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OT - Advice to Sister about Our Mom

lieutenant_dad's picture

If you've read my previous blogs and posts on other people's blog (and some of you know more than most - looking at you, Gim), you know that my mom and sister both suffer from mental health issues and have an iffy relationship for both justified and unjustified reasons.

Current situation: my sister graduated from college and has applied for a Master's program that she needs to reach her goals. This is HUGE for her, and she has done it as a young "non-traditional student" who spent the last two semesters working full time, taking classes, and doing her internship.

My sister graduated two weeks ago. We had plans to do a family dinner, but my SF ended up in the hospital again so we ditched the family dinner idea and our SIL and I took her out for a nice night out.

SF is now out of the hospital. Mom had said that she still wanted to do something for my sister, but has done diddly to organize anything with her. My sister was understanding at the time, but now she's hurt. She's even more hurt because my SF told my sister that she needs to take time off work for my mom's 60th birthday party here in a few weeks. 

Now my sister is asking me if she has a right to feel hury (IMO, absolutely) but doesn't know how to approach it because her previous behaviors have caused my mom to shut down whenever my sister tries to talk to her about being hurt. She thinks SF will jump on her for making Mom upset.

I have, in the past, acted as a mediator between the two. However, that has just made me the target so I've stopped. But, I think my sister is right in this regard, and I know if I speak up that it will be better received (because I am, unfortunately, the favored child). I'm also getting very fed up with my mom and SF trashing my dad (not sure why that has started all of a sudden, but I have ideas) and acting like my sister isn't growing up. Yes, my sister needs to mature and not make mountains out of every molehill, but that doesn't mean they should ignore every issue she has with them, either.

So...I don't know how to proceed other than to offer support to my sister and not get involved. I think my mom needs to try harder to show my sister she is proud of her, because I know my mom would be extremely hurt if we all didn't acknowledge something important to her. There is a lot of hypocrisy that I could unpack in regards to my mom, but she refuses to see it any other way than she has condtructed in her head.

Any advice, especially from those who have been in my sister's position? What is your perspective on this? How can my sister handle this on her own and what advice can I give her (if any)? 


The_Upgrade's picture

The realistic thing is that we can't control how other people behave, we can only control our own reaction to them. If there's any advice for your sister it would be for her to learn to say no. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. It may mean she might see less of your mum and SF but that might be better all round for a while. 

lieutenant_dad's picture

I agree. She has been really worried about our mom's drinking recently (my mom has been a functioning addict for years, but with Vicodin, and now she's adding in the drinking for a multitude of reasons). I keep telling her that we can't make Mom do something she doesn't want to do, and she just has to let it go. She can't control her.

I don't think my sister is ready to give up. She's young and craves a good relationship with Mom. I totally think she needs to say no (and perhaps I need to as well in solidarity with my sister), but it will take a therapist to help her get there.

JRI's picture

I'm tempted to advise you to follow your instinct and stay out of the mediator role.  I understand you are trying to be supportive of your sister.  How old is she?  Im guessing youngish because an older person wouldn't care that much whether an elderly parent recognized this type of milestone in a certain way.

Mom, Sister and SF all sound a little exhausting.  I'd keep reiterating to Sister, "You know how Mom is, sigh".  Changing people, like Mom and SF, or getting them to respond as you wish, is a hopeless situation.   I feel bad for you, Lt., you already have your plate full.  

lieutenant_dad's picture

She is 27. 

Part of her frustration comes from my mom helping her not at all with schooling while she financially helped me, and then giving my sister a hard time for feeling overwhelmed the last few years when she decided to go back to school. I got a high school graduation party; my sister did not. I got help with my wedding planning; my sister isn't getting any. I got a camping trip when I graduated college; my sister hasn't even received a card from my mom.

This all goes back to my mom noping out of parenting when my sister was a teen, moving away, and leaving my sister with my dad. She never got those mom-and-daughter moments that I did. I think this just stings so much more because she sees Mom, yet again, favoring me, or being selfish. Like, Mom was going to pay for one of my sister's student loans (since my mom didn't contribute to any of her college even though she did mine and my brother's, and he didn't graduate), but now doesn't think she can because she bought a new boat.

It's a mess. It breaks my heart because my sister does deserve recognition for this, especially when she's being asked to recognize Mom for her birthday (and again, my mom and SF would both be upset if she didn't recognize her for Mother's Day or her birthday).

I know what I need to do. I just don't like it.

CLove's picture

Its always tempting to try to smooth things over, however (in my experiences) things are never smoothed over, someone always gets offended. Sounds like your mother wants to be celebrated but the celebrations only go one way. And your sister sounds like she accomplished a great deal that SHOULD be celebrated. 

Just be supportive of both, I guess is your best bet, and stay out of the middle. Im always a bit sensitive as regards triangulation (experienced here),

Great Job lieutenant_dad's Sister!

lieutenant_dad's picture

I don't know if it's fair to be supportive of both, though, when I also think my mom is in the wrong here. I know if I talk to her that she'd likely make an effort, but then I'm just perpetuating this cycle. But, I also don't know if it's fair to my mom for me to cut her off because of issues between her and my sister (when I only know my sister's side, but agree with her side).

CLove's picture

Are you being forced to choose sides by your sister? Hopefully shes not putting that out there, it never goes well. Your mother has addiction issues on top of her Narc issues. And buying a boat rather than helping your sister is building up that resentment. UGH. Feel for you.

Your mother is definitely in the wrong. I think you can be "supportive" by attending functions, but not engage.

Gimlet's picture

This is tough.

I agree with you that playing the mediator is just putting a band-aid on the situation.  Your intentions are good and it probably does help your sister's cause in the short term, but it is just temporary and it reinforces the dynamic. 

Your sister is young, she has her own baggage, and she wants a relationship with your mom.   As a matter of fact, it's even harder beause she sees the relationship she wants with your mom being modeled with you (or at least her interpretation of it, because I know it's not all rainbows and sunshine) and doesn't understand why she can't have that too. 

The cicumstances are different, but I am the least-favored child as well.  I am older than your sister by a couple of decades, so I have had the time (and lots of therapy) to process that.  It's also been a result of my own boundaries and choices to some degree, and my unwillingness to sacrifice my own happiness for my brother and by proxy, my mother.

Your sister is going to have to come to terms with the fact that your mother is both neglectful and an addict.  She may have been in a better place in life when you were growing up, she may find you easier to deal with, or she just might straight out love you more.  None of this will be easy for your sister to process and accept, but she can't make your mother value their relationship any differently.   Your mother won't change unless she wants to change, and that sounds unlikely.  Your sister will have to learn to get her validation from other places if your mom is a dry well.

It's also not your fault that you were treated differently.  I don't say better because I know you've had your own burdens with your mother and the "better" relationship with her comes with its own pitfalls.  You shouldn't have to advocate for your sister and you shouldn't feel responsible (practically, emotionally, or otherwise) for her as well.  That's unfair to you and it's unfair to the relationship you have as siblings. 

I think both your sister and you have decisions to make about how you want your relationships to look.  You can't fix or change your mom, all you can do is be a supportive sister.  You are not a proxy parent.

It's a journey and it's hard.  I think it's fine to hold your mother accountable for her behavior and for the way her actions impact you, and your relationship with your sister, without playing the go-between.