Dear Dr. Debra,
is staying with me for a visit. She knows I canít stand my sister.
I honestly, totally despise her. So what does Mom do? Talks about
her, all the time. Iíve heard all about their three-level deck, the
two plasma TVs, the new Volvo, everything done by any of the dozens
of grandkids for the last year, all about their trip to Belize
tomorrow, their cruise to wherever last month, their trip to Taiwan
last fall--all on the churchís money in the guise of mission trips.
If I say something about my own grandchildren, Iím interrupted by
tales of one of my sisterís. Iíve held my tongue, swallowed the
smart-ass replies, but Iíve reached my limit. Iím about to unload
on an old lady with both barrels if I canít find a way to stop
this. Any advice on how to deal with a parent who constantly lets
you know how ďsuccessfulĒ your sibling is (as opposed to you, of
course) when you do NOT want to hear it?
daughter whoís about to explode
situation with your mother sounds so painful, and I can understand
why youíre feeling hurt and angry with her. Itís hard when a parent
favors one child over another. Parental approval is important to
children. And weíre never too old to hear personal compliments from
our parents. If youíve always strived for your motherís approval,
but didnít receive it, then you have an emotional wound you need to
fair to your mother, itís possible that sheís doing the same thing
to your sister--bragging about your accomplishments and those of
your children and grandchildren. Some parents are unable to praise
their adult children to their faces, but tell others about their
pride in their offspring. Many times Iíve heard a client tell me
that theyíd heard from someone else that their parent had said
something positive about them. The client is surprised to learn the
parent feels that way, yet is also frustrated that the parent canít
directly say the compliment.
However, there are also manipulative parents who switch their praise
on and off, depending upon which child is currently basking in their
approval. The other siblings feel resentful, and all the adult
children know they canít trust the parent because the next month,
someone else might be the ďgoodĒ one. This emotional damage might
cause them to struggle for their parentís fickle approval. Or they
can rebel against the parent. Also, this kind of negative parental
behavior can lead to sibling rivalry that lasts for a lifetime,
instead of being outgrown at the end of childhood.
parent, itís important to love our children and treat them equally.
That doesnít mean we canít love them differently. Each child is an
individual, and our feelings for them are unique. Perhaps
balance is a better word than equal. We need to balance our
compliments, time, attention, and gifts so a child isnít favored
over the others. Of course, a birthday, illness, or special event
means one child receives more attention, but thatís only for a
certain amount of time.
However, a person might have a child whoís extra special to her in
some way. For example, a mother might have one daughter and several
sons, and love the ďgirl timeĒ she spends with her daughter. But
itís just as important that she spend quality time with each of her
sons. Or a parent might have a ďgolden childĒ whoís beautiful and
gifted and easy to be proud of. But that parent needs to make sure
she doesnít raise her other children in the golden oneís shadow.
This can lead to a life-long lack of self-esteem as well as
hostility between siblings. Or perhaps you have a child who
struggles in some way, so he or she needs more of your attention.
Even with a special-needs child, the other siblings need special
time with the parent.
donít know why you dislike your sister, but Iím sure your motherís
attitude has much to do with it. Even the best sisterly
relationship would be strained by this type of parenting. If youíre
a spiritual person, pray for healing for the relationship with your
sister. If you feel too resentful to take this suggestion, try
praying for the willingness to pray for healing the
relationship. Sometimes becoming willing to forgive and move on is
an even greater miracle than the actual healing of the relationship.
believe your own lack of self-esteem and belief that you havenít
accomplished anything adds to the problem. You are a mother and
grandmother. That alone is a great achievement--perhaps the most
important one of all. Do some soul searching about your life, what
youíve done. Set some future goals for yourself. Ask yourself,
ďWhen Iím eighty-five years old and am looking back on my life, what
kind of memories do I want to have? What do I want to feel good
about?Ē Then start taking some steps toward achieving your goals.
donít mention whether youíve spoken to your mother about your
feelings. Even if you have, itís time for another talk. First you
need to tell your mom how much her favoritism hurts you. Also, say
it adds to your resentment of your sister and strains your
relationship with her. Make sure you convey your thoughts and
feelings in a calm, rational way. It wonít help for you to be
angry, blaming, or dramatic. Use specifics about what your mom says
or does that shows favoritism.
ideal world, your mom will apologize, tell you she loves you, let
you know sheís proud of you, and in the future be very careful about
talking about your sister or her family with you. If your mother
doesnít react in this wonderful way, and instead becomes critical of
you, youíll need to set boundaries for what you want.
suggest asking your mom to refrain from mentioning your sibling or
her offspring unless you ask her questions. When she starts to
mention your sister, politely remind her the topic is
off-limits. If she persists, disengage from the conversation by
calmly reminding her of the boundary then leaving the room.
youíre out of the room, take time to process any feelings you have
before you return. Itís important to stay calm. Select a new topic
of conversation, even if itís only the weather, to begin when you
return to your motherís presence. If she brings up your sister, set
your boundary again and leave the room. The exception is if your
mother wants to talk about the situation and your feelings instead
of brag about your sister.
Continue enforcing your boundaries. Be consistent. It might take
time, but eventually, your mom will get the picture.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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