Thursday, October 24, 2013

In Which I Discuss Broken Family Relationships

This started out really long, but then I realized that it can be condensed to: In functional adult relationships, both sides recognize that the other party has legitimate constraints on their time and on their lives, through necessity, choice, finances, choices about finances, or combinations of these things.  And functional adults respect those constraints within their own constraints.  So, in my world, people work together, and around each other's lives.


My sister is apparently coming to the Old Dominion to 'reconcile' with my parents, specifically my father.  Well, I wish my dad the best of luck.

My mother wishes I had a relationship with my sister. I feel that she is a crazy person who lives 6000 miles away, and also, did I mention, crazy, so why?  And she seems to be going through an emotionally unstable period.  Recently, I mortally offended her: she asked what I thought of a biotech company's science, and I had the audacity to tell her (about something which was my scientific specialty, no less*).  Apparently it was really about whether I approved of her life choices!  And here I answered the question I was asked! 

I offered that we could meet them in the next town, when Bug doesn't have preschool - or here, any day and time.  My children have a feeding, nap and sleep schedule, and in general, only true necessity (such as moving 900 miles), things that are only happening once (weddings and funerals), or emergencies (ER trips!) disrupt the sleep by more than 30 minutes.  (Nothing disrupts the feeding.  Because I'm not out of my mind, thank you.)

In response, I got the world's huffiest email about how I was totally unwilling to accommodate her in any way, after she'd come all this way** and how apparently the only way I wanted to see her was on my own terms and that was so offensive and clearly it wasn't worth it.  I see how she might feel that way.  It also makes me wonder - my former BIL's family always threw a giant ticker-tape parade whenever they came to the US, and here I am treating it as something that has to mesh with my life.   My mother mentioned something that happened 20 years ago as fueling this fake rivalry (I certainly don't think of our lives as a competition or compare hers to mine in any way because, get this, I don't care) and there's probably some of that too.  The net effect is, she seems willing to take offense no matter what I say.  I could say "How's your job?" and she would hear criticism of that she works and I don't.  Or I could say "How are your kids?" and she would hear "Your divorce has fucked up your children beyond repair."***

My in-laws are pretty much the same way, but plus a side helping of not being able to believe that the tiniest trace of dairy will make me very seriously ill.  They want a ticker-tape parade, dinner when they damn well want it (I have little kids; they eat at 5:30, sometimes at 5, and again, neither snow nor rain nor heat...), and for us to always come to them.  I haven't seen them in... three years.

And, in both cases, I don't really regret it.  I am willing to write these people out of my lives until they can try to enter into an equal and adult relationship.  Until then, the crazy can stay right where it is.

* Reminding me forcibly of this passage from Gaudy Night:
      'You'd lie cheerfully, I expect, about anything except -- what?'
      'Oh, anything!' said Harriet, laughing. 'Except saying that somebody's beastly book is good when it isn't. I can't do that. It makes me a lot of enemies, but I can't do it.'
      'No, one can't,' said Miss de Vine. 'However painful it is, there's always one thing one has to deal with sincerely, if there's any root to one's mind at all.'
I neither can nor will lie about science. 

** Number of times she has bothered to come see me, while in the country, in the last five years: ZERO. Number of times she has flown across the whole country to see distant relatives: Twice. Likewise, number of times I have gone to Israel to see her, plus number of times I will ever go to Israel to see her: ZERO.  Also, last time she was in the country, I had a one-month-old - not precisely an event one can reschedule.

*** Sum total of my response to her divorce:  I'm sorry to hear that, it sounds very difficult, I hope that the court proceedings go smoothly, and here is a book about co-parenting with a narcissistic crazy ex, I hope it helps you negotiate with him.  


  1. Anonymous9:22 AM

    I empathize. I also have a sister and a set of in-laws who can't engage in an adult relationship like the one you define. I'm slowly reaching to point of not caring and, in fact, had with my in-laws when my mother-in-law died, leaving no family on that side but frustratingly disrespectful ones (of our time, space, wishes, etc.). So we're roped in again to appease my wife's need for family. That said, my sister remains distant and confrontational and that's weird but fine with me. It doesn't mean there isn't occasional drama as she comes up with new unreasonable ideas. It's sound like it might be a good thing that she's 6000 miles away.

    1. My response to my in-laws is similar: I have no inherent affection for them, and therefore I barely tolerate them for my spouse's sake. (To be fair, my kids now think 'grandma and grandpa' mean my parents. The little one has never met his other set of grandparents and he's two.) Weird confrontational sisters! What is this????

  2. Even if you uprooted the children to visit your sister on exactly her terms, you know she'd ruin it somehow or other. You'd then have the satisfaction of being proved right. Did she bring her children?

    You do not feel rivalry, but as the younger sister, she obviously does. Patrick has three female cousins and the younger two are perhaps 3 years apart. The middle woman is kind and nice, and went to 4-yr college for nursing. The youngest has been an unstable little liar since she was a child and in serious competition with her sister. She lied that she had cervical cancer so her HS would let her graduate one semester early. She took a 1-yr medical transcription course so she could get a job when her sister did. She got engaged and married around the same time, and needed to have kids right away. Luckily, she's married to a sweet, understanding man and has improved greatly over the past 10 years. Obviously, your sister was not so fortunate.

    Hmm, I suppose I'd respond to her email:
    But I was so looking forward to visiting with you, and showing you Lovely Mountain Town! Ever since the 900-mile move, poor little Bug has been so sensitive about travel, we decided it is imperative that he adjust to one place for a while. It would mean so much to me if y'all come visit for a weekend, we can (insert charming hikes/places to visit/traditional food to make/movies to watch). The children would be so delighted to see you. I do hope you change your mind. Love, Big Sis.

    An overly kind response is really galling to someone who wishes to take offense at everything. Ooh, you could cc your mom, just to show you're trying. It is worthwhile to make a small effort now, because eventually (hopefully a long time from now) you'll have to deal with your parents estate, and sibling fights can drag that shit out for decades.

    Good luck. Crazy relatives are no fun, but it's challenging to cut them off entirely. An uneasy truce can be better than a Cold War. And since you are the sane and diplomatic one, you have to do the bulk of the work of lying through teeth and biting tongue. But, you get to complain to us here!! We will always take your side :)

    1. IN FACT I did email her back that I was sorry to hear she felt like that, and here were the times and places I could meet her with/without my children. (Hers cannot legally leave the country without the consent of her ex.) And I cc'd my mom. Great minds and all.

      I'm my parents' sole executor as of right now so it would be a brief fight.

  3. Co-parent12:54 PM

    What's the recommended book on co-parenting with narcissists?

    Just, y'know, wondering...

    1. Er.... (looking, looking)...

      "The Co-Parenting Survival Guide : Letting Go of Conflict after a Difficult Divorce" and (more to the point) "Divorce Poison : How to Protect Your Family from Bad-Mouthing and Brainwashing".

  4. OH MAN. There's certainly no question that when dealing with crazies, one should protect oneself. You know, if she were a junkie, you'd only let her steal all your stuff so many times before she wouldn't be allowed to know where you live.

    I am the same way about our schedule. It's more for my own sanity than from any believe that my particular children will explode if their routine is disrupted. I sometimes get the feeling that people think I'm a jerk for not wanting to come to their stupid thing that happens at a bad time, but hey, I'd rather be thought a jerk.

    Also, Gaudy Night is one of my top five books, but it sure gave me an unrealistic picture of academia...

    1. Fortunately, I first read Gaudy Night in grad school, so I came to it pre-embittered.

      That is also exactly how I feel about the schedule. I need the predictability; they're just used to it. Of course, after this long, my kids start rubbing their eyes and telling me they want to go to bed when it's naptime/bedtime (this does not entirely prevent them from doing annoying stuff at ungodly hours, which we largely ignore anyways, but it does cut down on the bedtime-delaying tactics).


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