ASK ALICE — Advice for All
I am hoping you can give me some advice about dealing with my sister, who is five years my junior and with whom I’ve never had a relationship.
We are now both in our 50s and have families of our own. I feel blessed with the family my wife and I have created. We are careful not to put pressure on our children or treat them harshly, unlike the family I grew up in.
My struggle is that my wife and children want me to reconnect with my sister and introduce them to their cousins.
Frankly, I am not interested in reconnecting with my sister.
Growing up, the tension in our family was palpable. Doing well in school was what our parents cared about most. I was a successful student but was largely ignored. My sister, who struggled academically, received most of the attention, good and bad. Any of her successes were celebrated way beyond what I considered necessary.
Our parents are deceased, which has lessened some of my resentment toward my sister. She lives only a few hours away. My wife has offered to have my sister and her family to our home for a special dinner. She does not have any siblings and sees this as essential for our children.
Having such bad memories from my childhood, I would like to keep them buried. I would like to hear your thoughts.
Sometimes facing old wounds is the best way to heal. The past generally does not have the same power over us when we hold it up to the light.
Perhaps you can begin to look at your relationship with your sister through a different lens. Your parents were likely very anxious about her school problems and felt that it was their job to make her perform. Not unusually, they may have feared that their friends or family would judge them if she were either a mediocre student or worse, a failure. In addition, they probably feared that her future was in jeopardy if she did not succeed. This fear motivates many parents to put pressure on a child when he or she is not measuring up. The recent media chatter about “snow-plow” parenting, whereby parents have gone to great lengths, often illegal, for their children to be admitted to a top college, speaks to this issue.
I support your wife’s plan to invite your sister and her family to your home. This sends an important message to your family that you want to open up your relationship. Try to have compassion for your sister and see what she can bring to your and your family’s life.
You both suffered from your parents’ fears and behavior and being able to put this behind you may bring some good closure to that part of your life. You have more control of your own family now, which was not true when you were a child.
You have created a very different family from the one you grew up in. This is worth celebrating.
Perhaps in the future you and your sister can find a way to talk about your family history and how you were both affected by it. This conversation can enable the past to be easier for you to manage. Your children will also benefit from seeing you overcome some of the sadness from your past, and being with their cousins may also add a lovely dimension to their lives. Your wife is being generous and loving to encourage this as well. Consider that your sister, her family, and your own will be able to move beyond the past.
Embrace your current life and perhaps find a new way to include your sister and her family in your lives.