriend is being unreasonable, certain responses would be inappropriate. For example, I don't think he should take up this issue with his sister.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:53 PM on August 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When this has happened to me (stupid shitty comment from my partner's family that was not meant to upset me but did, or I wasn't meant to hear) the reaction hasn't just been about the comment. I mean, their digs hurt, and if it's a sore spot it hurts a LOT (age and child-bearing is a very very tender spot for a lot of women that gets poked over and over already), but mostly? Mostly it's that those comments make it pretty clear what they think about me, and how they think about me. And no matter their disclaimers, that doesn't go away.

The best responses from my partner? Empathising (yes, that was a shitty comment) and a plan (if she says something like that again I'll ask her to quiet down). Because if my partner starts in with the 'you weren't meant to hear it, it wasn't aimed at you, you're overreacting' then I know that he either agrees with the comment or doesn't care that it hurt me. The planning is probably the most important because it worries me when I don't know that he'll support me if I get another one of those comments that hurt. And that insecurity is hard on a relationship.

Being the in-law to a very very close family is extraordinarily difficult, and if you're already in any way insecure it's a fucking nightmare because your partner almost always unthinkingly support their family. Not out of love necessarily, but habit and to a certain extent (in my experience) just codependent conflict avoidance. So knowing that they will have your back even if the sibling didn't mean to hurt you makes a difference. And quite frankly, the comment and what it signifies (judgey mean BS) would make me reluctant to be an integral part of the family as well, just because it feels like being there would mean more of this.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:08 AM on August 15, 2014 [36 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry, OP, this is a tough position for you. Unfortunately, I feel like other than being able to offer a variety of viewpoints and possibilities, we cannot really help you determine the underlying situation because there's too much that's unknown. One, or more than one, of the following may be true:

* Your girlfriend is oversensitive and grudgey (is this something you've noted in other situations?)

* Your sister (and possibly mother) doesn't think you two should have a baby, and was being passive-aggressively shitty to your girlfriend, something that can often be invisible to people other than the target

* Your sister really thinks that your girlfriend is "too old" to have a baby and is being kind of mean and judgmental, but actually -did not- intend her to hear that remark about the coworker

* Your sister realized your girlfriend was present when the remark was made, but is just really, really careless and thoughtless and didn't put the pieces together that this would be hurtful

* Your sister has no clue that you guys are planning on a kid, and for that reason it didn't occur to her at all that it even might be at all specifically hurtful to your girlfriend

* Unknown to your sister and mom, your girlfriend was listening in on a conversation that had nothing to do with her, and was never meant to be about her or hurt her feelings at all

* This comment is just one of many aggressive/hostile remarks from your sister and/or mother that cannot reasonably be called out because on the surface they seem totally harmless, but in reality represent a pretty cruel campaign of small cuts directed at your girlfriend

* Your sister meant no harm, and your girlfriend is reading the situation as hostile because she has had painful experiences in the past that seem very similar to this one, and is seeing this through that lens

* Your girlfriend is subconsciously/unknowingly misrepresenting what was actually said because she feels intimidated or insecure about your sister / your family

* Your girlfriend is willfully misrepresenting what was actually said because she is jealously abusive and manipulating you by trying to separate you emotionally from your family

From the information I'm seeing, I have absolutely no idea which of these possibilities, if any, might be even close, and I bet that it's all pretty muddy to you, too. Both sides may be "innocent," or both sides may be acting badly, or one side is much more sinned against than sinning. I think it would take a pretty perceptive, observant person with a high emotional IQ who knows all parties really well to begin to get a clearer picture. Do you know anyone like that?

In any case, in your situation, I would not try to "solve" the problem, but I would a) affirm your support and love of your girlfriend and happiness at the idea of having a child together, b) tell her that you will be paying attention and speaking up to clearly express your happiness and enthusiasm about having a baby together in any situation where the topic might arise with your friends or family, c) ask if she would like you to be with her if she wants to talk it over calmly, in a friendly way, with your sister.

I think this is about the best you can do. When she brings up the benefits and support your sister enjoyed in being able to plan her pregnancies, etc., just be sympathetic without trying to solve the issue. I'd let the topic of moving to their town drop, if you can. Maybe it can be reevaluated at a later time with less emotion.

If it seems to become a point of unyielding obsession and none of your love and support seems to lighten/soften the situation, you may need to reevaluate the relationship (possibly with the help of a counselor, if necessary).

Good luck, OP, I hope this will be resolved for the best; I know it's painful.
posted by taz at 3:20 AM on August 15, 2014 [18 favorites]

Another vote for determining whether she feels put down by your sister in general, or whether that was a one-off thing. I think it was a pretty awful thing for her to hear your sister say, considering her position and it may confirm feelings she had already.

I've been on both sides of this scenario. When in your position, my reaction has been that my family member says some stupid shit and who cares? I didn't fully understand how it could be hurtful because, to me, it was so much part of the landscape. (My family and stepfamily have said stuff which they say all the time but which happen to coincide with my partner's insecurities.) When I've been on the other side, I just wanted my partner to have my back. Whatever you do, have your girlfriend's back and don't criticize her about this. Find out what is going on with her and support her.
posted by BibiRose at 4:42 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank goodness that she is just your girlfriend and you have not gotten her pregnant yet. Keep close watch. It sounds like she would like to isolate you from your family. The next time that she makes a comment about your family, look her in the eye and ask her what is going on. People say stupid things all the time. Your sister is fine, do not bother her with this mess. This is all on you and your choice in women.
posted by myselfasme at 4:47 AM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would be very annoyed at my girlfriend about this.

What happens when / if you marry her - is she going to try to pit you against your own family?
That kind of snark directed at my sister would be a deal breaker for me. Family members are jerks sometimes, you make an effort to love them for who they are, despite their flaws.

Granted sometimes family members go to far, but one insensitive statement is NOT too far.
Blood is thicker than water.
posted by Flood at 5:02 AM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your sister made a thoughtless comment. To still be bringing up months after the fact and to declare she won't move to the same city as your sister because of that comment is just off the charts ridiculous. Does your sister have a maturity problem? Who cares, you're not dating her. It's your girlfriend's deep-seated immaturity that's the problem for your life here.

She's bringing it up anytime your immediate family is brought up. She's turned this into how your sister is spoiled. Anxiety about having a baby or other people's perception of her age does not excuse this childish behavior, and neither does your sister's own bad behavior.

Hopefully the the day it happened you let your girlfriend know you don't agree with what your sister said and that your plans are unshaken. But even if you didn't, several months is more than an enough time to get over it.

Be forewarned, you are now seeing what your girlfriend is like when she's offended. Since you're human, one day you'll blurt out something stupid. This is what that will be like. Unfounded paranoia and assumptions that it had to be malicious.

No matter how stupid you're sister was being, this wouldn't be worth it for me anymore. If it is for you, the only thing I can imagine doing is next time your girlfriend starts being nasty and snarky towards your family, restate that you don't agree with the comment, that you're sister was being thoughtless and stupid, but that she's still your family, and it's unfair that every mention of your family now means some equally thoughtless and stupid tirade about them.
posted by spaltavian at 5:44 AM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

As the oldest grandchild on both sides, let me be the first to tell your girlfriend that in fact the next grandchildren were, each and every one of them, a big deal. And a friend had a child who is 4th grandchild on one side, 1st on the other: equally big deal for both sides of the family.

I'm wondering if maybe her family had a big favouritism problem that she is, correctly or incorrectly, seeing in your family too.
posted by jeather at 6:08 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to my girlfriend, my sister said it that her 34 year old coworker was "too old" to be having children and going on maternity leave.

I think the key words in your sister's statement were probably "coworker" and "maternity leave" -- words that can strike fear into the heart of anyone who suddenly sees an avalanche of somebody else's work about to crash down on them. Especially if she's pregnant herself and probably could use a more restful time at work instead of a busy, stressful time. I mean, I can't know this for sure, but it would definitely explain a bit of rancor directed at the source of the work - the maternity leave. And that's just one possible reason your sister could have said something unpleasant that she doesn't necessarily mean. When you're annoyed at someone, it's easy to just latch onto something and nitpick it. It doesn't mean your sister really thinks 34 is too old to be having a baby.

Your GF needs to woman-up and have a conversation with your sister about this. I don't think it's your place to get involved, though. The next time your GF says something like this about your sister or your family, you need to draw a boundary. Nevin's script is a good one, but I'd personally pare out some of the "can I help fix it" in favor of "you guys need to talk, because you're both cool people, and I refuse to believe you can't find a way to coexist."
posted by kythuen at 6:30 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to buck the trend and disagree with most of the commenters here. What your sister said was ignorant and it's completely understandable for your partner to have been upset by it.

I don't want there to be a permanent rift between two people that I care about, but I also want to support my girlfriend and let her know I agree that my sister's comment was really thoughtless. Is there a way that I can be a supportive partner and do something to smooth things out between them, or am I better off staying out of it and just focusing on supporting my girlfriend?

If you're planning on having a child with your girlfriend, she is your new family. She's your priority now over your family of origin.

The easiest way to let your girlfriend know you agree your sister's comment was thoughtless is to simply tell her so. Resist the temptation to make excuses for your sister, even if you believe said excuses are valid. Don't say anything that implies you consider her feelings to be invalid.

If you really want to smooth things over between them, I think you should say something to your sister. "X overheard what you said about 34 being too old to have children, and since we're going to have children when we're older than that, that was really upsetting for her to hear. She's afraid you're going to be really judgmental when we have kids." If your sister is as intersted in family harmony as you are, she'll apologize.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:18 AM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I see both sides of this, but I would have been pissed off at your sister's comment. Why is her coworker any less entitled to motherhood and maternity leave than she is? That said, it may be that your partner is dealing with stressors and is choosing your sister as the outlet of her emotions. What few people have mentioned is that your sister is pregnant, and your partner is not. If your partner really wants a baby, it can be hard just being around pregnant women and babies. When you're "more financially stable" is a pretty vague promise.
posted by ghost dance beat at 8:35 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your sister made a shitty thoughtless comment. She didn't do it out of cunning malice to hurt your girlfriend, and such suggestions are ludicrous.

Your GF is right to be hurt because it was a hurtful generalization. However, it was a hurtful generalization not even directed towards her, so I think she is taking this far too personally and catastrophizing it to an unhealthy degree.

I don't really understand why you can't tell your sister that your GF overheard the remark and has been deeply hurt ever since. Surely she would apologize, no? Is your GF opposed to revealing her accidental eavesdrop? Again, it's not like this was something she did out of malice.

At no point should you tell your GF that you think she is overreacting, though. That will turn out badly for everyone.
posted by elizardbits at 9:01 AM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

For your girlfriend to decide that her trust in your sister as being a decent person is forever destroyed based on an OVERHEARD comment about another person is blowing things very out of proportion.

It sounds like your sister was venting about her coworker in a pretty crappy way, true. But sometimes humans say bitchy things that they later acknowledge were unfair. I can absolutely imagine your girlfriend being shocked and offended to hear such a judgey thing that also hits a sore spot. The appropriate thing to do would be for your girlfriend to work this out with your sister -- as in, ask her about it. "Hey, there's this thing that's really been bothering me. I heard you say [repeat comment] and I was shocked and offended. It really makes me think of you differently as a person. Is that really how you feel?"

And then your sister can explain context, or acknowledge that it was a mean thing she said out of frustration and she regrets it, or whatever.

Your girlfriend sounds like she has some pretty big unresolved insecurities about familial relationships, and how you and she fit into your extended family. Sometimes, people in families offend or disappoint each other, and to want to shun your sister and not even want to live in the same town as her, without giving her the chance to talk it out, is not fair. (To you, or to your sister.)

As a side note, the idea that 33 or 34 is culturally "too old" is crazy talk to me. Most of my friends are having their first kids in their late thirties and early 40s.
posted by desuetude at 9:19 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with some of the other responders that it depends on whether this is part of a larger overall pattern in your family or not. I would recommend really looking over and thinking about taz's questions, because the answers will really help guide you toward what's going on. I also think telling your gf that she's overreacting is a VERY BAD idea.
posted by RogueTech at 9:26 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

She also told me that when we finally have a child together, that the child will be "no big deal" to my parents, because they will have already experienced having a grandchild twice.

Why did your girlfriend make this assumption about how your parents will react to another grandchild? This assumption has nothing to do with anything your sister said.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh for heavens sakes of COURSE the girlfriend is overreacting here.

Here's how the incident would go in most sane households:

Sister: "So she's taking off for twelve weeks right at busy season, and I'm gonna get to do all her shit. I mean come on, why didn't you do this like years ago, aren't you old to be having kids anyway? NOW the biological clock starts ticking right when we all need you?"
GF: (clears throat) "UM, hellow"
Sister: "What?"
GF: "You're saying I'm old?"
Sister: "Noooo, you're not old, but you're not having a baby anyhow"
GF: "What if I did? I want to have another baby someday, you're saying I'd be too old then?"
Sister: (embarrassed) "No! No of course not. You just wouldn't believe this woman. Just last week she blah blah blah...."

Sister is venting TO HER MOM about a coworker. GF wasn't even supposed to hear this. I'm sure it was a petty thing to throw in, but this is really low-level stuff, like saying "god, she never does her reports on time AND she's got the most annoying voice!" -- Snotty yes, but it seriously is not something for everyone else with potentially annoying voices to take personally.
posted by celtalitha at 11:33 AM on August 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody who commented.

After reading the responses, I thought about why my girlfriend would react so strongly to my sister's comment. The responses about how my girlfriend feels judged by someone who has had a much easier road through life and to motherhood in particular really struck a chord with me. I think a lot of this can be explained by looking at the obvious favoritism for one sibling in my own girlfriend's family. She also had a terrible relationship with her last sister-in-law, who was very much a spoiled "favorite child" and acted very condescendingly towards my girlfriend. The mother-in-law in that situation was no better, and, in my girlfriend's opinion, has never treated her child as an equal grandchild. I'm sure there were echoes of that when she heard the remark from my sister, and it must make it worse that my sister currently has many of the things (second child on the way, house, successful marriage, good career) that my girlfriend is still struggling for.

Fortunately, these kind of remarks are not my sister's typical MO towards my girlfriend or any one else. She and her husband (as well as my parents) have been really gracious and welcoming towards my girlfriend every time we've been together. If they have something against her, they've managed to go a very long time without tipping me off.
posted by Chuck Barris at 3:03 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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