Relationship bridge with older siblings
November 6, 2016 10:06 PM   Subscribe

I've always felt like the odd (wo)man out when it comes to my siblings. Past attempts to address this have not gone over well. We're all regionally co-located again and I'm upset by missing out on another meet up that I would have gleefully attended if invited. What can I do to change this situation?

My older brother and sister (J and H) are 5 and 4 years older than me. We have a younger brother (C) who is 8 years younger than me. Often J&H will get together solo. I would like to be included sometimes. They will also get together with C and I would always like to be included then.

I'm very close with C and we speak often, hang out less often than I'd like now that he's working full time and I have a child. H and I weren't close for a few years (when I realized she didn't quite reciprocate friendship with me and it was doing me harm to expect that) until I first became pregnant mid-2014. Since then she's made a point in seeing me more often and as frequently as once a week now that I have a child. J and I haven't been close and fought a lot as kids. We stopped living with our mom when I was 12 and I feel like our relationship never developed past that point. We do get along at family functions.

J and H have the same father figure. C and I each have separate dads. We all grew up with our mom until 97/98 when circumstances caused my sister to move in with a friend and me to live with my dad. For the most part my siblings and I have the same core childhood experiences.

10.5 years ago our mom died. She had always been the one to bring us together and make sure we were all included in each other's lives.

Fast forward some years, J is in the military and not easy to see frequently. He's been stationed locally for a few years at a time and his last stint in the area made me realize that I felt left out when he would do things with H that I would have also enjoyed. I tried to communicate a desire to be invited at times (more than never). This didn't go over well. As I was describing how upset it made me to be excluded H told me that it was selfish, rude, and immature to always expect to be involved with their plans (though I had specifically said that I would like to be included at times). As they have their own unique relationship and share a dad, I understand they are going to want to have their own time and activities. I don't want to intrude on that.

There are times that J and H will spend holidays with their dad and C will be invited. This hurts my feelings but I don't feel entitled to an invite from their dad. C has his own dad to spend holidays with too (and he does). My dad and his wife often prioritize non-family events so most of the hurt feelings at these occasions are from my dad not being available to me like I would like but it contributes to the overall status of my siblings/me relationship.

J is now stationed back in the area and is back from a short deployment. He and H met up with his wife and kids at a popular area attraction that's 3.5 miles away from where I live. I don't think telling them my feelings were hurt by this would be productive. I've considered telling J that it he and kids are in the city and want company, I would love to see them in the future (and give my son time with his cousins). I'd also like to develop a relationship with J outside of times large family functions bring us together.

It might be useful to add that the holidays are the hardest time of year for me and not feeling included makes it all feel worse (not having the sense of family and belonging physically hurts, like I'm my chest).

That brings me to:
1. I need validation or rebuttal that I'm not selfish, rude, and immature for wanting these things. I've always been told I am these things (by my sister at least) and I believe her.
2. How do I approach being involved with them more often? I do invite them to things (such as a theater event over the summer and my son's birthday next weekend) but I could reach out more to schedule things?
3. How do I try to develop a relationship with my brother after a 18 year pause? I don't think he knows me as an adult and people who know both of us say we're quite alike.
4. I've considered therapy to work through my baggage on this subject because I need it and it will not help matters to carry that all with me going forward. What type of specialty would be best?

I'm too caught up in my own hurt to really be objective on how to move forward. Please help me.
posted by toomanycurls to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Family dynamics are complicated. Family dynamics with multiple parental units are even more complicated. Family dynamics with multiple parents and geographic distances are even MORE difficult.

And, this isn't necessarily about you, if you can detach from the thought that it is "because of you" that these relationships aren't close, you'll be able to approach a solution without cognitive distortion that causes sadness and anger.

Yes, invite them to events, you only have control over the invitations you send out. You only have control over your willingness to include them in your life. It's not selfish or rude to want relationships with family, it's OK for you to strive for that type of family closeness.

As far as your brother that you haven't had much contact with, just move forward, include him, stay in touch. Keep in mind, however, that he may choose to not engage, but this isn't your issue, that's on him, and you don't need to internalize his choice as a rejection.

Therapy is never a bad idea, if you're looking to deal with these issues, I would recommend that you look for a therapist that does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)..
posted by HuronBob at 10:19 PM on November 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


One idea might be just to float spending the holidays together. It could be a simple text. "What are you up to for the holidays this year? If it works, we'd love to see you."
posted by samthemander at 11:14 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Framed like this, you post makes you sound needy.

Have a Sunday luncheon at your place, invite them all (including spouses/partners and children), be as gracious a host/ess as possible, and see how it goes.

Maybe you could become the rallying point of your family.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:18 AM on November 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


It sounds like maybe C is single with no kids and you have your own family, so this could be why he sometimes gets invited to holiday things and you don't. I know it hurts to be excluded. But regardless, all you can do is express a desire to spend more time together and then organize or host events and invite all of them. If you want to spend more time with them, you need to make it happen, and you'll need to do it often enough that you develop the relationship you want. Then hopefully they will reciprocate with invitations. That is not selfish, rude or immature. But if your tactic to gaining a better relationship with your siblings has been to ask for invitations, strongly hint or complain about wanting to be invited or openly being very upset when you aren't, that could be why your sister has said what you're doing is selfish/rude/immature. When you're told about something you were excluded from about all you can do is say "that sounded like loads of fun, would you guys be up for doing it again on x?" or some sort of similar proactive thing.
posted by Polychrome at 2:26 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are two separate problems here. One is that you feel alone and rejected over the holidays and would like to be more 'included' in the family gatherings, especially at this time of year. The other is that you and your older brother were never close and still are not close. It just so happens that due to complex parental and geographical set up the two re-enforce each other. There is probably a limit as to what you can achieve here because of the parental relationships but you can try.

Between becoming a parent and renewed geographical closeness you have excellent reasons to try to reconnect more with your older brother (and his family). But be realistic - there was probably a reason why you two were never very close other than age. You may never be close with this brother. But establishing some level of regular contact would probably be nice for the kids. How good is your relationship with your SIL? If you're going over the children angle you may want to start with her - joint outings with the kids?

The other thing is how you organise holidays in your wider family. And really unless you invite everybody to your house you don't get a say as to who spends time with each other. So as you establish/have established regular contact with your various siblings float the idea that you'd like to host everybody. If they say their father would be alone invite father as well. See how that goes. But yes, work your way up to the holidays via more low key family meals.

Also, are there any close friends who'd prefer to spend the holidays with you rather than non close relatives. If there's anybody like that I'd focus on that in the short-term.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:25 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I just want to say that I've been in your shoes and it sucks, and it is not fixable. My deepest suggestion is for you to develop stronger ties wherever they make sense in your life and stop with expecting things from your siblings that are beyond their responsibility. You seem to think that sharing a mom means they must be your friend. This is not true.

"For the most part my siblings and I have the same core childhood experiences."

This is definitely not true. Your older siblings do not share your childhood experiences. There are tons of studies about this so you don't have to take my word for it! You can look this up! Siblings often have wildly different experiences of the same time and place. You all have different fathers and there is a huge age gap. Trust me, you don't know what happened the way J does, just as an example.

Your calibrations about what happened and what you are due are completely off. Let this go as much as you can. You are not entirely estranged, but you will be if you keep this up. Accept they all have connections that don't include you and focus elsewhere. When you can be truly open and gracious, attempt to host your siblings. If you extended that invitation now, they will not be excited because you are coming from a place of jealousy. Therapy so you can learn to accept things like this that are beyond your control.

Work on yourself. Your siblings are a distraction.
posted by jbenben at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


My husband's been the recipient of the "you don't call me, how come you have good times with the other siblings?" complaints over the years and it's actually probably one of the big reasons he doesn't...every call feels like the other sibling is bringing a sense of entitlement to a particular relationship, and like it's never enough.

There's also the assumption that everyone else is having a great time...for a while we were close with my SIL, partly because she lived closer. But also because she had kids we were worried about. And also because she sometimes made the effort. But we weren't frolicking with her and it was annoying to have that cast as a great, exclusionary relationship.

I'd definitely do some inviting and see what happens. Keep it light rather than trying to create a Sibling Love.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:03 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it would be helpful to reframe this in your mind from "I want to be included in the bonds they have" to "I'd like to forge new bonds with them." This might help you focus less on feeling left out and them to feel less like you are trying to intrude on their relationships. Rather, you are seeking out something new that doesn't take from what they have. I'm not saying it will be easy, but it might help with how you approach this and how your approaches will be perceived.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:13 AM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also for #1 - I wouldn't say you're rude and it probably doesn't come from a selfish place, and I think it's very understandable that after so much family upheaval and loss you want that connection. But it is immature to expect that your siblings will supply it or that their attention is a cake to be divided in fair slices. I believe in family bonds but I don't believe relationships are...owed.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:28 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Focus on being the organizer. When you invite them to things, do they at least sometimes attend? Then you’re doing great! It also could make sense to try to schedule time one-on-one with J, so you get to know each other without as many other family dynamics coming into play.

Also, it might help to keep in mind that while you might live in an area where lots of people have very close relationships with their adult siblings, that’s not true for many of us. Your situation isn’t unusual and isn’t due to any of you behaving horribly or hating each other; it’s just how it goes sometimes.
posted by metasarah at 6:33 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I strongly disagree with the assumption that this is unequivocally unfixable. But I think it will take a lot of extra emotional labour on your part without expecting reciprocation, at least initially.

I think a great deal of long running family disputes exist because family members lose contact when children reach adulthood, and thus assessments of each other's personalities are based on who someone was when they were a teenager. Then every action of that person gets interpreted through that lens. Given that most of us were kind of shitty as teenagers, this doesn't exactly lead to positive interactions as adults.

It sounds like your siblings are regarding you and your actions from that viewpoint. I am guessing the fight about not feeling included did nothing to help matters. I think if you want to demonstrate that you're a different person then it takes spending time with them. And given that they assume you're unpleasant to be around, they're not going to spontaneously start inviting you to
events. This means you're going to have to do the inviting--and more frequently, without the expectation that they'll be reciprocating any time soon. Basically, you have to demonstrate to them that you're a different person now.

In an ideal world they'd give you the benefit of the doubt. But from their perspective they've known you your whole life and never got along. In their minds there's no reason for why they'd think that would suddenly change.

Perhaps it would be helpful to reframe this in your mind from "I want to be included in the bonds they have" to "I'd like to forge new bonds with them."

I think this is exactly the approach you need to take. This is a bit like making a new friends--only more difficult because the potential friend has already a lot of bad stuff about you.

Only you can decide if it's worth the effort. But aside from this approach I don't see another path to the relationship you want.
posted by schroedinger at 8:01 AM on November 7, 2016


Along with all the above, does one person act as the 'gatekeeper' for most invitations? Say if a parent says to sibling A, "let your siblings all know we're having a 4th of July party", and then that 'gatekeeper' only passes on the invitation to a select set of people?

I discovered that my own oldest sister was doing this; it resulted in my being estranged from my youngest sister for several years. Oldest sister flat-out lied about passing on invitations from one of us to the other; and since she'd also blocked addresses/contact info except through her, neither of us knew or could ask why the other didn't seem to want anything to do with them --- and why I'm more into 'ask them yourself directly, here's their contact info'.
posted by easily confused at 9:12 AM on November 7, 2016


1. I need validation or rebuttal that I'm not selfish, rude, and immature for wanting these things. I've always been told I am these things (by my sister at least) and I believe her.
Of course you aren't selfish, rude or immature for wanting a relationship with your older siblings. But I think the point your sister was trying to make is that its presumptuous to assume to be included out of the blue. Sometimes people expect others to do the hard work when forging relationships, or try to take advantage of work that's already been done. If you want a stronger relationship with J, you should seek him out directly.
2. How do I approach being involved with them more often? I do invite them to things (such as a theater event over the summer and my son's birthday next weekend) but I could reach out more to schedule things?
Yes, reach out! Something low key like a weekend breakfast or pizza during the week. It sounds like they do accept your invites so keep going.
3. How do I try to develop a relationship with my brother after a 18 year pause? I don't think he knows me as an adult and people who know both of us say we're quite alike.
See above. Something low-key. Invite him over for coffee.

I can't help you with the therapy question. But you should keep taking the initiative.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:54 AM on November 7, 2016


Your questions focus on the what you lack but reading the content, you already have a lot going for you. You have a close relationship with C. There have been some bumps, but you now have a good relationship with H. (In my family, seeing someone once a week is a lot! And you say she is now initiating some of that contact. Sound like a lot of repair has been done.)

At the same time, there are two important thing that you would like to improve - your relationship with J and being included in "family" gatherings, especially around the holidays.

I think you already have great plan - reaching out to J, letting him know you are interesting, encouraging the cousins to get to know each other and inviting him from time to time.

I think it is great that you are not just grumbling but actively and thoughtfully working to create the relationships that you want. Good for you!
posted by metahawk at 10:07 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also wanted to add that J may have issues with you that have more to do what happened to him and his family when your mother and father separated, mother met a new man (your father but an outsider for him) and had a new baby to take her time and attention away from him and his sister. Add in memories of all of those childhood years of fighting and it might be hard for him to see you as you really are today. Which is to say, don't give up and understand that his reactions are about a lot more than just you so be patient since this may be hard that you would think.
posted by metahawk at 10:12 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Invite J and his family to do things with your family if you want to spend time with him. He has kids, right? So think about things that would be fun for the families to do together. Zoo? BBQ dinner?

Understand that J and H doing stuff together isn't about excluding you. The logistics of expanding a two-family outing to be a three-family outing become exponentially more complicated and annoying -- and that's not even taking into account the social/emotional aspects. Don't worry about what they're doing without you, just work on forging a stronger bond with each of your siblings individually.

Additionally, see what opportunities you have to host family gatherings. Maybe Christmas is spoken for already, but you can start a new tradition of Easter dinner or a 4th of July BBQ or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:41 PM on November 7, 2016


Yes, absolutely invite them to your kid's bday.
You can't make people invite you to things. But you can invite them to things. Make it things that you want to do, that way if they refuse or bail at the last minute, then you'll at least have plans for something you wanted to do anyway.

And, as other have pointed out, when you do see them, do not point out that you are hurt for not being invited to events. Don't even mention those events. You don't want them to feel awkward or guilty because that will make them less likely to want to spend time with you. It's counter-intuitive. But you just can't guilt people into wanting things.
posted by Neekee at 2:46 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Others have suggested low key invites. For example, every couple of weeks, send a text along the lines of, "I made this great coffee-swirl cake! Want to stop by and try some tomorrow?"
posted by Neekee at 3:02 PM on November 7, 2016


I'm sorry that you don't have the family relations you want. For what it's worth, you are not alone.

1. I need validation or rebuttal that I'm not selfish, rude, and immature for wanting these things. I've always been told I am these things (by my sister at least) and I believe her.

It is not selfish, rude, or immature for wanting these things. However, your wanting them does not make them true, and your sister's response tells me that she does not want the same things. You cannot force these things on people. She does not view you the same way you view her. Badgering her about it will not change this.

2. How do I approach being involved with them more often? I do invite them to things (such as a theater event over the summer and my son's birthday next weekend) but I could reach out more to schedule things?

Yes, do the inviting, as long as you can do it without resentment and you can handle them declining those invites with grace.

3. How do I try to develop a relationship with my brother after a 18 year pause? I don't think he knows me as an adult and people who know both of us say we're quite alike.

Call him up and say "Brother, I like you and wish we were closer. How do you feel about that? What do you think we could do?"

4. I've considered therapy to work through my baggage on this subject because I need it and it will not help matters to carry that all with me going forward. What type of specialty would be best?

It sounds like your upbringing was a bit chaotic. Someone who focuses on past childhood trauma may be helpful. Some questions you may want to consider include "Do I like these people? If they weren't family, would I want them in my life? What does my ideal relationship with them look like? Is this realistic or desirable given what I know about them?"

I really do empathize, because I wish I were closer to my siblings too. We're all "full" siblings, but our childhood was complicated and we're not all in a place where being close feels safe and comfortable for everyone. I understand this, and accept it, and they know that the door is always open, but I'm going to take their cues in terms of how much contact they can handle, because forcing it does nothing good. Accepting this fact has made my life much better.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:22 PM on November 7, 2016


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