Does it sound like sibling rivalry?
April 18, 2017 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some perspective on how to deal with my brother's partner. I will try to explain the situation as best I can but please forgive me if I am not coherent. The circumstances are this: We (me – Aunt and my mother - Grandmother) look after my three-year-old nephew every weekend and before and after school on three days per week. Myself, his grandmother (80 years old), his two uncles and his mum are the only family he has. This arrangement of childcare has been more or less forced (emotional blackmail/manipulation of my single parent sister) upon us but was just about proving to be workable, however, it leaves my mother with zero energy to do anything else in her life. I manage it by working part-time and having no other commitments.

So then around one year ago, my brother (46)’s on/off partner (45) has a baby. They had just broken up, in fact she told my mother it was over before she told my brother, when she announced she was pregnant. There have been lots of ups and downs in the relationship. Basically, they seem to use my mum as a buffer. They hardly do anything together. Any trips/holidays/meals, they invite my mother. Only recently has my brother’s partner let her house and come to live with him on a more permanent basis, as she was looking for more help with childcare. For the past year (when she has been living in my brother’s house and not her own house) she has come round every single day asking either my mum to go somewhere with her or to leave the baby with my mum to look after. Every time I make arrangements to do something with my nephew, she invites herself (or my mum invites her as she is always crying about her situation) She is always complaining about my brother saying he is no help. She recently went away for two long weekends, one after the other and left the baby with my mum/brother and then my mum on her own. She is planning on going away one weekend every month and leaving the baby with my brother/mum. All of this is creating so much resentment as my mother is cancelling the time my sister’s child is here.

My brother and his partner have been together for around six years now, but we only ever saw her at occasions such as Christmas/Easter/birthdays, as my brother and her have always had separate houses 200 miles apart. Consequently, I have never fully got to know her. The more I have seen of her, the less I have liked her. She looks down on myself and my sister and always has done. She is a snob. Yet, now she is almost commandeering the time, energy and attention of my mum into accompanying her somewhere or into looking after her baby. It doesn’t help that my brother is a bully and is constantly saying that we should help look after their child as much as my sister’s child even though my sister is a single parent. I have stated that I do not want to take on looking after another child as a part-time carer which I am at the moment for my sister’s child. My mum agrees to it all as she is desperate to please my brother and desperate for them to stay together. My brother’s partner hardly ever sees her own family and they have never helped with childcare. She seems to be enjoying tormenting us. She claims to be bored out of her tree. I am living here with my mother at the moment whilst I let my house due to financial reasons. I am really starting to despise her and have to hide away upstairs so I don’t see her.

I think I am probably being very unreasonable but I just don’t know how to handle this situation. Any advice would be so gratefully received.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know two children is much more work than one, but can you clarify this statement:
All of this is creating so much resentment as my mother is cancelling the time my sister’s child is here.

Are you saying that you and your mother can't look after both your brother's and your sister's child on the same day/time, but only one at a time? That's a bit surprising to me. I know lots of people manage two children at once, particularly with two adults helping (you and your mum).

I'm not at all saying that you and your mum should feel obligated to provide childcare (for anyone!) but I wonder whether your brother really does realise the inconvenience of what he is asking, since he might be thinking you can just add the child into the mix now and then.

(Also, I find it a bit odd that you refer to your 'sister's child', but your 'brother's partner's child'. Surely it's your sister's child and your brother's child. The way you phrase it makes it sound like the second child has much less claim on your family, which I think (if it reflects the way you feel about the situation) might be part of the problem.)
posted by lollusc at 6:37 AM on April 18, 2017 [11 favorites]

You should sort out the things you have control over, and the things you don't have control over. Figure out what you want to do, and do that. Everything else, just let it go. A lot of what you've mentioned above is irrelevant, particularly in regards to your brother's partner. Where she lives is none of your business. Likewise, what your mom chooses to do with her time is her business.

Furthermore, you don't have to explain your actions to anyone. If you tell your brother why you are helping your sister more than him, he'll just give you reasons why you should be helping them both equally.

Quite frankly from what you've written here I wouldn't be doing any of them any favors, especially free, ongoing childcare. Take the kids out once in a while if you want to spend some quality Auntie time with them. Other than that, I would make myself scarce.
posted by lyssabee at 6:39 AM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're not unreasonable, you're in an untenable situation. I get putting up and shutting up, but she's not going to decide one day that not having instantaneous free baby-sitting is worth it.

First, get on the same page with mom. Then, sit her down and lay down what you guys are actually willing to do. No more than once a week for a few hours or her paying the market rate for child rearing sounds like the minimum you tell her, but that's up to you.
posted by Trifling at 6:45 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you can't speak up for yourself, speak up for your mother. She's 80 years old and is already being run ragged by the one child she's been railroaded into minding. Simply say no, that won't be possible. Don't let the plea run on that you've looked after one child so you're now obliged to look after another. Your sister-in-law will find a way to mind her kid.
posted by zadcat at 6:47 AM on April 18, 2017 [15 favorites]

No it doesn't sound like sibling rivalry; it sounds like entitled selfishness. That said, I don't know what your mom's best bet is here. It sounds like she's afraid that if she doesn't give the free babysitting, she won't have a place in the kid's life, and she may very well be right. Maybe cutting down to a manageable schedule would help: as someone pointed out above, she's not going to turn down X hours of free childcare per week, even if she has to find another solution for the rest of the hours.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:15 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

She is always complaining about my brother saying he is no help. She recently went away for two long weekends, one after the other and left the baby with my mum/brother and then my mum on her own. She is planning on going away one weekend every month and leaving the baby with my brother/mum. All of this is creating so much resentment as my mother is cancelling the time my sister’s child is here. ... It doesn’t help that my brother is a bully and is constantly saying that we should help look after their child as much as my sister’s child even though my sister is a single parent.

It's not clear from your question whether your brother accepts that he's this child's parent. Like, you and your mom are not in any way responsible for watching this child, though it is nice of you to help out when you can and probably best for the child to have some responsible people around in its life. But the kid's mom is not in the wrong to leave the kid in the care of their other parent occasionally. Are your brother and his kid's mom married? If not, is there a legal custody arrangement and child support? If not, why not?

Your brother needs to start acting like the parent of child, because he is actually the parent of child. If I were his partner, I'd be pretty resentful toward him as well (and, by extension his family for enabling him, however misplaced that reaction may be). Take whatever resentment you feel toward her, and put it on your brother, because he's the one who is being a shitty parent in this situation.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:20 AM on April 18, 2017 [39 favorites]

She recently went away for two long weekends, one after the other and left the baby with my mum/brother and then my mum on her own. She is planning on going away one weekend every month and leaving the baby with my brother/mum.

Leaving the child with its own father is hardly an imposition on the level of leaving him with an elderly grandmother. or an imposition at all, really. You and your mother wouldn't be dragged into this if your brother were caring for his own child on the weekends as one would reasonably expect.

The impression I get is that you want to defend your mother but there are unspoken difficulties with confronting your siblings' exploitation of her when you yourself are living in her house to meet your own needs, and this leaves you open to counterattacks for hypocrisy. Or maybe it wouldn't occur to your siblings to make such an attack but you feel pre-emptively defensive and afraid to start a fight. But I think this actually gives you more of a right and responsibility to speak up for her, not less -- it's something you can do for her because you're there, it makes your presence a help to her and not a drain.

The thing is that you can't speak for your mother without her permission, so the first obstacle is convincing her that she will bear no responsibility if your brother and his partner break up -- looking after their child for free will not keep them together and the notion is crazy. Then, make a reasonable schedule (these days only, these hours only) for your own availability, tell them what it is, and decline/ignore any requests outside those hours (for this to work your siblings can't have free access to the house or they might just show up and abandon the children.) that is specifically your availability -- your mother can also be present to enjoy the babies' company, but she's 80, she can't be responsible for them alone, it's not fair.

then, endure their entitled abuse for a period of time, but keep reassuring your mother that they won't vengefully withhold all contact, because a limited amount of free labor that's less than they demand is still worth more than no free labor at all.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh gosh. I think you need to reboot your brain on this entire situation. Imagine if your sister-in-law posted this to askme:

"I've been dating a so-so guy for 6 years, long distance for many good reasons. We finally decided to end it but surprise! I got pregnant at age 45! I wanted my son to have a relationship with his father and his father was unwilling to move to where I am, so I left everything and moved to where he is. I took on a job that I hate to do this. I'm in a new city with a new baby and I only know my guy and his family.
I've asked my guy for help watching the baby when I work this job I hate. But he is really against it and suggested that I take the baby over to his mother's place. His mother is already watching one other grandchild regularly. Plus his sister just moved back into the house so there are more adults around to help. My guy says this is the best plan.
I don't know these people all that well, but they are my child's blood. I've been trying to get to know them better by trying to spend more time together but they haven't been very receptive. Any ideas? "

But overall it sounds like it is your brother who is the jerk and his girlfriend probably doesn't have all the information about all of these other things.
Here's what I'd do:
Single parent sister needs to find other childcare because grandma is getting older and auntie isn't interested.
Brother and girlfriend need to be told that although single parent sister got some help for some years, it was a short term solution, single parent sister needed more help than they do, and the door is closed.
Grandma and auntie will spend time with all grandchildren during exception situations but not for day to day school care or regular weekends.
Then I'd work on building your relationship with your brother's girlfriend. She is probably a little nervous around you all. Be kind.
posted by k8t at 7:44 AM on April 18, 2017 [30 favorites]

If your mother "looks after him" (IE he lives at her house and spends the night) every weekend and before and after school three days a week, that leaves one or two nights at mom's. Does your mother not essentially have (practically if not legally) "primary custody" of the three year old? Does the child think of himself as being raised by his mother, or by his grandmother?

Are you really working part-time solely in order to be caretaker to the child? Or are you incidentally working part time? Is this related to your money issues and why you're living with your mother? It's all very murky to me if you are putting your life on hold specifically to help your mother/sister, or if you just happen to be there due to troubles of your own and your mother is helping you out, so you're trying to make yourself useful while you live there. Are you ever planning to move back out? Does this hinge on getting a full time job?

I am much more sympathetic to the baby than you seem to be. The baby is innocent and cannot help the actions of its parents. The baby is also your blood and your nephew's cousin. I agree it's bizarre that you think of the three year old as "your sister's child" but not the baby as "your brother's child."

If it's truly just the brother's partner you cannot stand, shouldn't you be encouraging her to go off more often on her own? Encourage her to take those spa weekends and leave the baby? You seem to complain when she does this, yet also complain when she stays and attempts to help and "gets in your face/invites herself" with your nephew such that you want to hide upstairs.

The three year old is old enough to go to day care/pre-school soon enough. Is anyone putting up money for this? It seems to me this would be the kindest, easiest solution for everyone as the child is almost school age. Can you, your mother, your sister, and maybe your brother or Uncles chip in on a pre-school fund and collectively afford it? Maybe if you get a full time job, continue living with your mother, and continue renting out your house?

You seem emotionally attached to your nephew and to enjoy taking care of him, and don't want your brother's partner around. That's all well and good, but I think those emotions are biased and personal and do not actually reflect what is best for everyone, including the children and yourself, long term. I think your mother is probably more correct that it's better for everyone if your brother and his partner stay together and work things out, especially for the baby, regardless of her personality flaws.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

it sounds like it is your brother who is the jerk and his girlfriend probably doesn't have all the information about all of these other things

As a responsible parent, you don't get to opt out of having this information or to acquiesce blindly in your partner's attempts to foist your child off on random relatives because he can't be bothered to look after his own child.

This foreshadows two decades of slovenly, neglectful parenting, OP. You need to draw your boundaries now, because if these people can't get it together to tend to the obvious needs of a baby, they are never going to manage the more complex and subtle demands of older children, and you will end up raising this poor kid for them. It sounds like your family generally has a problem with standards, responsibility, and life competence--don't be the one sucker who enables everyone else's misbehavior.
posted by praemunire at 8:38 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your brother and your sister both dump their kids on your elderly mother and your mother doesn't have any boundaries with that, and your problem is with - one of the children's mothers?

I guess the father of your sister's child is out of the picture, but perhaps there needs to be a family meeting where everyone sits down and creates a schedule that is fair to your mother and you of when you and she will be providing free child care for their progeny.

You and she can state the free times you are willing to make available and your stupid siblings can maybe realize that you and your mother's time is not infinite and that perhaps they should spend some time caring for their own damn children.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:52 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I really feel for the mother of your brother's child. I wonder if she is feeling shy and awkward. I know I was accused of snobbery a time or two when it was really social anxiety and feeling unwelcome.

Nth the idea that your brother needs to step it up here and your resentment should be at him for his archaic approach to parenting, not at the mother of the younger child. If your mom is a buffer between them and they broke up, the brother's ex isn't a "partner." So she is effectively a single parent herself. Especially if she brings the child over to see brother/mom. The slash needs to go away there, but it is your mom's responsibility to choose that for herself. You can encourage it, but if she wants to help her son abdicate his responsibilities as a parent, that doesn't mean you get to be frustrated with your niece/nephew's mother. It is not on her. It is on your brother.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:55 AM on April 18, 2017

Does your mom mind at all? It sounds like she likes your (almost) sister-in-law. It's fine if you don't like her, but certainly don't take any action on your mom's behalf to protect her. She's an adult and can stand up for herself.

I think you have an unexamined assumption that children belong to their mother and are their mother's job to care for. What about your brother? What about your sister's baby daddy and his family? And with your brother, even if they were on the verge of breaking up, the child is your brother's, so I don't see why you're so resentful about your mom providing some care to her other grandchild. And if too much work is falling on your mom, be equally mad at your brother.

It does sound like sibling rivalry or like you really don't like this person or like you really resent what you're being asked to do. If you personally are being asked to do too much, then draw some boundaries. If you really don't like her, sure, avoid her. But don't take it out on your poor baby niece / nephew. I'm sorry you guys are in a tight financial spot, though. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 9:12 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I manage it by working part-time and having no other commitments.

I am living here with my mother at the moment whilst I let my house due to financial reasons.

These two things do not compute. Are you working parttime in order to help care for your sister's child, or are you working parttime while you look for fulltime work, and during the downtime of job-searching you are helping your mother?

If you are providing free childcare for your sister, while you yourself are in financial straits, stop it. You need to get yourself sorted before you take care of other people's needs. Put your own oxygen mask on first, as they say.

If you are just helping out here and again while you look for gainful employment, well, that's just a choice as to how you use your free time.

Now, why is your brother dumping his child on his mother whenever the child's own mother leaves town? Is the brother not capable of caring for his child? Is he also expecting your (unpaid) help, or is it just a coincidence that you are home when drops the child off with grandma, and you end up feeling bad for grandma and helping her out?

The issue of whether your mother cares for her grandchild is an issue of boundaries on her part. In fact, your whole question is really just about how to set boundaries, which it sounds like your family has very little practice at doing.

Sit yourself down and sort out what your own personal boundaries are. Would you be involved in childcare in any way if you were not living in this house?

Perhaps sit down with your mother and feel her out about her own boundaries. Based on my own experience, I get that older family members feel some obligation to do childcare, without any regard for their own health. But perhaps you can help your mother develop a calendar where she says "I'm available for x weekend and no others this month". Perhaps she needs to ask your sister to work out other childcare for two days a week.

But bear in mind that you cannot force your mother to do any boundary setting. You can only control what you do. Perhaps it's time for you to find a "parttime job" at the library or the gym. Without your guaranteed help your mother may find that the truth is she just can't keep saying yes to everything.

I think you will need to leave out anything to do with your quasi-SIL; chances are she won't be in your life once the baby is a little more self-sufficient. Focus on developing a good relationship with the baby while you can, otherwise coordinate everything through your brother rather than SIL.
posted by vignettist at 1:13 PM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think I actually see the problem here.

Childcare is not provided for the benefit of the kid - the presumption is that the primary custodial parent is a perfectly adequate child-rearer. It is provided for the benefit of the people who are ordinarily taking care of said child.

So it actually matters hugely that one child, your nephew, is primarily in the care of your sister, and the other child, the baby, is primarily in the care of your brother's ex, because you neither you nor your mother owe any obligations to your brother's ex. Not childcare, not excursions, not spa days. Your /brother/ owes her the obligations of a noncustodial parent, but YOU do not.

You provide before/after school and weekend care for your nephew, which I imagine allows your sister to work without having to pay for childcare. If your brothers' ex shows up during the day wanting care, then that transforms a part-time burden of care to a full-time burden of care, one child leaving only for the other to show up. This is completely impossible.

I suspect your brother is bad at being a parent and her complaints about him are totally all justified - if he won't even take the kid by himself without your mom. I bet she does have a lot of resentment about the situation- but I also bet your brother blithely promised childcare without actually checking with you guys. He sounds pretty entitled, honestly. He needs to be the one stepping up and providing "childcare" for his OWN DAMN KID.
posted by corb at 6:33 PM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

So it actually matters hugely that one child, your nephew, is primarily in the care of your sister, and the other child, the baby, is primarily in the care of your brother's ex,

Except from the description, she's not the ex. They did break up, but are back together now and even living together, right?
posted by lollusc at 10:04 PM on April 18, 2017

I'm a 60 plus year old grandma. I love spending time with my grandkids. It's the job of my DAUGHTERS to parent their kids (and they do.) I'mride horses, move hay, and am more active and healthy then a lot of people my age. My grandkids, especially the lil' un. wear me out when I have them. Not to mention, there are lots of things I want to do in my life besides spend my time with small people.

The woman is 80. She needs to have fun with her grandkids, not raise them. Your brother and sister are romping all over a woman who can't possibly say to no, and is most definitely being emotionally manipulated (abused) by them threatening to remove her grandkids from her and bullying her if she doesn't comply. People who are advising to let grandma deal with it and to step up are not fully aware of how the woman's age, and no doubt mental and physical health, is being impacted.

Then there is you, and what you want and expect from life. Since they are not your kids, you have no responsibility to act in loco parentis for them, even for an hour. If you want to sit, and enjoy the kids company, fine. If not, fine. You are also not required to be friends to your not-quite a sister-in-law. You need to be polite and cordial, but you don't have to spend time with her. Let her make her own damn friends. Or perhaps she already has, since she's hanging out weekends and living her kid for someone else to watch? You're not required to like her. People here are projecting that she has her own sad issues--well maybe, or maybe not. But her responsibility is to her kid and her relationship, and she better start taking care of both. Either she has a relationship with the father, or she needs to get things clarified regarding the child's legal status and get the heck out, instead of using you as part of her free nanny setup.

Put on your own oxygen mask first, and then consider the welfare of the kids. Put a reasonable limit on their expectations of you, and otherwise tell them to hire a sitter.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:05 PM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

From the OP:
• Can we not look after two children at the same time? Yes, we can and quite often do but the arrangement is for me to look after my sister’s child and I have stated to my brother that I do not want to undertake childcare for his child as well.
• My sister works three days per week and my brother’s partner (they are so called together, they live together) doesn’t work.
• Stockpuppet, you hit the nail on the head in your second paragraph, especially the first question, regarding my circumstances.
• Corb, the childcare we do is definitely to benefit the parents. They are all financially comfortable (the couple very much more so). For my sister, she wants myself and my mum to be as inconvenienced as she is with having a child (really sad but true) and she wants her weekends to herself. She may have backed off a little but now it’s a question of not letting anyone else (i.e. my other nephew) get the help we may be able to give. Everything everyone has said here about my brother is true but I don’t know what can be done about that because he wouldn’t listen to anyone in this family.
• BlueHorse, thank you for saying I am not obliged to be friends with my brother’s partner, because I don’t think we ever will be. I have tried to get to know her but she has never been interested in getting to know us. She is very charming, socially adept and has many friends where she lived previously. We all feel (including the eldest uncle who stays completely out of it all) that she is using us and will, when she decides, dump my brother and whisk off back to where she came from. She knew all about the struggles (as did my brother) we had with my sister since we found out she was pregnant, how difficult it was for me and my mother and still is, yet she neither she nor my brother offered to help in any way and now they expect and are demanding help in the same way.

Thanks to everyone for your input here. Lots of you mention that my brother needs to step up to being a parent and I fully agree.
posted by taz at 11:52 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everyone for your input here. Lots of you mention that my brother needs to step up to being a parent and I fully agree.
From the sounds of it, so does your sister. You're not being unreasonable, *both* your siblings are.

From what you've written, your sister has her child only 2 days a week? (and possibly 3 evenings) Fuck that shit! She's a single parent? So fucking what, why does that mean you and your mother spend more time with her kid than she does? She only works 3 days a week and wants her weekends to herself? Tough titties, she chose to have a baby and now she need to step up. Grandma should only be providing childcare on those days - maximum.

Your brother's child has 2 parents and one of them doesn't work, they're entitled to zero free childcare. They get nothing from you, if she wants to go away for 1 weekend a month then your brother needs to man up and look after his kid.

You can't control the actions of others, you can't control your mother - you can try to speak up for her but ultimately you can't control whether she agrees to more free childcare. Its time to start being selfish and look after yourself. You need to start looking for a full time job and let your sister know that you're no longer prepared to sacrifice your future to look after her kid. Get a full time job, get your own place and stay out of the family drama.

Your siblings need to realise that free childcare from family members is a luxury not a right.
posted by missmagenta at 4:54 AM on April 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

Wait. The brother's ex doesn't work? Why on earth is the kid at grandma's then?

If it's because she's actively job hunting that's one thing. If she's getting her nails done that is ridiculous. You can't make your mom stop providing this care, but she would be very justified in doing so and you can help her see that there's no reason she should be sacrificing her health for this lady's convenience.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:43 AM on April 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Implied but not stated in the thread is this: You do not need your brother's or SIL's consent either to refuse to take care of their child, or set boundaries about this.

Actually, the bigger issue here is whether your mother can take the larger view. Bullies have ways to trigger compliance from those who love them. You can't shame them into caring how you feel. If the price for their affection is compliance, then maybe the cost is too high.
posted by mule98J at 11:20 AM on April 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

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