How can I best try to reconcile my estranged sister with the family?
January 10, 2017 2:11 AM   Subscribe

My sister is estranged from my parents and me. It’s been about 5 years since she’s been in touch with everyone, initially estranging herself from my mother, then my father. For about a year after that she was still in touch with me, but ceased contact when I refused a request I saw as an attempt to make me ‘take her side’ against our mother.

(Apologies for what is a long post.)

The rift is mainly based on her having a very difficult relationship with my mother. My parents (both, but especially my mother) were often very critical, undermining and domineering. This was exacerbated because in our family emotional issues were invariably pushed under the carpet and not dealt with: in particular, both my parents and my sister have always essentially refused to acknowledge when their words or actions have been hurtful or harmful to other people, instead either denying that this “should” be the case (even when obviously in the wrong), or painting themselves as the victim. This meant that nothing was ever really dealt with and the relationships gradually deteriorated.

My sister also has a history of depression which may have made things worse. Her view of my mother had descended very badly and in one of our last conversations she was convinced that our mother “hated” her, which I know is untrue.

My mother is very upset by the rift and still tries to contact my sister (they found out where she worked at some point and have tried to contact her there). My father is upset as well but has decided my sister won’t now get back in touch and blames her for everything.

Since the estrangement, my sister’s line when she did communicate was always “I’m not ready to get back in touch yet”, which held out the possibility of reconciliation. However, she has a pattern of cutting off relationships dead - over time she’s seemingly permanently fallen out with most of her friends from when she was younger - so I’m not hopeful that she’ll be back in touch. Furthermore, several times I’ve tried to talk to my parents about the ways that they acted and communicated that exacerbated the situation, often in the context of trying to explain how they sometimes made me feel, but they still refuse to acknowledge any fault - my father gets extremely defensive, and my mother is mostly in denial and believes they did not have a difficult relationship or argue often, which is untrue. (When she was in touch, my sister was no better at this.)

For my part, I understand where my sister is coming from - I also had a difficult relationship with both of them and especially our mother, which is improved now but far from perfect - but she herself is a difficult person and I’m angry at how she’s dealt with the situation. I'd like to have her back and for us all to reconcile, but I don't know if it's possible.

I’m getting married at the end of this year, and we would like to use this as a basis for attempting a reconciliation. My mother found this Salvation Army Family Tracing Service and wanted to use it. I convinced her that if we were going to try something like this, it would be better coming from me and my fiancée as we had the least charged relationship with her.

I will try something like the Salvation Army service (though we’re not a religious family and I wonder if another service might be more appropriate - possibly Relate Family Counselling). Can you recommend other services, or approaches that have worked for you or people you know? Is there anything else I can do?

I realise at the end of the day this is not something I can make happen if all parties are not willing, but I also feel that the wedding is probably the best basis we’ll have for at least attempting a reconciliation (my sister got on fine with my fiancée, though they weren't close). Given that we’ve heard nothing from her in so long I feel like this is maybe a last shot, and that it’s my responsibility to try.

So - I guess - what should I do? Is this the right approach? Is this hopeless? Any advice or information would be very much appreciated. Throwaway email is Thanks for reading.


More details in case they’re relevant:

I’m male, a couple of years older than my sister. We don’t have an address or phone number for her (or if we do she doesn’t reply), but my fiancée still has her on Facebook (we think she hasn’t realised). The workplace my parents had tried to contact her at has now shut down. She lives in London, we and my parents live in Scotland.

During the year that my sister was only in touch with me I didn’t push her to reconcile. Part of the problem was that the whole thing initially started as a relatively polite request from my sister that my parents not contact her for a while. They repeatedly ignored this request (they have always run roughshod over expressed feelings) which exacerbated the situation, so I tried to maintain a friendly and low-pressure relationship with my sister so that contact was not cut off, in the hope that she would eventually feel ready to get back in touch. This didn’t work, obviously.

My father was also estranged from his own mother, and I've wondered if this might have had an effect on how my sister sees things.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Leave your sister alone.

Your sister wants nothing to do with her parents. Even if you didn't agree with her reasoning, she is an adult and you should respect her decision. But you do agree with her - they have been and continue to be horrible to her. She has made a difficult choice that demonstrates strength and resilience.

If you have any respect for her at all you will leave her alone.

Your betrayal of your sister is its own issue. You seem to think that her rejecting you is merely an extension of her rejecting her parents. It is much more than that = she thought you were maintaining a relationship with her because you wanted a relationship with her, but after a year of that farce she realized the only thing you wanted from her was for her to have a relationship with your parents. You weren't interested in her at all. You are only interested in keeping the peace with your parents, regardless of her entirely legitimate feelings and decisions on the matter. Even this question has nothing to do with your sister, it has to do with the appearance of family unity that you want at your wedding.

Leave your sister alone. Do not track her down. Do not contact her at work. Do not line up some intervention-type "counseling" service to ambush her into a reconciliation. Unless you are reaching out to her to sincerely apologize for your own betrayal, with no ulterior motives whatsoever and no expectations with regard to her response, leave her be.
posted by headnsouth at 2:46 AM on January 10, 2017 [125 favorites]

Tying this to your wedding sounds like the makings of a real disaster. The wedding is about you and your fiancee, so dragging in a family reconciliation where everyone is walking on eggshells around your sister seems like a very bad idea. Your fiancee's side of the wedding will end up as the peanut gallery, and your parents will probably be mortified at the family linen being washed in public.

Leave the whole situation be until after the wedding, and then you can make a quiet, gentle attempt at getting in touch, making it clear that you now have an independent family of your own, and can be in contact quite independently of your relationship with your parents.
posted by Azara at 2:59 AM on January 10, 2017 [19 favorites]

My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder. Luckily I have an amazing dad but my childhood was anything but stable. I stopped speaking to her when I was 17. She kept sending me gifts. She found out where I worked and showed up. (Sound familiar to them contacting her work?) I hid in the back room and had a panic attack, tears streaming down my face, and nearly called the police because she refused to leave.

If she ever shows up anywhere my first action will be to call 911.

Her sisters (my aunts) routinely told her any information they got from me. I couldn't stand it. I stopped talking to them. One specifically will continue to reach out and guilt me. She asked for my address and immediately gave it to another sister. I want nothing to do with them because the situation is too toxic. It's unfortunately a "guilt by association" instance because they are going to put each other's feelings first rather than mine.

Presumably this wedding you'd invite her to would have your parents? Why would that be a basis for reconciliation? You don't even have her phone number. So why would she want to attend a family event?

AND, in order to contact her you'd basically use a private detective service? AND it's basically at the behest of your mother? The one person she doesn't want to talk with?

To be blunt, if someone from my mother's side of the family used a tactic like that to track me down I would file a police report and no longer feel safe. If I found out that person did it at the request of my mother I would be furious.

She has purposefully left you out of your life. I'm sorry if this hurts you, but your hurt doesn't mean you get to hurt her worse. If she wants to contact you, she knows how to find you, I'm sure.

Leave this woman alone.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:04 AM on January 10, 2017 [63 favorites]

Please read the posts made by people with difficult parents, or families posted asking if they should cut off contact with family. Then think about your sister's current situation. Nothing has changed in your mother's behaviour. Your sister, who may already still be depressed, does not need people telling her she has to be back in contact with someone overbearing. Please, leave your sister alone, until you can accept her decisions like a grown up.
posted by kellyblah at 3:17 AM on January 10, 2017 [19 favorites]

You should not do this, for your sister's sake. If you feel that you must, then you absolutely should not tie it in with your wedding, an event where emotions will be high and where your sister will be forced to deal with reconciling with both you and your parents all at once. Your least-bad option is probably reaching out to your sister yourself, making the overture as low pressure as you can, and leaving your parents out of it entirely.

This could almost be a gender-swapped post about my partner and his terrible estranged parents and his fraught relationships with his siblings, which have been possibly permanently damaged by their parents.

In his case, we did go to the wedding. It was good to see the siblings. It was also immensely stressful, ended with the bride's family basically rescuing us from the terrible parents in a way that we will be eternally grateful for but that probably deepened the split between the bride and groom's families, and within two months, my partner's mental health had deteriorated so badly as a result of the experience that he was in the hospital. We will never speak to his parents again; any hope for eventual reconciliation that might have existed prior to that wedding is gone now.

Do not do not do not do this in the way you're thinking about doing it.
posted by Stacey at 3:39 AM on January 10, 2017 [18 favorites]

You are getting kind of piled on here, but wow is this a bad idea for all the wrong reasons. It sounds like your sister made a great choice that is healthy for her in estranging her self from your mother and then father. You haven't said much about the context why she is estranged from you, but that would be the only thing remotely worth interrogating in terms of your reaching out to her completely independently of the rest of your family, and it doesn't exactly sound like you are really ready to approach that with the foundation of respect your sister would deserve.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:41 AM on January 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

both my parents and my sister have always essentially refused to acknowledge when their words or actions have been hurtful or harmful to other people

How are you doing on this count?

Regarding your sister, do you realize she was a child? You can't hold a child to the same standards of mature behavior as adults. You yourself start right off by saying that your sister, now that she's an adult, has taken several steps to politely set boundaries, and you all – you included – keep crossing them. It is normal to get angry when that happens. Have you acknowledged your part in that? (you don't in your question) Hint: if you didn't counsel your parents against stalking her at work, she probably saw you as condoning it.

As someone who also did her best to try and set boundaries, and eventually had to cut off my parents, who have then continually tried to stalk me, for the love of [deity] lay off. If you want her to respect you, then respect her wishes.

I too am shocked that your telling of this story says nothing about your sister as a person, other than as an object in conflict with your parents. It brings up exactly my feelings regarding my own family, who always treated me as either The Reason Everything Is Wrong, Just Stop Arguing Fraula, They're Only Neglecting, Abusing And Blaming You, or The One Person Who Can Heal Our Family But She's Mean Because We Say So, How Can We Make Her Be Nice To Us.

She's a human being. Would you talk about a cherished friend this way? Now you likely won't like my last bit at all, but if you genuinely mean what you say about acknowledging when words/actions are hurtful: you are reminding me of my own brother, who sat back and watched me be treated like crap, then blamed me for saying "stop treating me like crap" because "crap" apparently was too judgemental for abusive behavior and only made me deserve abusive behavior. When I eventually cut off our parents, he blamed me for "making the family complicated." Y'know part of why I cut off contact with him? Because he kept saying he didn't want a complicated family, and I was the one making it complicated. Well, removing myself should have solved all his problems.
posted by fraula at 4:51 AM on January 10, 2017 [50 favorites]

I agree with the thrust of the comments here, and I think it's also worth pointing out that the way same-gender and different-gender children get parented can be huge, especially when there's a ton of other not-ideal stuff going on. I've seen a lot of families where the mother-son relationship was functional with some acknowledgement from the son that the mom had issues, while the mother-daughter relationship was 100% burned down to the ground we don't talk non-functional. Even though everyone grew up in the same household and got raised by the same people.

You're a dude, your sister's a woman, and you already admit that your mother was a difficult parent in some ways - it's possible that your sister got a lot worse than you got (and a lot worse than you saw) because raising a girl hit different triggers in your mom to raising a boy. My old therapist was very fond of saying that no two children in the same family get the exact same parenting experience (different ages, parents have different levels of stress/different ways of dealing with their stress depending on what else is going on in their lives etc.). This can cause sibling rifts when you're older and e.g. one sibling believes there was emotional abuse going on at home while another (who got a different, often more positive parenting experience) denies this and refuses to validate their sibling's feelings, either because they don't want to admit that worse stuff than what they saw was going on or because they just didn't experience that themselves.

You've already gone as far as validating that some of the stuff your sister had an issue with was bad, and that's an important step. The next best things to do would be honouring her wishes (i.e. validating her entire experience of your parents and the way she's chosen to deal with it, not just some of the bad stuff whilst also working to undermine the healthy choices she's made as an adult), and reframing your own relationship with your parents (i.e. you can have whatever relationship you choose with them and it's not contingent on reuniting your sister with them in any way).
posted by terretu at 4:51 AM on January 10, 2017 [42 favorites]

By all means, invite her to your wedding via Facebook, but the considerate thing to do would be to make sure she can do so with minimal contact with your parents (consider e.g. your seating arrangements, planned activities outside the ceremony, etc.). But in your family situation, any interpersonal interventions sound like a recipe for much emotional pain, and IMHO, boundary-pushing from your part.

To sum up how you describe your parents and their interactions with her:

- My parents (both, but especially my mother) were often very critical, undermining and domineering.
- they found out where she worked at some point and have tried to contact her there
- they still refuse to acknowledge any fault
- they repeatedly ignored this request (they have always run roughshod over expressed feelings)

This kind of poor treatment is a valid reason to cut off contact for the sake of one's own well-being. Your sister has done nothing wrong (and you may want to examine how your parents' ongoing vilification of her has coloured your own opinion and interactions with her). And then there's this:

My sister also has a history of depression which may have made things worse.

Consider the possibility that your parents' behaviour has been a major contributor to her depression, and any contact with them may exacerbate it.

You have stated that all attempts to change your parents' thinking and behaviour have been unsuccessful. I assume you hope your sister would be the one to bend, forgive and compromise, in order to re-establish contact. I find that really unreasonable.
posted by sively at 5:05 AM on January 10, 2017 [21 favorites]

If you did this to me I would file a restraining order. That wouldn't help with the way you'd have completely trashed my health by ignoring all my boundaries for the sake of your own convenience, but since hiring a hit squad is illegal (though private stalkers are not!), it would have to do.

This is monstrous. Leave her alone.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:15 AM on January 10, 2017 [30 favorites]

Were you the peacemaker in your family as a child too?

The responsibility to fix this is not on you, even if your parents are pressuring you to do it, or if you imagine yourself in the rescuer role.

But also, you don't get to do this. You don't get to push her, and you can be angry at her but that's your problem to solve, not hers. Being angry at people for taking care of themselves is something for you to work on.

You are describing a really toxic family situation and your own active participation in that toxicity with a seemingly huge blind spot to the actual dynamics going on here, and then casting your fiancee as some kind of new recruit to continue the cycle. This does not make for much of a hopeful future for your own new family, and you might redirect all this energy you want to expend on your sister inward and get some coaching on perspective and healthy family relationships before you have kids of your own that are going to get pulled into this cycle.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:44 AM on January 10, 2017 [26 favorites]

* Your sister cut off your mother, for what sounds like perfectly sensible reasons. She continues to want no contact with your mother, which is entirely her choice --- not yours, not your mother's.
* Your sister went on to cut off your father, after first trying to maintain contact with him but not your mother.... why? True, you say Father is also difficult, but did maintaining contact with him give your mother a way to intrude on your sister's clearly-stated desire to have no contact with your mother?
* Finally your sister cut off contact with you.... again, why? Did maintaining contact with you still give your mother a way to intrude on your sister? Were you acting as some sort of conduit and passing information about your sister to your mother?
* Your mother still, to this day, continues to harass and --- let's call it what it is --- stalks your sister, no matter how clear your sister has been about wanting zero contact with her. Tracking her at work? Wanting to put detectives on her trail? That's stalking, plain and simple.

You yourself describe your parents as "very critical, undermining and domineering", as well as being unwilling to listen to or accept other people's opinions and viewpoints. Your father seems to have at least accepted the situation, but your mother is fighting to regain control of your sister (it's not love that motivates your mom, it's loss of power: 'her property' escaped). Leave your sister alone, as she very clearly told you she wanted. Stop trying to diagnose her, stop helping your mother stalk her, just let her be.

Think about this: you wrote that "My mother is very upset by the rift" --- well dammit, her own behavior caused that rift, and why in the world would making your domineering mother happy outweigh your sister's desire to have nothing to do with a person who made her life hell on earth? And why do you think you have a right to override your sister's wish to have no contact with her family?
posted by easily confused at 5:49 AM on January 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

For my part, I understand where my sister is coming from - I also had a difficult relationship with both of them and especially our mother, which is improved now but far from perfect - but she herself is a difficult person and I’m angry at how she’s dealt with the situation. I'd like to have her back and for us all to reconcile, but I don't know if it's possible.

Here is a magical wondrous thing I have learned about navigating adult relationships: You cannot make another person think, feel, say, or want (TFSW) anything. Period. Your reactions to what you would LIKE them to think, feel, say, or want are totally up to you. If YOU are angry, if YOU would like to have her back, those are emotions you are in charge of. They have absolutely no bearing on whether or not she will eventually TFSW any of the things you want her to.

You may think that sounds hopeless and depressing, but it sets you free. Your mother's sadness is her problem. Your sister's choices and unresolved relationships are her problem. The only things you can change are YOUR relationship with your sister, and dealing with your own feelings. You've already seen that trying to make your parents TFSW something different about the estrangement hasn't worked.

Some other questions to consider:
*Why do you think a reconciliation will be at all positive for your sister when you know your parents still aren't willing to admit any fault? Remember, just because YOU think it'd be good for them to reconcile... you can't make her TFSW the things you do.

*If you say your mother was undermining and domineering, how do you justify your actions to force a reconciliation as not the same behavior, and -- even if you think your behavior is justified -- why do you expect a different reaction from your sister besides further estranging herself?
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:59 AM on January 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have a lot of insight into this whole situation-- right up to the point where you are angry with your sister for how she's handled it. That part just doesn't compute, to me. But otherwise, you are ahead of a lot of people in these kinds of families because you have not bought into some idea that the family dysfunction was all her fault. The fact that you can understand so well where she is coming from suggests to me that you could have a relationship, the two of you, down the road. You would just have to give up on the idea of brokering a reconciliation with your parents, and of controlling her attitude towards your parents.

I've been able to have relationships with my siblings despite largely playing the role of your sister in my family. That's thanks to a lot of effort on all sides. One day, my sister called and said she'd just been looking at family photos and realized I was a little kid when all the bad stuff happened and that her attitude had shifted in that moment. Having someone validate my experience in that way was amazing and has basically ensured my relationship with my sister even though communication has been far from perfect.
posted by BibiRose at 6:32 AM on January 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

It's really sad that instead of this being about wanting her at your wedding, your wedding is only a tool for your mother's goal. Seriously think about that.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:32 AM on January 10, 2017 [57 favorites]

I’m getting married at the end of this year, and we would like to use this as a basis for attempting a reconciliation. My mother found this Salvation Army Family Tracing Service and wanted to use it. I convinced her that if we were going to try something like this, it would be better coming from me and my fiancée as we had the least charged relationship with her.

I was brushing my teeth when I was reading your question and I got to this part and promptly spat toothpaste everywhere as an involuntary "DUDE NO" came flying out of my mouth.

I am sorry that your sister's estrangement is so distressing, but you cannot fix it. You especially cannot fix it by using a third party to stalk her - that is not "reconciliation," which is something she is the one who gets to initiate, in her own time, if she wishes.

She is allowed to be a difficult person and not be in touch with anyone in her family; you cannot fix that. You are allowed to be angry and sad: but those are your emotions to manage, and it's not on her to fix that.

She is allowed to have contributed in some way to the less than ideal relationship with her mother, and still not be in touch. You cannot fix that.

Leave her alone.
posted by rtha at 6:36 AM on January 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

Has she asked you not to contact her? If so, don't.

If she has not asked you to not contact her, then get in touch via Facebook, apologize for sticking your nose into the issues between her and your parents, and let her know that you would like a relationship with her at whatever level she would accept... whether that means going out to lunch together once a week or accepting a birthday card from you once a year.

If she doesn't respond, back off.

If she does respond, stick to the boundaries she draws, and avoid discussing anything to do with your parents unless she wants to. Do not consider your mother's hurt your problem. Enjoy rebuilding a relationship with your sister, in whatever tiny steps that takes.
posted by metasarah at 6:46 AM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your sister knows where your parents are. If she wants to open communication, she knows how to do that. Apparently, she does not.

The idea to reconcile over your wedding is the worst idea ever. It will do nothing but add drama to an already stressful event.

Please leave her alone.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:48 AM on January 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

In addition to the advice above, consider that your future partner wants a happy, joyous wedding. A reconciliation of a volatile family is not happy or joyous in any way. Your wedding is about your future with your partner, and one way you celebrate that is by leaving these old family arguments behind you.
I went to therapy for several months before my wedding to get help for dealing with some drama in my family of origin. It helped me handle my family and focus on my partner and I really recommend it.
posted by areaperson at 6:49 AM on January 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Do not use an investigation to go stalking your sister.

Do make yourself easily findable by her.
Can you be found by a quick google? (Be sure to try incognito).

Do you, personally, want a relationship with your sister? Are you willing to support her in that she does not want contact with your parents, and that you won't pass any information she gives you on to them? Ever, for the rest of their/her lives if necessary? Can you respect that she doesn't now want, and may not ever want, contact with them again, and that as long as that's true trying to convince her otherwise is not just doomed to fail, it's also pretty rude? If not , leave her alone.

Your fiancée should probably unfriend your sister- using a possible error as a means of spying on her is not cool.

The only attempt at contact I would make is for your fiancée to post an announcement about the wedding that includes contact information, just to her (your fiancée 's) general facebook page, before she unfriends your sister. That way, you aren't contacting your sister, but you are increasing the odds that she knows you're getting married and how to find you. No, isn't a failsafe, no, your sister won't see it if she has blocked your fiancée, yes you just have to accept that.

Then, if she doesn't find you of her own volition, it's time to let her be.
posted by nat at 7:00 AM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

your dad is a master of window-shifting in that you say he blames your sister for everything, your mom won't admit there's anything to blame anybody for, and you are being the Solomonic wise compromiser in blaming both female relatives equally. meanwhile nobody seems to be blaming your dad for much, including most everybody here.

there is a drippy therapy term called the "identified patient," which is what your sister seems to have said Fuck that to being. now that she's gone, it's your mom who is clearly the worst, which is probably why she's so desperate to get the original scapegoat back. but your parents sound equally awful.

anyway, you could have probably kept a relationship with your sister if you had promised not to pass on any confidences to your parents, but that ship has sailed and besides, you don't even sound willing to do that now. Refusing to take sides doesn't actually seem all that healthy to me. sometimes somebody is really wrong.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:00 AM on January 10, 2017 [41 favorites]

I'm estranged from my mother and father, to the extent that they're blocked on my phone and email. My sister and I don't talk, but if she were in an emergency situation and tried to contact me for help, she'd be able to get me and I'd be there for her. This is only true because she 1) has occasionally run interference in the past (our mother wanted to show up on my doorstep as a birthday surprise and my sister convinced her that was A Bad Idea) and 2) she doesn't try to convince me to make nice. Our mother is unhappy with the lack of a relationship with me, and has been aggressive about it in some of the ways you are describing here -- tracking me down at work, finding people around me and bullying them into delivering messages to me -- but my sister hasn't done anything to put herself in the middle. If she did, I'd cut ties with her as well, faster than you can say "fuck all y'all."

If you want to have any kind of relationship with your sister moving forward, do NOT try to track her down. Use whatever contact information you have (if any) to let her know you're getting married. Tell her you'd love to see her and that she's welcome, but that you understand why that might be impossible. Then leave her alone.
posted by zebra at 7:01 AM on January 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I am your sister. I also have a brother still in touch with our abusive (bdp?) mother and painfully neglectful father. My brother did not experience the brunt of the abuse like I did. He was also a bit of the peacemaker, though with his own gripes and challenges from our upbringing.

I am now 46 and happily married with a child, probably because I am 100% estranged from my entire family now, and have been for about a decade.

Do you want to know when the depression and struggle left my life? When all contact with my family finally ceased and faded away. Sure I have to do therapy and self-work, but the depression caused by years of abuse and neglect evaporated with those relationships.

Wanting to get the band back together so everything looks rosy for your wedding is a violation of your sister's human rights. Tracking her down will cause an acute physical and emotional crisis in her life. She's an adult and gets to choose which relationships to maintain in life! Whatever trauma she has been through is significant and you genuinely don't seem to understand. Probably because your upbringing was geared towards normalizing abuse.

Trust me, your sister is not estranged because she's stubborn. I guarantee you are missing significant aspects of what's happened. Your narrative is textbook for a family culture that minimizes abuse. Along with the comments in this thread, I suggest you see a psychologist to deconstruct the situation for you. I'm completely serious. I could go line by line through this question and tag it back to dynamics that have been studied and catalogued by academics and doctors. That's how common your family experiences are.

Finally, I might also file a restraining order in your sister's shoes. Don't hire anyone to intrude on her autonomy and safety. Shame on you for considering such a thing.

If you and your parents can not genuinely apologize and make amends (they can't, and you can not apologize on their behalf) then you need to mourn and let this relationship go.

Since you are getting married, consider therapy and couples counseling. You want the best chance at marital succeess, develop the tools you did not get growing up. Don't be afraid to do this work, your marriage depends on it. Good luck moving through these challenges. It'll be OK if you work on yourself a bit. We're all a work in progress, give your potential future children a better chance than you and your sister had. Best.
posted by jbenben at 7:04 AM on January 10, 2017 [34 favorites]

Also, queenofbithynia has totally nailed your father's dynamic.
posted by jbenben at 7:09 AM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Update from the anonymous OP:
I appreciate everyone replying here. I hear you and clearly this is a bad idea. It hasn’t been easy to read and I appreciate those of you who have tried to see things from my perspective. Let me respond to a couple of things:

I have always told my parents to stop attempting to contact her once requested, then and now. I wasn’t ever asked not to make contact, I just stopped hearing from her. I haven’t continued to try to make contact with her once I realised she didn’t want that, though of course I hoped she would be back in touch.

I was probably stupid to say I was angry. I’m worried about her, and I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents when she knows I’ve been through the same thing. We were in touch until my sister (presumably as an attempt at reconciliation) texted me at very short notice to let me know she would come for Christmas but that she had a list of demands about how it would go, which added up to me being asked to create an extremely confrontational situation on Christmas Day. I told her I didn’t feel that was fair, that she was asking me to make this about us both attacking our mother rather than anyone sitting down and talking to each other, and that I was annoyed that she had dropped this on me in a text message. I probably handled this badly, but for her to have immediately cut off all contact - yes, I do feel hurt. But yes, her decision to be out of contact is completely up to her.

I am fully aware of how harmful my parents were - I live with this every day. I’m not taking their side remotely, I just still care about them because they’re my parents, just like I care about my sister. (To the person who wrote that attempting to stay in touch with my sister was a “farce” and a “betrayal” and for the sake of the appearance of family unity: no. Just no.)

I shouldn’t have posted that link, I see why people are describing it as a detective service. No, I don’t want to ambush her or force a reconciliation. I thought a single communication asking if she’d be open to some kind of family counselling would have been valid, but I see the consensus is that this is too far. I'll consider what some of you have said about whether there's a way to re-establish a relationship with her just myself. I appreciate all your responses.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:14 AM on January 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

If you, personally, want to try to mend fences with your sister you should - maybe - reach out to her once and leave the ball in her court if she wants to respond. But, honestly, this should only happen after you acknowledge to yourself your role in trying to force a relationship between her and your parents. Therapy, for you, might be a good way to do this.

Do not, however, try to rope your sister into your toxic family abuse. Your parents are abusive. Your sister left it behind, which is a huge step towards moving on from their abuse. Do not mention your parents. Do not tell your parents where she is, where she works, or ever tell them you talked to her (if you eventually do). If they ask, tell them you don't know and to respect her privacy and agency.

Do not hire anyone to track her down, good god.
posted by lydhre at 7:17 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

To add, I do understand that your concern for her comes from a good place and do think that you should try to reach out to her, alone, and let her know you'd welcome a reconciliation. But do try to acknowledge how oppressive your parents feel to her even through a relationship with you.
posted by lydhre at 7:20 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

There is a term for what you're doing to your sister that is popular among communities of people raised by narcissists: being a "Flying Monkey." It means you're intruding into someone else's relationship because you think you know better than they do how they should feel.

This is dysfunctional and you need to stop doing this.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:31 AM on January 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd like to have her back and for us all to reconcile, but I don't know if it's possible.

If it happens, it should

- come from your sister and be at her pace
- not be tied in to the wedding at all
- be a fully revocable thing if it doesn't work

Crappy parents do this thing where they basically dump the responsibility for mending rifts on everyone else. It seems like you feel like this is something that is your responsibility to do FOR THEM. I get how you'd like to have the whole family together, and you're welcome to feel that way but at the point at which your desires overlap with other desires (i.e. your sister's desire to stay away from your parents) then you need to look long and hard at why you want a thing for your sister that she does not want for herself. And maybe unpack that a little.

If your parents aren't going to work on this, there is literally no reason why your sister should. People say that counseling doesn't work when one party has been abusive because the counseling winds up being another trajectory for control and abuse. I don't know that the specifics are of your bad family situation but it sounds emotionally abusive and you might want to consider that your idea of you all going to counseling and that helping may be the opposite of what would likely happen.

I'm sorry I know wedding-times can trigger feelings of "I wish I had a real family" but I'd focus more on your chosen family and maybe thinking about building up a no strings relationship with your sister. Leave whatever your parents want completely out of it. And realize you can still support your sister and validate her feelings about your parents even if you don't want to go all out and side with her against them.
posted by jessamyn at 7:31 AM on January 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents when she knows I’ve been through the same thing.

Your parents are stalking her, and she knows that if she's in contact with you, you will give your parents information about her.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:36 AM on January 10, 2017 [17 favorites]

Hey OP you should definitely read this- Down the Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents' forums

Stories like your family's are a dime a dozen, and the pattern is always the same - the parents think that they own the child, and refuse to acknowledge that anything they do to the child can possibly be wrong, no matter how much the child begs them to stop.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:40 AM on January 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents when she knows I’ve been through the same thing.

I don't think she's tarring you with the same brush so much as you are still involved with them and therefore a risk vector. That's a choice you've made. She gets to be wary of you, and of the situation in general, for it.

But also, it's entirely possible she considers you a participant in her abuse. It's possible you were, even if only via the dynamics your parents constructed. Siblings never really get to be innocent bystanders because they are an inherent part of the system.

Obviously it's not especially constructive for her to tell you in a text message that she has a ton of conditions around even a potential interaction with the people who hurt her, but have you not ever experienced intense anxiety? It makes you do things like that. It is possible for you to have boundaries - not relay her messages or be her enforcer, for example - and also be sympathetic to her fears.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:49 AM on January 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Have you ever looked at Down the Rabbit Hole: The World of Estranged Parents Forums (previously on MetaFilter)? I'm not saying your parents are members of such forums or are superlatively terrible people, but I think it might be of use to read some of the stories about how some parents deal with estrangement initiated by an adult child (warning: not pretty). I think you may find that the actions in sively's post summing up some of your own descriptions of parental behavior make appearances in that site.

On a more personal note, I will say that having family members continually try to force me into relationships with other family members I don't speak to is incredibly invalidating and hurtful--and crucially, deepens the estrangement, while simultaneously endangering the relationship that still exists. While your desire to remain in contact with your sister may not be a "farce", she may be worried about possible ulterior motives on your part--using your wedding to initiate reconciliation would almost certainly contribute to that feeling.

Best of luck navigating your feelings and this difficult situation.

(Dangit, on preview showbiz_liz beat me to posting this link.)
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 7:52 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone estranged from their immediate family because of childhood sexual abuse, your whole attitude (including your update) just screams "codependent" to me. You are saying the right words but there's something deeper in the phrasing that make it clear that you're getting something out of your relationship with your parents and your unwillingness to respect your sister's mental health for the sake of making everyone a "family" again isn't healthy.

You say they are abusive and that you aren't on their side. But you are on their side. You aren't getting that they are the cause of all the conflict, not your sister. Please stop enabling your parent's abuse by continuing to tell yourself that they need you there. The idea that you have to stick with family under any circumstances is beyond messed up. Your sister wasn't demanding anything, she was setting boundaries. It sounds like that's not a concept you or your parents understands yet, but it's valid and you using that as an example of why you're frustrated with your sister is what's making it clear that you still see things from the lenses of an unhealthy upbringing. It's clear to your sister, too. I'm sorry you had a rough childhood too, but my therapist told me early on that once you're an adult, it's on you to heal those wounds, not other people. No matter how bad it was for you as a child. Stop trying to have your sister heal those wounds for you.

When I stopped talking to my abusive family member and for a time cut off a parent who was deeply into drugs, I didn't feel conflicted about it. I felt free. Like others have said, the depression that followed me started to lift. Your sister is free. You are not. I think you're asking the wrong question here.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:56 AM on January 10, 2017 [18 favorites]

I’m not taking their side remotely, I just still care about them because they’re my parents, just like I care about my sister.

this is why. (why what? why all of it.) They're her parents too, but she does not feel this way, but you say it as if it's self-evident -- like: of course I care about them. But she doesn't, or if she does, it's not enough to make her take what you take.

so either she's mad that you're putting them all on an equal plane where she's awful and difficult just like them and you only care about her because of blood ties, which -- she has demonstrated -- can be severed; or you're mad because you've accepted and tolerated all their abuse so you've proven it can be done, but she refuses to, so she doesn't respect and won't follow your example; or you think it can't be that bad for her because it isn't that bad for you, but it is.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:59 AM on January 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents when she knows I’ve been through the same thing.

Here's the weird thing about families though, it wasn't the same thing. I mean it may have been, or it may not have been. And you and your sister were different people, so it may have impacted you differently. I was a shy and sort of "sensitive" child, my sister was more outgoing and externalized difficulties. Also, and I literally only realized this in the past few years and I am middle aged now, she never got smacked around by my parents. I did. Rarely, almost never really, but it happened. And I think that's given us a very different idea of our relationships to our parents, or even the role of parents in ones own life

So I don't mean to project my own weird family on you. If anything I am more like the estranged sister. My father died, my mother lives with cancer and she sort of lords that over us (I am aware how terrible that sounds) so that we'll all get together even though I am often reluctant. And really 75% of the time it's okay. And 25% of the time it's a set-up for more emotional abuse and general suboptimal engagement.

I've made my peace with the way my life works and I make my own grown-up choices about how to engage with everyone. I relate to my sister right up until we have to engage with my mom and then I usually politely step away. They have a fraught relationship which my sister prefers to my arms-length one. Everyone's got to pick what works for them. Working on my relatoonship with my sister has been a very rewarding activity. Working on my relationship with my mom, less so.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Would you consider inviting your sister and dis-inviting your parents (including providing security since it is unlikely they will respect your decision)? And being very public in this decision so she can trust you.
posted by saucysault at 8:10 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

open to some kind of family counselling

She doesn't need family counselling and you do not need family counselling. This is not a family counselling situation. I don't know all the details of your sister's behaviour but it is entirely legitimate for her to sever contact in the situation you've described.

You are not a functional family because of your parents' behaviour. Their inability to respect your sister's boundaries is its own language and that language says they care more about their own feelings than hers.

They are not going to be helped by family counselling where your sister is involved. This is not a situation in which family counselling works. I have been there as the reconciliatory sibling to the estranged sibling and I pass on my learning which is -- the best thing you can do is drop your parents from the equation completely.

If they were capable of or wanted to change, they would:
- respect her boundaries
- recognize that they have been abusive and be in their own counselling, not with the goal of making your sister do anything but with the goal of stopping being crazy-ass parents
- accept the consequences of their past actions by recognizing that it may be best for your sister that they no longer have a relationship
- apologize to you for putting you in the middle
posted by warriorqueen at 8:10 AM on January 10, 2017 [37 favorites]

Assuming you're interested in feeling your way through this, another question to ask might be what would be in any form of reconciliation for her? I happen to think siblings are really important, but that could have to do with the qualities my siblings possess, which make them well worth knowing despite it being rather emotionally expensive for me. And some of it is the connection to other family members. How would it be worth it for her and what can you do to make it more worth it?
posted by BibiRose at 8:13 AM on January 10, 2017

Asking this question on Metafilter is going to return a very slanted set of replies. I can't bring myself to read any of them.

My take, as briefly as possible:

My brother was quite like your sister. We took everyone's advice to let him come to us in his own time, and to respect his silence. Until one day when we got a call from a childhood friend of his who'd seen him living in his car and looking ill. We found him after a few days of searching, and after a troubled few years he was healthy, sober, and functioning again. That said, a good relationship isn't exactly what my brother and I arrived at. We rarely speak, though I know where he is. I see him about once a year, and it requires that I come to him--it's never the other way around. He has two kids now, and it's nice knowing that they're all doing well and are on the radar, so to speak, rather than being incommunicado.

I think it's great that you'd like to at least reach out to your sister. You're probably right that it's better it come through you (or a service) rather than your mom. I think it's wise that you're talking about this as possible a last attempt. That's healthy, too. I would encourage you to include that in your communication to your sister should you reach her without making it sound like an ultimatum. There's a gulf of difference between "I wanted to try once more to connect with you before I move on with my life" and "If you don't respond we're never going to try to talk to you again," you know? For similar reasons I think it's good for you to try this before, rather than after, your wedding. I suspect that getting in touch after the wedding could be perceived as an admission that you didn't want your sister at the wedding, or something along those lines.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:00 AM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm going to be a bit odd-man-out here, because all families aren't the same, even all estranged families, and it sounds from your update like your sister doesn't have a fight with you.

I think it's a safe assumption that your fiancee is still on your sister's facebook friends list by oversight or accident, but it's also possible - especially if she's taken the time to drop you - that it's a loosely-held tie on purpose. I don't believe that using your wedding as a reconciliation opportunity is a good idea for her, or for you. Because of all the drama inherent with weddings, it may be the worst place for it. But if she knows she's still on fiancee's friends list and starts seeing wedding pictures which she wasn't invited to, it could further seal the rift - through no fault of your own.

I would suggest your fiancee send a message via facebook letting your sister know of the wedding date and some acknowledgement that you both would love to see her there, though you understand all the reasons that it might not be possible for her to come. And that's it.

If she drops your fiancee as a friend, and/or responds to cut off further contact, you have your answer. If she doesn't respond, it will suck having the uncertainty, but you'll know you did all you could. Don't follow up.

I wouldn't count on her coming to the wedding or reconciling. But at least you'll have done your part to extend a hand.

I'm not sure I would follow up and tell your parents you've done this, though. A lot of bad parents aren't really concerned with being bad parents - they certainly won't change their behavior or acknowledge wrongdoing - but they care deeply about being perceived as bad parents. Being able to tell people (especially well-meaning people who might ask out of genuine consideration) that their daughter was invited but won't come gives them a ticket for more drama, and no one needs that at your wedding, especially not you.
posted by Mchelly at 9:18 AM on January 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

Your update doesn't show any additional understanding of your sister's point of view, just backtracking and reframing of yours. In that light you would not be pursuing a relationship on your own with your sister in good faith. You still see her as the person at fault - only now you are a victim of her unreasonable demands and rejection.

I strongly recommend individual therapy for you, to understand the role you play in this toxic family dynamic, before you extend it to the family you are creating. And leave your sister alone until such time that you can truly respect the choices she has made.
posted by headnsouth at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

You really don't seem to value her relationship with you as a relationship separate from the "family" or her relationship with her parents. Your priority in contacting her is that you want her to be part of the family, go to family counseling, sit down and talk with your parents, and similar.

You blame her for conflating contact with you with contact with your parents. But you also conflate the two.

Are you unable to understand her (and you) as full people, who exist outside of the family unit, and who can have a legitimate and complete dyadic relationship with each other? Or are you trying to manipulate her by dangling a relationship with you as bait for bringing her back into a sick system? Either way, it seems that she is responding to your own inability to separate from your parents.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:31 AM on January 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

I'm not really a big believer in the cut-off-your-blood-relatives-and-salt-the-earth thing that so many people here on Metafilter endorse -- really, I see where you're coming from when you see a similarity between your sister and your parents in both being difficult people, and I think you were right to refuse your sister's demands for Christmas.

That all said, I agree with the consensus that you're trying too hard to play mediator and peacemaker. Your parents' relationship with your sister is one thing; your relationship with her another. I would encourage you to follow Mchelly's advice to invite your sister to your wedding (if only to let her know it's happening), without telling your parents. If she responds positively, maybe try to talk to her privately, without your parents' involvement.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

My father was also estranged from his own mother, and I've wondered if this might have had an effect on how my sister sees things.

Undoubtedly, but I would encourage you to think about how your father's estrangement from your grandmother affected his idea of parenting in general.

Reconsider that your sister is the one who needs fixing. Why can't she be the one who figured it out, figured out how to live a life free of this drama? There's nothing in your words here that indicate your parents aren't a lost cause as far as the relevant issues here go. They may have money and friends or whatever, but history tells us that that's no protection from dysfunction in their families.
posted by rhizome at 11:30 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

OF COURSE she painted you with the same brush. You don't even see that you're on their side. You considered using a service YOUR MOTHER FOUND on behalf of your mother because it would "look better coming from you." That is sides. You are on their side.

According to everything you've written she can't trust you. If I were her I wouldn't trust you. Because "reconciling" with you apparently means trying to be a happy family. Not just a sibling relationship. Of course you'll tell everything you learn to your parents so of course she can't trust you. And here's no promise in the world that she can trust from you.

My aunts routinely said "oh don't worry I won't tell [your mom] this. It's just between us." And in the NEXT breath say "oh now I'm not supposed to tell you this but...."

So you see why I don't talk to them? Do you see why she won't talk to you?

You need to see someone to disentangle yourself from this toxic relationship.

And to be honest I'm angry on behalf of your sister at your consideration of this because if it happened to me it would severely disrupt my life - because of all the crap I'd need to do to file a restraining order.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2017 [16 favorites]

OP: The vast majority of your long comments about this are about your hurt feelings, what you want, etc. You extremely briefly say that you are worried about your sister. It is done in a fashion that isn't terribly credible, like it is a justification of your desire to track down your sister in the face of the enormous and difficult-to-swallow criticism you are being given for asking this question. Thus, it reads as LA LA LA NOT LISTENING, basically.

If you genuinely want to reconcile with your sister, the path forward (for reconciliation) is for you to make amends. This may not be possible because you waited until she had cut you off to even ask about it. But, if there is anything you can do that will genuinely benefit her with no downside and no stalkerish bullshit and all that, things might ever so slowly get better.

You could start by having your fiancée message your sister via Facebook and let her know that you two are getting married, you really would love to see her at the wedding but you realize that is incredibly unlikely, given the family history. You understand. It is her right and you have no desire to impose. Still, she is family, so you wanted her to at least get the news of this big event.

If you want to reconcile, then every single step of the way needs to be about what you can do to help get the family baggage off your sister and not add to it. You need to do therapy or journal or whatever works for you to make your own peace with your anger at her and all this shit. This is not her problem.

DO NOT try to "reconcile" with her so you can kick the shit out of her and demand that she do something to fix your negative feelings. If you want to remain angry and hurt, then please embrace the attitude of "FINE! Bitch. Stay gone. I don't want to talk to you anyway!"

Your sister is doing the least worst thing that can be done in the face of horrible toxic stuff that she can't control. If you want to reach out, you need to find the high road that offers actual solutions, something better than this, something that adds value to her life, NOT something that just drags her back into the sick, twisted family drama and dumps on her.

And if you don't even want to shoot for meeting that bar, then just let it go and attend church or therapy or whatever to find your inner peace with this mess. It is not her job to give you peace over your hurt feelings and yadda.
posted by Michele in California at 1:31 PM on January 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

So, reading this:
texted me at very short notice to let me know she would come for Christmas but that she had a list of demands about how it would go

Makes me think that this:
she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents

That may be entirely appropriate for her to do. You kind of are the same. From someone in a position similar to where your sister may be, you are calling what she had as boundaries, demands. I am not saying this is what happened, I am saying that I am in a similar dynamic with my family, and have seen this play out before... and my "demands" really were not such at all. I hope your family is healthier, but reading between lines in your language, it may not be. Good luck, and I hope your wedding is wonderful. Do consider personal therapy, to help with your relationship with your wife, and possible future children (especially once the grandparents concept is introduced to your parents... sounds like you will need some help), and maybe, eventually, your sister.
posted by kellyblah at 1:33 PM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents when she knows I’ve been through the same thing.

Sometimes being part of and enabling the continuance of a sick system is enough. It's the parent who consistently excuses one of their sibling's homo/transphobia and abusive behavior. It's the otherwise kind aunt who dismisses and invalidates your deepest pain. It's the cousin who defends the racist actions and words of another. It's the sibling who keeps relaying message you don't want to hear and violates your privacy by passing on privileged information. It's family members who apologize, not to restore damage to your relationship, but to manipulate you back into the sick system where you can be scapegoated.

If one feels like its impossible to be involved in a family without being drowned in a sticky morass of invalidation and abuse, it may feel and be healthier to refuse to participate on any level. Why bother participating in something, if you're always feeling like you're about to be ambushed with a situation like any described above? Why participate if the only way it would be bearable involves changing how a group people relate to each other, when they don't consider their behavior to be problematic?
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm wondering what a successful outcome looks like for you in this?

You said it yourself. Your parents haven't changed. They aren't willing to admit they were wrong or do the hard work of reconciliation, including respecting your sister's boundaries and helping her feel empowered.

It sounds as though she's been the family scapegoat for a long time, to the extent that your father now blames her for everything and your mother doesn't even think of her as a human being. She is treating your sister like a wayward pet - find her, microchip her, and make sure she doesn't get away again. "If only pesky so-and-so would fall into line and be part of our family again, everything would fine! It's all her fault!"

What is your sister supposed to get out of this? How will reconciling with you and your parents make her feel better or improve her life in any way?

I would leave her alone if I were you.
posted by dancing_angel at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

Sounds like she had some boundaries over how Christmas was going to go and was disappointed that the one person who also suffered under her parents and knew what it was like was not willing to back her up on them. Considering how much she's gone through with your parents, is it really that onerous for her to only stay for a certain amount of time, for them to stay for a certain amount of time, to meet at a neutral location, etc. etc.?

It also sounds like she was interested in speaking to your mother about how your mother had hurt her. This is indeed confrontational, but how else are they to move forward here? Do you want your sister never to speak of these hurts again? Never get an apology? You may be thinking, Mom will never apologize, she's too difficult for that, in which case I can't see why you're judgmental over your sister cutting off contact.

Your sister was probably super disappointed that you weren't willing to sit with her and corroborate her story during this confrontation. Why do you think family counseling would help, then? What do you think happens there? I can guarantee that the counselor will want to get to the bottom of why there has been an estrangement, and if you're not willing to air out some grievances, again, no one will move forward.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:58 PM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

You don't seem very interested at all in reconnecting with your sister because you love and miss her. You do, however, seem very invested in reconnecting with her to allow your abusive, domineering, stalker parents have access to her so they can rekindle that abuse again. To the point of using YOUR VERY OWN WEDDING AND FIANCÉE to do so. Ask yourself why that is, preferably through therapy. And if it wasn't clear enough, please, please leave your poor sister alone and stop being a tool of pain for your parents.
posted by Jubey at 5:24 PM on January 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

Sorry if that came off as harsher than I intended, but nothing in your post or follow up show any indication that your parents see fault or wrongdoing in any of their actions, there is no acknowledgement of their failings or any attempt to address this in their own therapy or by other means. They're not sorry, they're not working on being better people or learning or repairing the relationship, they haven't changed - they just want your sister back on their terms and then presumably everything will continue as normal. You yourself acknowledge how bad your mother is, so why the heck should your sister want back in?! All she can expect is more of the same.

Yep, because that sounds SO appealing.
posted by Jubey at 5:48 PM on January 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'll join the chorus of "I'm Your Sister"- grown daughter who cut off contact with my mom, getting pressure through various channels to rejoin the family- a similar story.

My brother and I were two peas in a pod as kids. He was a wonderful, wonderful boy whom my mother corrupted by making him the Golden Child (worth looking up). I love him dearly and I miss him terribly, but I can't trust him because he promises not to tell Mom things and then tells her.

He called just over a year ago and I felt this surge of crazy hope. But he was just calling to tell me I was
"being selfish by refusing to talk to Mom". This was two days before Christmas, and it came out that
he was trying to be the hero who got me to show up to Christmas.

My brother has never asked me why I cut contact. This just amazes me. I took this giant action that completely changed the fabric of our family, and he's never asked why! Because, in our family, it's just a given that whatever reason I have is stupid . "My sister has cut off our Mom for some stupid reason." People just know. The Scapegoat is always to blame; it's the given in every equation.

I'm not saying you're the Golden Child or that your sister is the Scapegoat, but that would be my guess.

When I realized this wasn't the call I hoped for, but a Flying Monkey call (wicked witch has sent the Flying Monkeys to round me up), I was pretty crushed. I thought, for a minute there, that he was calling because he missed me and wanted to get together, just the two of us, to talk and have tea and see if each other were okay- something like that, the thing I would give my eye teeth to have. But no.

From what you say, I can't tell if you really care much about your sister or if you mainly want to keep her in her role of carrying blame for the ugly/dark side of the family. But if you do want to reach out to her, my advice is to make your main questions to her, "Are you okay," and "How are you, really?" and to tell her, "If you ever need anything, call me. Really," and "I'd love to get together again. Just you and me. Great, when?"

As for your sister's place in the getting married thing- again, if you really want to build that relationship with her- it would be nice to get the message to her, however you can, that you're getting married and you'd love for her and your fiance to meet each other. Like meet her somewhere for a simple meal, just chat. Just the three of you, you and these two women who are important to you, who should know each other. Something like that would be way more meaningful to me than being asked to attend a wedding.

And my last advice is to leave your parents out of that relationship, forever. Keep it a separate thing just between your sister and you. Don't let your parents use you.

Getting out from under our parents' views of things is not easy. But if you can do it enough to have a real relationship with your sister, it might be a wonderful thing for you and for her. And if she tells you about the situation from her point of view, that might be pretty interesting.

Best of luck with this. It's a tough situation.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 9:10 PM on January 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

I’m hurt that she’s tarred with me the same brush as our parents

It is the logical thing to do since you are absolutely on your parents' side and are now actively collaborating with them to get her to get back to her position of scapegoat.

when she knows I’ve been through the same thing.

You most certainly have NOT been through the same thing. Dysfunctional families like these offer vastly different experiences to the golden child and to the scapegoat.

I am fully aware of how harmful my parents were - I live with this every day. I’m not taking their side remotely, I just still care about them because they’re my parents, just like I care about my sister.

If you acknowledge that your parents were abusive and you are behaving like she should just get over it you are by definition biased and unfair and thus are taking your parents' side. Own it.

(To the person who wrote that attempting to stay in touch with my sister was a “farce” and a “betrayal” and for the sake of the appearance of family unity: no. Just no)

This is literally what you were doing. You didn't like to see it spelled out, but it is exactly what it was, with you as the conciliatory martyr. Saying No doesn't make it any different.

...whether there's a way to re-establish a relationship with her just myself.

As long as it's not a self-serving martyr move or an attempt to guilt trip her so you can get her to agree with your narrative of what her own life was like.
posted by Tarumba at 12:47 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

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