Sibling issues at this festive time of year.
December 6, 2017 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I am really frustrated with my older sister and after many years of feeling this way, and a recent escalation in hurtful behaviour, I'm looking for some reading recommendations and/or advice about how to get beyond this.

I am one of a large family yand am frustrated by the behaviour of my older sister, nearest in age to me. As with all good sibling dynamics, there is a long history of stuff, but some general upsets include
-taking an extremely long time or never responding to my messages or phone calls or proposed plans. But randomly one day quite a whole back sending me a ragey explosive text when I did not respond to her within an hour. While I was at my full time job. Coupled with an insistence that she is so upset by how little time she gets to spend with her siblings, at intervals over the years.

- asking me to do favours for her (mostly baby sitting or purchasing stuff through links on her website) if she ever does get in touch.

- Imo, she does not monitor the behaviour of her own children (6, 9 and 12) around my daughter (3) sufficiently. It's minor stuff-they tease her mostly, but when I asked her 9 yo to stop once she made a huge deal of how hurt his feelings were. Uggghhhh

- she is lots of fun to talk to and we share a sense of humour. I generally enjoy her company when I see her. It is well acknowledged in the family that she has some....neurotic ideas about the need for 'boundaries' which she never actually creates herself except through passive aggressive means like not answering her phone or getting her husband to take calls, etc.

Just to pre-empt things a bit- she lives 15 minutes away and I see her once every few months. We talk on the phone....3 times a year maybe? So I'm not bombarding her with contact.

She likes to be able to make plans at the last minute and they are usually quite fun things... I'm often torn between saying no because I feel disrespected by her and saying yes because.... She's my sister and it's usually fun so why not? But then when she'll never agree to my suggestions I feel hurt again.

My questions are- any advice about how to respond to her, in general, or how to frame this situation in my mind so that it bothers me less? And- any good books on this sort of thing?

While therapy one day would be lovely, it's not on the cards for now.
posted by jojobobo to Human Relations (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a bummer but with regard to children... In my social circles it is a bit more of the responsibility of the toddler parent to keep an eye on their toddlers. Elementary and middle school children aren't supervised in the same way.
But if children of that age are teasing/bullying a toddler, that is strange. The have the cognitive ability to know not to do that to a small child. If for some reason they don't, then don't have your kid around them.
posted by k8t at 8:29 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Her behavior is not great, but it suggests to me that she might have some dysfunctional coping skills. What would you say your family dynamic was growing up? What would your sister say it was? Did you have a parent who treated you two very differently? Was your sister burdened with more grown up things than she could handle? Held too close? Or alternatively, made into a sort of scapegoat? If you want to reframe her behavior, you could start by asking her if she has any feelings about how you kids were raised. She might have a hell of a lot to say. But if she doesn't, then I don't know how explain her push-pull antics. It's worth a try, though.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:14 PM on December 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I dunno, I think you need to take things as they are. She sucks in some ways and that's disappointing. Ok.

So you know you need to supervise the kids closely (and by the way, if she doesn't like her kid being rebuked, that is not your problem, it's hers.) Alternately, since they live close by, you could maybe leave your kid at home when you see her?

You know that doing stuff with her means doing her activities. She only likes doing the stuff she likes. Ok. The good news is you like her stuff too. You can do other things with other people.

The texting thing is just her being a thoughtless bitch. You can point that out to her if it will make you feel better, or ignore it. Either way.

People like this, "difficult" people who are still likeable overall, you need to take as they are, enjoy the good parts and remember the bad stuff is their problem. You don't need to be super close, you don't need to depend on her, you don't need to believe her, you don't need to trust her with your kid. Just take the good, leave the bad. If you see her three times a year even though she's local, that's very little contact as it is. No reason to make her into a major character.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:49 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Count me in as another person who would say some version of "take her as she is."

But also: Take you as you are.

Say yes to what you want to do with/for her knowing full well that she's not going to really reciprocate. Reply to texts according to your time and inclination. Ignore or walk away from tantrums thrown in your direction. Or respond to them the way that feels like you're being true to your best self (which can mean telling people when you're angry or hurt, too). Parent your child and supervise others' children in the way that you feel confident is fair and responsible.

People like this can really trap you into a mindset of trying to figure out how you can contort your actions or style of communicating in order to please and appease them. The thing is: People like your sibling might never be appeased or pleased because they're expecting others to do that work for them.

In my experience, then, you have to stop trying to do that work for them and focus on doing what makes you happy and feels right to you. Ensure, then, that you're giving them full ownership of their feelings and actions and taking full ownership of yours.
posted by pinkacademic at 6:59 AM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

Harriet Lerner’s books might be helpful for you. She writes a lot about managing boundaries in families and in intimate relationships.
posted by bunderful at 8:18 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

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