Brother & Sister-in-law becoming distant from family.
September 25, 2015 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I have a younger half-brother who got married 2-3 years ago with a woman that he met at work. The two of them got married in court, and I had no idea that this even took place up until someone told me about it. It was either a family relative or someone else who told me. The two of them are introverted people who kept to themselves. The sister-in-law is a quiet person who was fully accepted by our family. The two of them eventually bought a house, and had a child at the beginning of this year. Everyone was excited about the new munchkin especially our parents. However, it was brought to my attention that the two couple have been very distant for the following reasons.

(1) Since they moved into the house, some of my immediate family members noticed that my sister-in-law has been very aloof towards them. She doesn't strike a conversation when my parents visit them. Heck, the mother-in-law was more engaging towards my family and the only words that my sister-in-law would usually utter are "hi" and "bye". According to my other half-brother, grandmother, and both of my parents, she comes off as someone who doesn't want to talk unless she needs to. It came to a point that my immediate family didn't feel comfortable anymore.

(2) My brother would only visit us if he needs something like tools. Otherwise, he and the SIL haven't really gone to the house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and etc. He ends up going to his wife's family events almost exclusively. Our younger brother who still lives with us mentioned that it was 2-3x at the very most that they took their son to the house throughout the year. The SIL's family was visited a lot more and got to spend the majority of time with my nephew. My dad got annoyed at some point when his invitations were constantly met by multiple excuses such as work, prior plans, & etc. When we check Facebook, we see a ton of pictures with the SIL's side at restaurants, family gatherings, and so-on. My parents probably felt a little hurt when they see saw this stuff.

(3) My brother & SIL created a joint account on Facebook since they've been married. A few months ago, I found out that I was no longer friends with them on FB. I don't know what happened there, as I don't recall ever deleting them. I didn't read too much into it up until my step-mom brought it up to my attention down the road. She told me that the two of them were asking why they could not find me on FB. I told my step-mom that I never deactivated my account nor delete them. I was eventually added again as a friend on FB after having the conversation with my step-mom. It was odd, and it did run through my mind about the possibility of being deleted by one of them. For what reason? I have no idea, but this was one of those trivial things that doesn't need to be overanalyzed.

I haven't talked to my brother for awhile nor visited him at his house as much as my immediate family has. Even though my family has a general census that his wife is very aloof towards them and having an influence over him, I was thinking of paying him a visit, as well as seeing my nephew. I don't intend to talk or bring up the topic about the widening "rift". I'm just curious to see the behavior of my SIL, as observations/interpretations of other people can be stretched out or filtered to meet their own personal preference.

Has anyone experienced a similar situation with a married sibling? Is this normal behavior from a married couple who have flown the coop? I don't expect the guy to see us every other day due to family obligations, work, and so-forth. At the same time, it'd be disappointing to find out myself If I come to the same conclusion that they've been intentionally distant for reasons that we don't even know.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's possible that he simply enjoys their company more than his own family's.

No offence, but it certainly looks like you haven't been in regular contact yourself, and get most of your information about him second-hand. It seems that the rift already existed. Why wouldn't he enjoy their company more than your family's, if you're not in regular contact yourself?
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:41 AM on September 25, 2015 [33 favorites]

They just had a kid. Cut them some slack.

Either ask them what's up in an open, polite, and not drama-mongering way, or let it go.

FWIW I live thousands of miles from home, and while I try to see family as much as possible, sometimes I have other stuff going on. And I'm single and childless, with no in-laws or multiple family holiday obligations to juggle.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 AM on September 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

From an outsider's perspective, this looks like a situation that's pretty easy to address: Just talk to him. What's the point in going to see him but dancing around the issue? Why not just ask him what's up? He's your brother. "Hey, I've been feeling like we haven't been talking much lately, what can we do to stay in better touch? I'd really like to know my nephew better and I know Mom & Dad would, too." Try to arrange a monthly dinner or some kind of regular family get-together.

If you try this and are met with weird stonewalling, then yeah, there's probably something else going on. But it's at least worth a shot to try having a normal conversation before assuming the worst of your sister-in-law. Right now it looks like you've all decided she's intentionally driving a wedge into your family, and that's not really a fair assumption without cold hard evidence.
posted by something something at 7:43 AM on September 25, 2015 [23 favorites]

Very often, people who come across as 'aloof' are only painfully shy. Take that into consideration as you address this issue. It can take some people years to warm up to folks and she may just need some time.
posted by pearlybob at 7:49 AM on September 25, 2015 [60 favorites]

A joint Facebook account is weird.

Look, they aren't being distant toward you if you don't even notice the distance. That makes it mutual. If they have issues with others in your family, that's for them to address.

You should visit them if you want to. You can even talk about how you want to be closer, if you do. But that's as far as this should go, and you need to acknowledge that this is just as much on you as them.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:50 AM on September 25, 2015 [13 favorites]

My family could very easily write this post about me. I love my wife's family a lot, having a kid takes a lot of time, and I rarely keep in touch with my family for a lot of reasons.
posted by French Fry at 7:51 AM on September 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

This has happened in my family.
My brother has been with his partner for around 20 years and is exactly like this. His partner is very talkative though, but she's patronizing. She doesn't like my Dad. My Dad gets really angry about how little effort my brother puts in. Our family is otherwise very close but he spends a LOT of time with his in laws. He sees them constantly.
My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my Dad called my brother to let him know, leaving a voicemail, and he didn't call back for 2 weeks. He also went to visit her after surgery twice for 30 minutes at the end of visiting hours and complained about how he had to rush his dinner to get there.
I don't live in the same country as my family now so I'm not involved anymore. This started when I was 15 and I was so hurt that I didn't see my brother anymore and very hurt that he wasn't interested.
I don't really know what advice to give but I wanted to tell you, you're not alone and I'm so sorry you're going through something hurtful. Family can be a real headache.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:52 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

And I echo those above who say, reach out, it doesn't seem as though you are and if you're not, you can't really complain.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:53 AM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

What exactly is the issue? They just got married, acquired a house and had a kid. That's a lot at once!

I'd recommend just reaching out and letting them know that you are there for them should they need you but otherwise, give them space. Maybe just send a congratulations card or something? I've been finding that lots of life steps at once can not only affect the couple's perceived socialness, but can also be a little stressful to family members because big change at once tends to drastically change that relationship. IMHO, it's just part of growing as an adult - relationships will change with family, especially when you are no longer perceived as a kid.

True anecdote: My husband and I just did the same and we could easily be classified as "aloof" as well, although we are really just BUSY with a lot of life stuff at once. We don't do Facebook and I am personally not a fan of my in-laws so although I can be an entertaining extrovert, I tend to turn inward around them...I choose not to be around them for considerable lengths of time because they tend to be negative, entitled and unintentionally hurtful towards me. YMMV.
posted by floweredfish at 8:03 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

The sister-in-law is a quiet person who was fully accepted by our family.

According to my other half-brother, grandmother, and both of my parents, she comes off as someone who doesn't want to talk unless she needs to. It came to a point that my immediate family didn't feel comfortable anymore.

These two statements are contradictory. It sounds like your parents and siblings are trying to pull you into some drama they have with not getting enough attention from these introverted newlyweds with a young child. That's between them and your brother. If you miss your brother reach out, but otherwise this is none of your business.
posted by edbles at 8:04 AM on September 25, 2015 [34 favorites]

If the SIL is painfully shy it may simply be that she finds it awkward/tiring to interact with your family but easy to visit with her own, and your brother might just not be willing to keep pushing her to do so, path of least resistance and all. If so, that's kind of a crappy dynamic and a little bit immature and thoughtless...though maybe there is some underlying offense or reason they want to distance themselves from your family. In your position I would probably bring it up with my brother when we are alone (not with SIL) and not in an aggressive way, just "how's life with the new baby? How's SIL? I'm sorry we don't talk as much, i know mom and dad would like to see more of you guys". And try to tease out if there is a motive, or he just doesn't realize he's being a little callous.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:08 AM on September 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

Just to throw this out there as a possibility: are there any religious/ethnic/class differences that would contribute to your SIL feeling more comfortable with her family of origin or that might lead her to fear (rightfully or not) that she and their marriage would not be "fully accepted" by your family?
posted by drlith at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, upon rereading, if your family is silently judging the SIL for being quiet or sending subtle signals that they think she is acting oddly or even teasing in that "friendly" that some people do with shy people l, she might be picking up on that and feel uncomfortable. Even if her behavior is odd, they should suck it up and just be warm and accepting and not push her to interact more than she wants when they do get together.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

This could be written by one of my husband's siblings about me.

I came from a tight-knit family that has worked hard to communicate well. We see my parents and local sibling often. My parents are our go-to babysitters. Here's what it boils down to for us: it is a pleasure to see my family, and it a chore to see his.

His parents and siblings aren't respectful of our boundaries and our parenting style. His sisters don't actually interact with my kids, so they know nothing about my daughters as people or what they like and dislike. It is a lot of work to keep my kids safe in his parents' house, and they aren't good guests and overstay their welcome by hours when we do invite them over. I hear from each sister and their mom that the others wish they saw us more, but they never reach out. They tell me, not my husband, that the others wish they saw us more.

We are busy with our own lives. We both work full-time and are raising two very active toddlers. We keep our kids to a schedule that works for us, which means sometimes we turn down invitations. His family gets offended that we "always say no" so they stop inviting, and since we're busy, we don't reach out either. My family hasn't stopped reaching out and works hard to accommodate schedules and is happy with an evening here or there.

Your brother and his wife don't owe anyone their time. If your family wants to see them more and has any flexibility, it might be a good idea to try to find neutral, time-limited situations to reacclimate. We find restaurants with my in-laws WAY easier than in either home. Invite over and over and don't make a big thing if they say no. Don't give them crap about how long it's been when they finally accept. Learn about their lives and how their life can overlap better with your family's. Don't expect them to just do things the way your family has always done it, because they're a new family unit now and things change.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2015 [64 favorites]

It might be that she's a quiet and introverted person and she sees how the rest of you are? And...isn't into it?

I am a very private introverted person, and I have some parts of my family who like drama and make everything about themselves and talk shit about me behind my back for not being like them. I choose not to spend time with them, and if I had children I would absolutely not want them in that environment.

They're slow-fading you. You clearly think that because they're related they have to do what you want, but they actually don't. Having relationships with people is now a privilege, not an obligation. Try liking them for who they are and reaching out to them in at least a halfway-open attempt to meet them where they are.

It's real unlikely that she turned him against you, though that's probably the family party line. He made a choice, you just don't like it.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on September 25, 2015 [19 favorites]

Maybe the SIL is utterly dominated by her mom, and that is why they can't escape that side of the family. Then, thus consumed, it is all they can do to have the privacy they need.

People do get to have their lives, exactly as they wish, after growing up. As much as grands may wish, children are not an entry card to their parents homes or social lives

If someone didn't want to socialize with me, there is no way I would push it, except for Mefi. Sometimes a man marries a certain woman to escape his family. Sometimes the guarantee of that escape is in the fine print at the bottom of the marriage contract.
posted by Oyéah at 8:29 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Statistically, I think the number one probability is that your sister-in-law thinks your mother dislikes or disapproves of her, based on how she interprets some or her past comments or past actions. Even small differences in background, especially differences in how people interact, can lead to large incompatibilities or small misunderstandings that grow large with time.

I'd also consider the possibility of postpartum depression, but you do say you see evidence of a vibrant social life on Facebook. I had a very lovable mother-in-law, but I wouldn't want to work on a big project with her or go clothes shopping with her or explain my parenting philosophy to her. My ability to work with and understand my own mother is a lot more developed. I have a bond with her that I don't quite have with my (great) mother in law. Bottom line in your story is that your s-i-l and bro find something unpleasant or aversive about visiting your family. And they prefer not to be confrontational about it.

In addition, perhaps your brother is fairly ineffective or unskilled about doing the emotional labor to make family social events happen.
posted by puddledork at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

It's really easy to paint your SIL as the "outsider" here but I think most of this sounds like your brother's problem.

SIL is not some magical access gateway to his family. Brother is his own person and is perfectly capable of setting up plans, accepting plans, or telling SIL he wants to see his side of the family more. It sounds like he's pretty accepting of the status quo.

I was thinking of paying him a visit, as well as seeing my nephew.

I would not invite yourself over. Yes, calling and saying "hey, I'd love to come visit you, when is a good time" is inviting yourself over in this situation. Invite them to YOUR house, or to a meal or the zoo or whatever. Give them the chance to pick this option or invite you over themselves.

(How often did your brother hang out with you before the baby? Is it possible they are both exhausted and/or annoyed that suddenly with BABY everyone wants to see them?)
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:57 AM on September 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

It was brought to your attention? What this means is that whatever's going on, it wasn't enough for you to notice it on your own. Which means this falls into the category of somebody else's drama, not yours. Leave it alone. Go visit your nephew, absolutely. But stay out of this "who do they love more" stuff. They might well like you all equally, but they are not your parents, and they are not obligated to even pretend to like you all equally. They're busy adults who're allowed to have preferences about where they spend their time. If you haven't even been making an effort to see your nephew regularly, you have zero standing to complain they're being too distant. You've got your own life and quite reasonably prioritize that. They do, too.

So much of this just seems like creating problems that don't exist. If they removed you on Facebook deliberately, why would they have been asking another family member why they couldn't find you? Why would you retroactively perceive this as a slight only when they're trying to actually establish contact? For so much of this, the likely response is just that they're busy, your side of the family isn't their highest priority, but they don't actually dislike you. Don't make it into a big deal.
posted by Sequence at 9:05 AM on September 25, 2015 [10 favorites]

I feel for your SIL here based on you and your family's description of her. She may be shy and that can read as "aloof," particularly when combined with other issues (like being seen as taking your brother and their kid away.) I would not be surprised to learn she is picking up on the generally negative characterization of her.

But I mean...sometimes people just aren't into hanging out with their in-laws, and that's okay. Many many people prefer the company of their own parents to that of their in-laws. Wouldn't be the first time; it's basically a sitcom cliche at this point. Hell, some people are a little aloof/asocial for whatever reason, and maybe she is, she just had a kid after all, and that's got to be okay, too. Your brother is presumably a grown man, as are the rest of you, so if there are rifts in your family, that's on him and on all of you before it's on her. He chooses who he spends time with.

I would forget what the rest of your family thinks here; honestly, they're coming off kind of judgmental and small and possibly relishing the drama a little. They can work on repairing their own rifts with him if the rifts truly bother them. If you, personally, want to be closer to your brother and his family, then you can reach out and work on establishing a closer relationship, as you indicate you don't actually reach out much-- arranging a visit a mutually good time (bearing in mind they have a new kid) is a good step, telling him you'd like to work on being closer is another good step.

Gossiping and blaming/speculation about what's wrong with her with other family members/over-analyzing perceived Facebook slights is not the way to go here. It'll just add to the "us against her" dynamic that's taking root, and whose side do you think your brother will take?

Don't make him take sides. If the worst of what you seem to be suggesting is true-- she is evil and, what, controlling his mind and stealing him away--you want to be a person your brother can talk to. You won't be that person if you're feeding the negative dynamic.
posted by kapers at 9:06 AM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Scheduling social events with a new baby can be tough. Sometimes it's *way* easier to make plans with support-system-in-tow (AKA Grandma). When my kids were tiny, my mom was a very comforting resource. She has a background in early childhood education, is awesome with babies and kids, and doing stuff with her made my life easier rather than harder. She also made it possible for me to maintain some semblance of a social life by babysitting tiny babies where other people wouldn't, or didn't feel comfortable.

I'd approach this as "how can I make their hectic life easier?" and see if that helps build a bridge. Offer to babysit. Offer to bring supper. Baby proof your house and invite them over at a baby-friendly time of day. Don't try to schedule something that makes life harder (dinner at a restaurant that isn't kid-friendly, evening events that require a sitter, etc). Consider planning something with just your brother, and let your SIL come if she wants or stay home if she just needs a break. Want to REALLY endear yourself to SIL? Invite your brother and baby out for a Saturday morning and let her sleep late in blissful silence.
posted by instamatic at 9:09 AM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

My older brother and his first wife were quite a bit like this. First is maybe the key word there.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:11 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have to decide what level of effort you'll put in too. I could see and have more of a relationship with some of my nieces and nephews if I did 95% of the effort. For a while, I did because it was beneficial to my own kids when they were younger to have those cousin relationships strengthened. Then I started stepping back in the past two years and realised that only two of those relationships carried through strongly with people reciprocating and equally giving. I keep on giving effort there, and it's great. For the rest - I make a note at Christmas about gifts, and that's it. So much time freed up! So little guilt!

You need to put in some real reaching out effort when they have a new baby because that is a crazy time. If you also have a baby/crazy time for some reason, cut both of you some slack and just settle for friendly Facebook messages and schedule a text/phonecall every two weeks or something low-key.

Otherwise - put in effort for a reasonable amount of time, then scale back and see if it's reciprocated. If it isn't then try to reframe it as "yay, I don't have to spend time with relatives who don't enjoy my company either, and can instead do other better things" than a rejection.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:14 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

As far as the FB thing, I've seen FB drop a friendship even though neither of the people defriended the other. Rare, but if all of the parties involved claim they didn't defriend the other, I'd chalk that up to a Facebook glitch.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is how I'm sure my family sees me (that is aloof and always busy). In reality, (some portions of) my family only wanted to interact with us post-kids, don't respect our parenting styles, and have terrible boundaries when they do visit (e.g. expecting us to take time off work when we don't have the option). Perhaps a more open inquiry - e.g. we'd love to see more of you but it seems like something is getting in the way. Please let us know what we can do to support your family in this big upheaval. - would be a more productive.
posted by lab.beetle at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

I would try to make your relationship with your brother and SIL whatever it is you want it to be and not worry or concern yourself with what their relationship is with others. There is probably no one answer as to why and asking will just make them think you are "siding" with the others and maybe push them away. Go enjoy time with your nephew, brother and SIL. Over time you may find out the details.
posted by AugustWest at 9:39 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your brother could be a pushover or your SIL could be controlling. Those are the other options. I think the only thing you can do is talk to him, but-- I'm sorry.
posted by easter queen at 9:55 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am your half brother.

When I got married (and for years before), I pulled away from my family. It's not that I don't love them, it's that I love my wife more, and my family makes my wife uncomfortable in some ways. They love her, in their way, but their way is too gregarious, too demanding, too guilt-inducing for us to deal with, so our relationship with my family is at arms length at all times. We make our excuses for why we won't travel hundreds of kilometers to visit, and eventually they stopped asking, much to our relief. I was glad to be so far from my family. They demand too much of my time and if I had my way I would see them once a year at most, and not at a major holiday or event either.

It struck me that you say your family accepted your SIL, but that she is aloof to them. That tells me that she didn't feel accepted. It's so easy to believe that what we feel about a person is universal or that the other person knows and appreciates our feelings, but it just isn't so. Your SIL may just be a person who found compatibility with your half brother but not the rest of your family. That's how it is with my wife and my parents. Your half brother and SIL have found a balance that includes far more of her family than his; that's OK. If he doesn't complain to you about it, don't assume she has undue influence or anything. Their family (him and her) is their own and doesn't need to fit with any other.

Whatever you decide to do, do it on your own and not as an ambassador of your family.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:55 AM on September 25, 2015 [20 favorites]

Just want to point out that the language of "we accepted her" makes it sound like acceptance was in question, like you guys had the power to judge her and find her wanting, and made a special exception to be OK with her when she didn't properly deserve it. It's not at all the same as "we were warm, we were kind, we were welcoming, we were friendly and loving."

Acceptance is kind of the baseline minimum for maintaining a civil relationship with someone. It is not something upon which you build deep and lasting affection.
posted by Andrhia at 10:42 AM on September 25, 2015 [27 favorites]

I noticed there is a lot of triangulation going on in your description, both from your parents and grandparents, and your brother and SIL. Why are things being "brought to your attention"? Why is so much communication done through a third party? It's probably contributing to an unhealthy family situation.

My Asian relatives are particularly prone to this--I think it's partly cultural--and it drives me nuts. I love them and generally have a good relationship with them, but I really dislike this tendency. Once I recognized it I started refusing to participate in it or be a go-between ("don't complain to me; tell him/her yourself how you're feeling"), but I'll be honest, if this is the way you were raised, it's hard to recognize when it's happening. I still catch myself in the middle of it and think OH DAMN how did I not see??

Soooo...that's my advice to you. Read up on triangulation. See if anything seems familiar. Think about whether it could be contributing to the situation with your brother and SIL.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:03 AM on September 25, 2015 [13 favorites]

Since they have so much going on, it is really on you to make an effort to connect. Speak with BOTH of them about wanting to connect and either invite them over, or ask for a suggestion of a place that they would like. If it seems difficult, you can ask if a very low key brief visit- with you bringing pastry or something would work better if they say getting out is a hassle.
Make an effort to get to know her, ask about her interests and such in an easy going way. Don't worry about the rest of the family or make it into a drama. Some people much prefer their own families and very often wives still do all the social planning so even if you ask him, it may not do any good. She may feel like she is the one to ask, as she knows their plans. She may just be stuck in a pattern where her family demands a lot of her time and it is what she is used to, but if you have a good time with them and don't sweat them with big expectations, you could have some good times.
That said, both my brothers are impossible because their wives do not have the band width or desire to see any of my family. The guys do not plan anything on their own, so I do not see them. Tired of begging them and being disappointed.
posted by TenaciousB at 11:04 AM on September 25, 2015

Honestly, there are so many people who either don't like being around other people except their spouse/SO, and so many people who don't really enjoy spending time with their extended family all that much, that it is highly likely that your brother and/or his wife fall into one or both of these categories.

Also, as someone with an aloof temperament myself, I realize that people take it really, REALLY personally when you don't fall all over yourself to ingratiate yourself with them. I would cut your SIL some slack there. Sure, she might be one of those people on AskMe who post stuff like, "People I don't even live with keep trying to talk to me or have food in my presence and have the gall to remain at my house 5 minutes past the deadline I set for their visits-- how do I get them to stop?" Or she might just generally be a rather quiet person who keeps to herself and your brother is like that as well.

It helps to realize that people have their own temperaments and ways they envision living their lives and that they will put their own peace of mind and comfort over the preferences of others.
posted by deanc at 11:05 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You guys accept her? Great. Do your family actually like her? Want to spend time with her that doesn't involve a baby or your Brother? Are they offering to help her with the new baby? Giving her energy or taking it by wanting to be entertained when they visit? Or is she just the price they have to pay to see your brother & the baby?

My MIL complains that I keep her son from her, if we don't make all the effort to call in & go & visit at least twice a week. She lives 10 minutes from us but has only been to visit us 2 in 5 years, and I'm the one avoiding her? Make sure to get both sides of the story before you get involved, then don't get involved. They are adults, suggest to your parents if they have a problem to talk to the people they have the problem with.

If you are concerned or really feel you have to get involved, talk to your brother but keep any confidences, don't become the middle man. Also don't assume all the avoiding of the family is because of the sister, we avoid my husbands family because he finds them tiring energy vampires & I quite like them.
posted by wwax at 11:07 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

One thing that may help your parents see them more is to plan things well in advance. I've got 2 young kids and a busy work schedule so my weekends are mapped out well in advance (including days when we are just staying home and nothing is going to stop us). My brother's family is very last minute. As a result I turn them down for stuff all the time because we already have plans. BUT we also try to make plans with them, but they aren't very good at committing to things beyond the immediately approaching weekend.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:15 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

The typical thing that happens is that the husband has never learnt to organise family stuff. Making sure he was integrated in family events was always done for him (usually by mom). He marries and expects family life to kind of happen to him, like it always did, without his input.
If his wife is sociable and likes the in laws she'll make sure they stay in touch. If she isn't, she drops the rope. Husband never reaches out on his own, and his days are filled with the people his wife wants to see.

Anyway, stop letting your family drive you nuts about this. Think about whether you personally want more contact with him and if yes make an effort. Ignore the gossip.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

It might be worth visiting the famous and illuminating Emotional Labor thread. It sounds like your side of the family is expecting SIL to do a lot of management of the relationship and no one is really pinning this responsibility on your brother.

Have your parents and family always been welcoming, helpful, and engaged with your brother and his wife? It sounds like maybe the relationship with your brother wasn't very close even before he married your SIL. As an example, when a good friend of mine married her husband, his family was kind and welcoming to her, though they were judgey about some some aspects of her choices and her family. Nothing dramatic or major, just letting it be known what they thought when they might have kept their mouths shut. They also didn't have much of an adult relationship with their son. They really stayed within the old roles they had when he was still a child. When the first grandchild came, they were falling over themselves to visit. But, they never had bothered to establish a more comfortable relationship with their son and daughter in law. So, when they came to visit, they expected to be treated like guests and expected the house to be in tip-top shape. They didn't bring food, didn't take care of themselves while there, didn't ask if they could help with things like endless laundry, etc. They just sat on the couch and waited to be presented with clean, happy baby while having their every need attended to. In contrast, her family actually helped with baby and took-up burdensome activities from the new parents and were supportive in ways that went beyond words. This was because they had already established a close and familial/informal relationship with the couple. Guess who got to visit baby more?

It's not surprising that she's closer to her own family of origin. Especially if they are quite supportive and a refuge for her and your brother. The best approach is probably to try to reestablish a deeper relationship with your brother and not be the one to drop your family's concerns at his doorstep. It doesn't sound like you are close and it takes time to build a close relationship. Start getting to know him better and building that relationship. All things will stem from that. Don't let your parents make this your problem.
posted by quince at 11:26 AM on September 25, 2015 [14 favorites]

I'll give another take. I moved into the same building with my husband and his family (they own the building). I was happy to do it (live in Italy!!) and everyone seemed really nice for a couple months.

Then, the criticisms started. My weight wasn't right; my behavior wasn't right; my housekeeping wasn't right; I was too noisy. No one came to me--they just said things to my husband. He had no problem passing those criticisms on.

So yeah, I started to get "distant" and "cold."

What have you told your brother about his wife? What have you said to a mutual family member that could have been passed on to him? Are you sure he hasn't told her everything? Really think about all the mundane stuff that you think he surely wouldn't tell her.

I don't know if this is the case, but I'm trying to possibly give SIL's side. And my in-laws think they're a bunch of saints.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 12:12 PM on September 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

So your sister in law has a close relationship with her family, and your half brother does not have a close relationship with your family?

Keep sister in law out of this, except bending over backwards to make things easier for her.

Pursue your brother by offering him things that he will enjoy and that will make his life easier.

Forget being offended or thinking someone is at fault.

You don't know your sister-in-law worth a darn, as her only connection with your family is through her husband. That means you are still in the courtship phase with her, not the take things for granted phase.

You mention that your brother is introverted and keeps to himself. That's all the reason you need for the distance. If you want to have a closer relationship with him you have to do the work. It's the extroverted person who has to reach out to the introverted person. He's not complaining that he doesn't see enough of you, so you have to make him want to see more of you.

Fortunately for you your half brother still wants to borrow tools. Next time he comes over to borrow tools follow him back to his house with the tools and hang out while helping him use them. Bring a pizza and feed your h-b and your sil, so they don't have to feed you. Put yourself into a position so they think of you as the invaluable person to call when moving a sofa or some sheets of plywood, or when he has the car and she needs to get to the pharmacy to buy infant Tylenol drops.

Phone them and offer them favours that won't inconvenience them. "There was a three for the price of one sale on peanut butter and I bought six jars, but so did Mom. I'm taking two of them to Uncle Moe. Can I swing by your house and drop off two free jars of peanut butter?"

Sister in law has become very aloof since buying the house? It may be that she feels she knows your family well enough not to half to be on best company manners in hostess mode when she sees them now. She may not have enough in common with your family to have anything to talk about. She may be so pie-eyed from sleepiness from the baby keeping her up that the only coherent phrase she can summon up is "duhr"

If you want to have a relationship with your nevvy, your sister-in-law or your half brother do not start blaming this on your sister-in-law. Do not turn it into a family drama. The ONLY way to interpret this is "We love you so much we miss you and want to see more of you."
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:30 PM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

You know, I've sort of been on their side. We moved, his family knew we were moving, not one single person offered to help us or expressed interest in seeing the house. When we had a baby and my family was 400 miles away, not a single member of his family asked "how can we help?"

When our kids started new schools after we moved, no one even asked them how they were doing.

They do, however, call us when they want help with something. Or when there's a birthday or baby shower our all-day attendance is expected - for an introvert like me I just can't deal.

And I've just gotten so tired of the one way street. Sometimes you have to give a little to get something in return. It sounds like they've been through a whole hell of a lot. Have you checked in to see how they are doing? Have you asked if you could babysit so they could have a night out together? Chances are they aren't angry or upset at you. Chances are they are just tired and they perceive you as indifferent and that makes them sad.
posted by Ostara at 2:57 PM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

First of all, this is none of your business. If you want a closer relationship with your brother, then you can reach out to him and make plans. It sounds from your post as if other family members complained to you, not that you miss your brother.

Second, this is really not mysterious. A working couple with a child has very limited time and energy for socializing, and none at all for socializing that isn't fun. If your family isn't truly awesome for your SIL to hang out with - not just "accepting," but actually simpatico and HELPFUL - this is key - then she isn't going to prioritize hanging out with your family over being with her own. It sounds like she doesn't have all that much in common with your family, and I'm guessing that as an introvert, she probably finds their presence draining.

If your family wants to see your brother and the kid more, then figure out a way to be helpful, not draining, to your SIL. Whoever above suggested picking up brother and baby for a morning in the park, allowing SIL a morning to herself, was spot on.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:41 PM on September 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think it's odd that a family with a less than 1 year old doesn't get out that much. Many people don't even go out with their young babies to help avoid colds and flus. Some of the tone of judgement from your other brother about how often they leave the house is odd to me.

I'd also guess that maybe her side of the family is 1) easier to be around and 2) possibly actually help more with the baby. When your side is around, do they help with the child? Do they judge if the house is messy? Or do they just go over to see the baby but not actually help?

And yeah, this is all so odd. Your whole question revolves around things other people have told you and gossiped to you. What do YOU think of her? Have you asked him if you can come visit? It seems like you have next to zero actual communication with your brother and SIL but are judging them and getting offended based on what other people are telling you. Just give him a call if you want to see him. If you don't want to see him, then you don't need to start a crusade against them for not hanging out with your side of the family. They're allowed to do that, ya know, especially if they don't feel as comfortable with your side of the family.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Be wary about how it looks when SIL is 'accepted' but once she has a baby all of a sudden everyone wants up in their business (while still barely 'accepting' SIL). Some families see daughter/sister in-laws as incubators - not wanting a proper relationship, adult-to-adult, just with the baaaaaaaaaby. That is hurtful, at its core, but it's also incredibly disrespectful to the parents.

My in-laws have always 'accepted' me too - have a look at my posts to see what 'acceptance' is like on my side of things. I've had everything from my previous partners to current parenting to mental illness to trauma commented on in really really hurtful ways. There's a reason I am aloof - some of it is because I am tired, I am an introvert, but also I've learned I have to be because otherwise I'm going to get hurt.

And yeah, stop expecting SIL to be the emotional beast of burden. You want a relationship with your brother? You do it. Your parents want relationships with him? They can do it. She's not the conduit here, and he's making his choices clear. You can reach out, but don't reach out by telling him he needs to do better/make her do better.

And for god's sake, please don't do the 'you spend so much time with her family' dramallama. Nothing did as much damage to my relationship with my in-laws as watching them be petty and mean and hurtful about the fact they decided I saw my family more than them. They were wrong, but also they're my family - if you want to organise more time with your family then do it (of course, they did so by making it impossible for any of us to see our families over Christmas because what's a good petty statement if you can't jab your perceived opponents). All in all it's lead to me spending less time with all of them because the infighting is ugly and it makes visiting with them tedious and boring (on top of the babying behaviour, the judgement, the overstaying, the noisiness, the arguments).
posted by geek anachronism at 5:43 PM on September 25, 2015 [15 favorites]

There can be tons of reasons why they're just not that into you and are into her family that everyone else has cited. I don't know enough about the situation to know which of them they are, but at least several of them sound plausible, especially the "now they're only interested because there's a baybeeeeee" stuff geek anachronism pointed out. Was your half-bro super close to the family before the marriage? Kinda doesn't sound like it though either. And as for "accepted," what does that mean? Is it more like tolerated? Didn't actively harass her or drive her out of the family? Put up with her accompanying your brother to things so that you could still see him? Put up with her as the baby's mother? It doesn't sound like she feels even a little bit comfortable around y'all either if people are complaining that she's "aloof." And why doesn't she talk? Gee, I dunno, what are people saying to her?

And they're adults, they don't HAVE to be super close to family just because family is there any more and wants to play with the baby. I'm about 80% sure they do not want to be with you at this point in time if there's so many excuses. It's probably a much nicer experience to be with hers than yours for them, and if you want them around, you need to make hanging out with you pleasurable for all three of them.

I come from "family" who tolerates me at best, so all of this is sounding pretty familiar to me. And it's even worse as an in-law (or "outlaw") because you definitely don't belong and most likely aren't wanted. You're not even family really. So there's a difficulty level marrying into families that aren't genuinely awesome and welcoming to all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:59 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

When women have kids they often feel more comfortable for quite a while with their family, especially the women in their family, than they do with inlaws. It's almost a primal thing--you want to be around your family, who you trust implicitly, when you're with your precious and delicate newborn. There are also practical issues. If you want to nurse, maybe you're not comfortable nursing in front of your in-laws. Maybe you're having incontinence after the baby and you don't quite feel comfortable because you smell like pee sometimes and you know your family will understand. It can suck for the father's family, of course.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:48 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

You and your family are being toxic and generating drama over nothing, and if this is normal behavior for you, it's probably what is driving your brother away. Put yourself in your SIL's shoes for a second. Imagine having an infant and being confronted with your partner's family-- grown ass men and women-- telling you they'd been stalking you on facebook and are upset to see photos of you with your family and this ridiculous "did they defriend me" drama. You and your extended family are acting like jealous highschoolers. If I was at the other end of this kind of fucked up monitoring, stalking, gossiping, and other entitled behavior, I wouldn't want to spend any time with the people dishing it out either. If you want to hang out more with your brother, talk to him. "Hey, I miss you, let's hang out." Don't come at him with a litany of facebook offenses, jesus christ.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:31 PM on September 25, 2015 [16 favorites]

Adults do not owe their adult relative friendship.
posted by hworth at 10:59 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

This could probably have been written by some of my family members about me. The reasons why we are like this are as follows:

1. In-laws are closer geographically, easier to get to and see (same city, only a couple of suburbs over).
2. In-laws are super-helpful and are always helping us out with the kids above and beyond.
3. No guilt trips from in-laws about how much or how little we see them.
3. We both work full time, and have 2 kids under 4 and it's sooooooooooooooo hard. I have virtually no free time any more. Literally.
4. My family members that feel like there's a rift expect to be treated like guests, expect us to pick them up and drop them off 90 minutes each way. They expect us to take our precious, precious annual leave, not working full time they don't understand how few holidays we get. They want us to take them to restaurants, to go out to shops etc. Our weekends are realistically 40-50% washing tiny tiny clothes, shopping, and vainly trying to clean our enfilthened house from toddler mess.
5. I am introverted, and prone to be a little anxious. It's critical for me that I relax on the weekends so I'm ready on Monday for my job. It's silly, but it's super important for me that Sunday nights are very, very chill. Some of my family neither understand or accept this, and they super don't accept that I would rather spend time either by myself (luxury!) or with my own nuclear family who I feel like I hardly get to see in settings where we can just be together, instead of rushing from one thing to another.
6. My family often want to talk, often deep and meaningful, I can't do that atm.
7. My family either don't remember, or I dunno just did it differently with two really young kids. They don't seem to get it. It's hard. I, we, find it hard. Enjoyable, but indisputably hard.

tl;dr We have almost no free time. In-laws make it easy, family makes it challenging.
posted by smoke at 1:08 AM on September 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

My husband and I are your bro and SIL, and this is how his parents feel about us. We had a baby last Sep, and moved in Nov. I really identify with a lot of the comments above. I'll add in a few data points though:
It's been nearly a year, and we still haven't finished unpacking - and it's just a small 2-bed apt (not a house!). I can't for the life of me carry on a proper conversation with the baby around - even happy and preoccupied my brain keeps checking on him. I am horribly, chronically, sleep deprived to boot - my memory is like a sieve. I have no idea what's going on in the world - I get to relax with a coffee and a newspaper exactly never. I'm introverted as well - spending time with people takes energy. Playing hostess to family members that don't respect boundaries and play weird games and don't *help* is just not happening anymore (check my post history!)
posted by jrobin276 at 1:15 AM on September 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Seriously what smoke says is so true. I am typing this on my phone in the dark while my kid nurses in his sleep. It's taken nearly half an hour because he wiggles or wants to swap boobs, etc. now he's dozing off, his latch is getting lazy and he's pinching my nipple and it *hurts*.... )
posted by jrobin276 at 1:20 AM on September 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

What everybody says about easy v hard.

I don't even have children but I live in another country. When I come back I have started to stay at my cousin's house as opposed to my aunt. My aunt is upset about this. What she doesn't get is that she is driving me to do this in a number of ways.

Firstly, she's making me sleep in the office on the most uncomfortable sofa bed, with bedding that makes you boil in your sleep even with an open window in winter when she has a perfectly nice spare bedroom. That spare bedroom is however permanently occupied/ready to be occupied, by her grandsons - who live ten minutes away and have perfectly nice rooms at their house…but they can't be told they are not staying for the 2-5 nights every six months I'm there. This may sound petty but I work a lot, I travel at massively antisocial hrs to see them and maximise time with them and sleep is really important and I miss out on a good chunk just due to travel times when I visit.

Secondly, everything is always really complicated. She wants to see me but I have to come up with something to do together. Bearing in mind that she's retired and I work 60+ hr weeks and take 8 hrs door to door to get to her house. If I don't come up with some kind of activity we sit around drinking coffee but we're not chatting and catching up - she sits there with her laptop whilst I watch tv or play with my iPad. And I can do that at home, after a good night's sleep without incurring significant travel expense.

Or she wants to treat me in some way but I have to come up with things I want to happen - I know none of the things that I really want to do are things she'll enjoy massively so I try to compromise. Or I'll come up with things we both should enjoy but I'm willing to spend money on them and she's not. This is not extravagantly expensive stuff, I'm talking about breaking up a shopping trip with a nice coffee somewhere or a nice inexpensive lunch. But she'd rather finish shopping and have a coffee/lunch at home because it's much better value but see above what happens at home. Whilst I have a good income I am not allowed, without much debate, to pay for such things because I'm one of the 'kids'…so, it's just not very relaxing.

Whereas my cousin will say - you're welcome to stay. You have the spare bedroom. Have anything you want in the house. On day x we've planned xx which you're welcome to join us in or not. What are you plans, great. So you're free on day z, how about we do zz? And she'll happily let me pay for stuff we both enjoy but aren't in her budget. Much easier, much more direct and much less faffing about in general.

I love my aunt dearly but with the best intentions in the world she doesn't make it very easy. And after a long working week, arriving someplace at 3am having just driven 100+ miles after an evening flight thus getting something like 4 hrs of sleep easy is what I want. And I actually want to sleep 4 hrs instead of tossing and turning because I am so uncomfortable. She'd be just as upset if not more if I stayed in a local hotel or was honest about what is making me stay at my cousins more often than not. So I can't win this one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:37 AM on September 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a shy woman and I never see my family because I don't like the low level drama and guilt trips. I'm sure my SOs in life get blamed in part--I have gone to SO family things when they kinda force me. It's just not worth spending your time with people you suspect don't like you much because you are quiet and never hold events of your own who then escalate to "SEE I knew she never liked us, that SNOB!" any time I don't participate well enough in whatever gathering.

Sounds like your family is prone to drama if they are trying to involve you, not sure it's your place to solve this but maybe understanding the "aloof" point of view will be helpful.
posted by shownomercy at 4:11 PM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

By the way, FB does stupid things all the time...don't import what FB does into your relationships...which you have done. FB once defriended all my relatives listed as cousins...wth? I actually like all of them. Not one gave me the evil eye.
posted by OhSusannah at 4:10 AM on October 4, 2015

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