Guess who the black sheep of my family is?
July 25, 2017 9:16 PM   Subscribe

My family of origin issues sound very childish. Can you please offer your mature and wise perspective?

I'll give some backstory, but I can boil it down to 3 questions stemming from sibling rivalry-type-crap that I feel to old to still be struggling with! They all begin with "How do I unpack/process/communicate..." (1) Not wanting to hear about my brother's life, except from said brother; (2) Not wanting to see my sister when she's in my part of the US; and (3) Not wanting to visit my family of origin?

Backstory: My Catholic parents had a shitload of children 35-50 years ago. I am one of the youngest, and also a woman. I was raised in a sexist household and internalized a great deal of misogyny. My family of origin (FoO) does a lot of happy, bonding stuff together, like celebrating holidays and having get-togethers, except I felt an undercurrent of toxicity, stopped participating, and then finally moved a few thousand miles away. I don't miss anything about "home" except my parents. I'd developed a good relationship with them after turning 25, more or less. My family isn't the type to argue, bicker, express feelings... So, anything that impeded my relationship with the 'rents was just that we didn't talk about stuff. I had hurt feelings, etc., but wouldn't say anything.

Why would my feelings be hurt? Well, for one thing, they just adore their youngest son in a way they've never loved me. It feels absolutely ridiculous to bitch about this in middle age, but the brother still lives rent-free at home, while I've been paying rent (not at home) since I was a teen, more than half his age. I had struggles he can't imagine and he's acted really bratty about things-- like, his life is essentially upper middle class and I've always been a worker on just-this-side of the poverty line (in my fat years). I'd be OK with all of that, but it hurts that my bro is snotty about it and my parents have shown so much more support for him than for me (particularly in our late teen-, early 20's years when help would have made sense).

Unrelatedly, I have an older sister with her own crosses to bear who has been awful to me.

Quick sidebar: I sound like a victim, here, but I feel like I am claiming my happiness. I've built a very happy, sweet life away from my FoO, and these issues bug me from time to time and I realize I sound very poor, innocent me.

But, for reals, my sister has been a bully, and I don't need her in my life. She and her kids are coming my way incidentally; my parents found out I don't want to see her, and are very sad about it.

Third, I never want to visit my FoO. So, if my parents come to realize that I'm not visiting (it's been almost 3 years), that will bum them out, too.

I'm asking how to unpack this, communicate it, do something like reconcile it? I'm not mad at anyone; everyone is just fucked up and has been abused. My bully sister was raised with the same sexism as me, so she's all superficial, has an eating disorder, can never be alone with her thoughts, and is mean. Picture: reality TV.

My parents may seem like the instigators of all the fucked-upness, but they're products of their time/environment as well, and now that they're older and slower and sweeter, struggling to get their fucking shoes tied and stuff, I don't want to pile on a bunch of leftover teenage angst at them.

Little bro, meanwhile, has a great (enough... I mean, he is well-educated and has an awesome wife and they both work professional jobs and yet they still live in the house he grew up in, so...) -- a great life of travel and fun-money, and I get shitty feelings when I have to hear about it. I think I'd feel differently if he was sharing his stories with me, but he's too good for me, so I hear it from the proud parents who are half-funding it for him.

What I want to say is, "I don't want to hear about John. I don't want to see Sally when she's in my town, and I don't plan to visit any FoO because they're all passive aggressive, judgmental, and mean," sneering, and then tag an over-emphasized "Mom and Dad!" at the end like the little brat I would be if I in fact said that shit at age 37.

This is what I've been in therapy about for years, essentially. Got any ideas? How to communicate in a kind way? How not to HAVE to communicate-- because I've reframed and stretched my soul to a higher level? How to be OK with the preferential treatment and neglect and general "we don't like girls" attitude (literally) I got all my life?

If someone asked my advice on this, I'd tell them to cut all these bad people from their life. In my situation, though, I just see all the jerks as victims with sweet hearts, at their core.
posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
What I want to say is, "I don't want to hear about John. I don't want to see Sally when she's in my town, and I don't plan to visit any FoO because they're all passive aggressive, judgmental, and mean," sneering, and then tag an over-emphasized "Mom and Dad!" at the end like the little brat I would be if I in fact said that shit at age 37.

Saying that very thing but leaving out the sneering and the bratty emphasis gets the message across completely effectively and leaves you sounding like an adult in charge of her own life.

How to communicate in a kind way?

Give up the kindness as a primary aim, and concentrate on keeping the communication as strictly factual as possible.

Sometimes being an adult means needing to communicate facts that you know will trigger unpleasant feelings in the recipient. As long as the reason for saying what you say is to communicate those facts - that is, as long as the deliberate triggering of unpleasant feelings in your audience is not what's motivating you to speak up - then you're doing what is necessary in as kind a way as is available to you.

How not to HAVE to communicate-- because I've reframed and stretched my soul to a higher level?

Just decide to stop, then stop. You don't actually have to do anything. You're a free adult. Assess the likely consequences of choosing each of the options available to you at any given time, then choose the one you think will work out best for you and those whose welfare you care about and/or have chosen to take responsibility for. See also: Buddha, Camus, 1-2-3 Magic.

How to be OK with the preferential treatment and neglect and general "we don't like girls" attitude (literally) I got all my life?

Tease apart two aspects of "being OK with it". Work on being OK with your history in the sense of accepting that it happened and that changing what happened is simply beyond your control. Work on not being the slightest bit OK with it in the sense of remaining keenly aware of the injustice of it and doing your level best to prevent yourself and others perpetrating similar injustices now and in future.

In my situation, though, I just see all the jerks as victims with sweet hearts, at their core.

Again, dealing with this requires a teasing-apart. You might understand full well why a person behaves badly, but that's not in and of itself a sound reason for you to accept ongoing bad behavior from them.

A big part of learning to be an adult consists of assessing the hand that life dealt you and doing your level best to act like a decent human being regardless. In order to do that, it is necessary to receive honest feedback about the consequences of your actions.

If I have always been the golden son and my every utterance is hung upon adoringly regardless of how much of a prick I am toward those around me, why would I ever change? I might well have a sweet heart underneath all the jerky entitled behavior, but what good does it do unless I actually use it?

You're completely and totally allowed to cut anybody from your life who causes you more grief than joy. This applies to everybody, whether they're related to you or not.

There's an ideal that families are supposed to stick together and support each other regardless of what happens. That's great when it works, but trying to make it work by force of will, using raw materials consisting of a bunch of adults who simply don't like each other very much, will not only always fail but will always generate a whole stack of completely unnecessary drama in the process.

Families that do stick together and support each other regardless, and do so effectively, do that because they want to. And they want to because they're all decent human beings who genuinely have a mutual respect for each other.

If your own family history consists largely of experiences demonstrating a lack of respect toward you, then expecting you to extend it outward to those who have a long record of failing to extend it inward is completely unreasonable - and that's true regardless of whether the expectation is coming from them or from you.
posted by flabdablet at 10:07 PM on July 25, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is not a thing you do to punish bad people in your life. This is a thing you do to keep yourself safe and whole. It can help to explain it like this: Right now, this family dynamic is really unhealthy for me, and after a lot of consideration, I've realized that I need to step back from it for the moment, and I want to communicate these new boundaries as clearly as possible.

Pistachios are amazing... and the last time I had one I had a minor allergic reaction to them that made me quite unhappy for a couple days. I don't eat them anymore. You don't have to write a peer-reviewed thesis establishing that people are objectively bad before stepping away. It's enough that they're bad for you, right now.

I still have whole fake arguments with my mother in my head now and then, but less than I used to. I feel guilty about cutting people off--but the bad I feel about that, as it turns out, pales in comparison to how bad I was feeling on an ongoing basis before.
posted by Sequence at 10:25 PM on July 25, 2017 [15 favorites]


How to be OK with the preferential treatment and neglect and general "we don't like girls" attitude (literally) I got all my life?

Golden Boy and his wife are now the ones helping your parents tie their shoes. The attitude that pushed you out of the house when you were a teen, and led to you moving thousands of miles away, means that, in many ways, you're free. Your parents are half-funding his lifestyle, sure, but they're getting live-in help. Moreover, if your brother decides to have kids, while living in that house with your parents, he's going to have to try very hard not to repeat some of the behaviors and patterns you've mentioned.

Sometimes the favorite really pays a price for being the favorite.

When your parents start to gush about your brother's adventures in ____, tell them you'd rather hear it about from him -- not that you have to follow up on that in any way. Tell them working out a schedule for visiting is between you and Sis -- not that you have to follow up on that in any way. Communicate that you want to manage your own relationships with your siblings, and cut short conversations that don't respect your wishes.

(I also think you might bring up in therapy how it's easier for you to forgive your parents, the instigators of all the fucked-upness, and want a relationship with them, while having these difficulties with your siblings.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:53 PM on July 25, 2017 [30 favorites]


First of all, you don't sound childish. It is perfectly legitimate to be hurt by favoritism and misogyny, and no child deserves the treatment you received. There is a grief in realizing that you had shitty parents; give yourself the time and space to process it. You don't have to make it a Thing; just deflect until you're ready to talk to them.

Once you feel like you're able to see things clearly, think about what kind of relationship you want with each family member, and set some boundaries.

"Mom, I don't want to see BullySis. It's just not going to happen. Let's not talk about it."

"Mom, I don't want to talk about GoldenChildBro. What's going on with you?"

Then you enforce them, gently at first and more firmly if needed. "Mom, this isn't up for discussion. Mom, I'm asking you to drop this. Gotta go, bye!"

If they go nuts because of your reasonable desire to have adult relationships with your siblings of your own choosing, then you know they're toxic and can cut off with impunity. My parents' story is tragic, but they're also adults who are responsible for their actions and are toxic to me and my kids. You can be compassionate without putting yourself in harm's way.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:37 PM on July 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I like your own advice. "If someone asked my advice on this, I'd tell them to cut all these bad people from their life."

You, as an adult, are under no obligation to have a relationship with your biological family. The illusion that you are is part and parcel of the tyranny of the family that has caused you so much pain over the course of your life. Break the chains.
posted by hworth at 12:41 AM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


I still have whole fake arguments with my mother in my head now and then

This is absolutely a thing that people do. I used to have this with an ex-girlfriend, and afterwards I would end up feeling a lingering resentment against her for something she had had absolutely nothing to do with.

It takes a while to notice that this is happening, and a while longer to learn not to do it. People are quite irritating enough on their own without giving poorly drawn cartoon copies of them space in your own mind and permission to irritate you even more.
posted by flabdablet at 1:29 AM on July 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


"I don't want to hear about John. I don't want to see Sally when she's in my town, and I don't plan to visit any FoO because they're all passive aggressive, judgmental, and mean,"

That's not a bratty thing to say. It's clear and direct.

Stop worrying about hurting your parents' feelings. They're grown ups and they can manage their own emotions; it's not your job. So they're sad that you and your sister don't get along. Oh well! bummed that you won't visit? They'll live.
posted by Stonkle at 6:52 AM on July 26, 2017


One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that since your parents have a sh*t ton of kids and live with one of those kids, it's quite possible that it's just too hard to dedicate time to visiting each of them individually. Essentially, they'd be traveling all the time from house to house, which it sounds like they are probably too old and not wealthy enough to do. From their perspective, the most rational and efficient thing to do is just have all the kids come to them, which honestly? Makes a ton of sense and is precisely why they have so many family BBQs/whatevers. Because it's the cheapest, most efficient, easiest option to see their kids when they have so dang many.

This situation will NOT improve as they get older, in fact, it is virtually guaranteed that they will stop flying out to visit you and expect you to visit them more and more as they age. It's also pretty certain that if/as they lose their mental faculties, you will have to talk to your brother to gain access to them. Sorry, but that's how I see this going for you.

To be really honest, your desire to have your parents fly to visit you alone out of your siblings does not seem realistic, likely, or even fair from my point of view. I think you're going to have to compromise somewhere, and your plan right now is just not really feasible.

I feel for you because I am also estranged from a sibling, and I don't doubt the suckiness of your situation and the reality of the long-term effects that kind of sh*t has on a person. I get it. But your solution is not fair and not workable.

I think you would be better off picking your battles. Since you want access to mom and dad, it seems logical to me that you're going to have to make peace with Golden Brother at the least. I think it's fair to still want to cut off Mean Sister. But I'm not sure you're going to get everything you want. Perhaps you can arrive a day early or a day late to family get togethers and only have to see parents and Golden Brother? Perhaps you can work something out with Golden Brother so he's out of the house "getting a break" while you're in it? I think you can work something out, but you're not really willing to compromise at all right now. That's fine, but I do think that realistically, if you want absolutely nothing to do with your siblings forever, you're going to have to sacrifice seeing your parents as well. Sorry. They're just too entwined.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:30 AM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


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