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The Kids Aren’t All Right

Jul18

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

I grew up in the middle child of three sisters.  Now that we are all adults with children who live in different cities,we don’t see each other as much as we should, and some pretty serious issues amongst the three of us have cropped up in the last few years, since our dad passed away. However, we have managed to keep it relatively civil for our kids, who love their cousins and enjoy spending time together, despite fairly large age differences between them.

To get to the point, my older sister has five kids, and two of them recently reached major life milestones – the oldest graduated from college, and the second graduated from high school. I attended both events because I live close enough to my older sister that I could drive to the city my oldest niece attended college in and to the city where my older sister and her family live and could make them both quick weekend trips. In addition to making two trips (which I was more than happy to do – my nieces are wonderful girls and I am so proud of them!), I also got both girls gifts to commemorate this important occasion (they both sent me very nice thank you notes).

However, earlier this week my older sister confided to me that our younger sister has yet to acknowledge the graduation of either daughter, even though she received graduation announcements and party invitations for both girls and even bought the plane ticket for our mom to attend (my older sister even went to the trouble of sending her information about activities for her kids in that city – they are younger than mine and my older sisters’ kids).  My older sister told me that in addition to her own feelings being hurt, her daughters have both told her that their feelings were hurt by a relative they adore and that they think the issues amongst the three of us triggered my younger sister’s ignorance of their major life milestones.

I know this is technically an issue between my younger sister and my nieces, and that I shouldn’t be a “Butt-inski”, but, in this situation, I feel like, someone needs to say something.  It drives me crazy that my younger sister just ignored my nieces like that.   I know we have our own issues amongst ourselves, but why should our children get hurt?  If it was a question of money, then my younger sister could have fired off a couple quick e-mails, rather than completely ignoring what was happening.  Even a b****y, passive-agressive e-mail, like the kind she sends my older sister and I when she feels like it would have been better than nothing. I think that something amongst the three of us needs to change, especially considering that my older niece has a serious boyfriend who I think she will get married to sooner rather than later(I was surprised they didn’t get engaged at their graduation, but that’s a whole other story). I want to resolve this issue for my nieces, as well as the rest of the family so that my kids and my nieces and nephews don’t have their relationships with any of their relatives destroyed by petty behavior on one of our parts.

Help!!!!!!
In the Middle

Okay. Hang on.
*chugs second cup of coffee, rereads letter for the seventh time*

Forgive me if I’m completely misreading this, but:
“our younger sister has yet to acknowledge the graduation of either daughter, even though she received graduation announcements and party invitations for both girls and even bought the plane ticket for our mom to attend.”

Emphasis mine. But…your younger sister paid for a plane ticket so your mom — your nieces’ grandmother — could attend the graduation events? And yet this somehow doesn’t count as an acknowledgement…or as a gift in and of itself? Because…I dunno, that sounds like a really nice thing to do for both your mom AND your nieces, so I’m wondering if I’m missing something here.

Sure, it wouldn’t have hurt to have also sent a card. Or called. Or…I don’t know what kind of acknowledgement your nieces and older sister would have felt was appropriate and necessary on top of the plane ticket, which from the neutral ground over here, really strikes me as “counting” as a gift. Why, when your nieces brought up their hurt feelings to your sister, didn’t she point out that “well, Aunt Younger maybe isn’t the best about sending cards or making phone calls, but she DID make it possible for Grandma to be here for your parties, even if she couldn’t”?

You reference a lot of non-specific “issues” between the three of you, so I’m wondering if the slightly disproportionate amount of anger you’re directing at your younger sister over this situation is simply because you’ve just had ENOUGH of the issues and are kind of…looking for an excuse to bring things to a head and get everything out in the open with a good old-fashioned confrontation about things that are not actually about this particular thing? That’s not necessarily a bad instinct, to feel like enough is enough, let’s deal with this already because our problems are hurting people beyond the three of us. You say you guys have managed to keep it “relatively civil” for the sake of the kids, but clearly your nieces are aware of the problems and basically called you guys out on it, by suggesting that it’s your collective fault their feelings got hurt at graduation time.

(Even though…again…SHE BOUGHT GRANDMA A PLANE TICKET. THAT COUNTS AS A GIFT.)

But! Point is. Your kids know that their moms and aunts don’t get along. That sucks. That’s not the kind of example you guys probably want to be setting. So, it’s high time to fix things, but not with a passive-aggressive email or with SO. MUCH. ANGER. towards your little sister for this terrible, hurtful snub that I’m still a little confused about. Even if that sentence about the plane ticket was a complete mistype and she only pitched in a third of the cost or didn’t pay for any of it but was simply the one who booked the reservation or whatever: It’s not fair to pick a fight with someone over ONE THING when you are really angry with them over ANOTHER THING. That person deserves to know what they’re really defending themselves against (i.e. “you didn’t acknowledge the girls’ graduation” vs. “you did X, Y and Z when Dad died and you send us bitchy emails all the time and are letting your anger at Older Sister get in the way of your relationship with your nieces and I’m scared my own kids will get hurt next.”).

I don’t know just how deep your problems with your sisters go — whether this is a situation that requires family therapy or mediation or just a girls’ weekend where you all agree to drop the anger over specific slights and pettiness (from ALL sides) and admit that hey, this relationship is broken, let’s fix it. We can do better than “relatively civil.” That’s for you three to figure out. I’d just suggest you focus on fixing the bigger, messed-up picture than focusing just on this one incident, which will inevitably just lead to finger pointing and blame and not much else. I mean, it’s certainly emblematic of the underlying problem (Our Fight Is Affecting Our Kids), but it’s probably not The Problem.

And one last thing, just in case I do have it all wrong about the plane ticket and your sister really did just completely screw up big time: That sort of thing happens. Even in the happiest, most close-knit of families. We let each other down. We disappoint each other. We mess up and forget birthdays and let our own personal drama interfere right at the moments when our family members were counting on us to be there for them.

But then, most importantly, we forgive each other.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “The Kids Aren’t All Right”

  1. Have a sisterly intervention! Everyone meets up and has the chair faced towards each other and you just start talking. 

    This stuff always happens because of LACK OF COMMUNICATION.

    So communicate!

  2. Lizzie Jul 18 at 12:06 pm Reply Reply

    If “in the middle” could clarify, that would be nice. I read the whole “bought our mom a plane ticket” thing as she did the logistical planning/purchasing for her but not necessarily with her own money. I “buy” tickets for my mom’s trips all the time, with her credit card, because she is just not a tech-savvy and I always end up finder lower prices than she does.

    In any event, I agree with Amy and the bottom few paragraphs. Passive aggressive quips and simmering, hurt feelings only get worse with time (I know from similar experience) and you all will probably feel so much better if you talk about it. Be prepared also for the evolution of your relationships…resolution may not turn out exactly the way you hope, but for me at least, it was still better than before!
    Good luck!

  3. Wiley Jul 18 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

    Did she possibly buy the ticket as in she went online and booked it rather than paid? If so,t hat takes out the present of the flight component…

  4. Alison Jul 18 at 12:15 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to have to go with the diagnosis of “terrible buttinsky.”

    Because of this line:  “I was surprised they didn’t get engaged at their graduation, but that’s a whole other story.”

    This is EXACTLY the kind of thing that people complain about their relatives thinking/saying about them. It’s hard to imagine how you should/could ever be surprised that someone didn’t get engaged on a specific date that you felt would be best for them.  This is a sign that you are overstepping boundaries, even if only in your own mind.

  5. Dawn K Jul 18 at 1:04 pm Reply Reply

    I think ‘In the Middle’ maybe needs to step back a bit and realize we all have different expectations and standards in life.

    She was more than happy to slip in the fact that she made two trips and purchased gifts, which really have nothing to do with the kids’ feelings. A mention that she acknowledged them in some way would have been less preachy about what she thinks is right or wrong.

    I also think Alison(above) brings up a good point about her getting all judgy-faced about the engagement. Dump the passive-agressiveness you all secretly love and have some uncomfy face time to iron out all the details.

  6. Karen Jul 18 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    This letter made me feel ew yicky. I used to know people like this – keep everything pretty on top to hide the worst sort of snarkiness underneath. The way this new college grad and her cousins are going, they will soon be complaining about who doesn’t show adequate interest in engagements, weddings, baby showers… Seriously. The sense of entitlement is just oozing off my screen. Youngest Sister sounds like she is in the thick of soccer and ballet and just wants to back off of the insanity a bit but made sure Grandma could attend the celebration. Good for her.

  7. Karen Jul 18 at 1:40 pm Reply Reply

    oh, one more thing – another clue to the ickiness here is the “trouble” that Older Sister went through to make up a list of activities for Younger Sister’s kids. So just because she sent an email with the location of the zoo, a children’s museum, and a nice park, her sister owes her a visit to a graduation? Ick!

  8. Kate Jul 18 at 1:51 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, I’m surprised at how hard Amy and the commenters are being on “in the middle,” here. Even if the younger sister did buy grandma a plane ticket, I still think it’s pretty darn crappy that she couldn’t send a card to either of her nieces and acknowledge their major accomplishments and I respect that “in the middle” is trying to stand up on her nieces’ behalf. I certainly don’t think she is oozing a sense of entitlement (talk about snark!) by thinking that her sister should support her nieces, she just sounds like she’s regretting the fact that her sister isn’t being a supportive aunt and is taking out the issues she has with her sister on her nieces. This column is usually wonderful and supportive of OPs and I’m disappointed that this one… just isn’t.

  9. tasterspoon Jul 18 at 2:55 pm Reply Reply

    Without opining on the motivations of the OP, it doesn’t seem like the relationship between the nieces and the sister is irreparable, since they already “adore” her, right? Perhaps it’s not as complex as we’re making it out to be – how about a quick call or e-mail to the sister to say Hey! Hope everything’s good with you. Say, Betty and Jane were so sorry they didn’t hear from you when we were all together last month, you know they are such fans of yours. Do you think you could send them each a card? I know it would just make their day!” Sure it’s none of your business, but if you could help patch this little misunderstanding without it escalating, that might be nice.

  10. Susan Jul 18 at 3:07 pm Reply Reply

    sorry to be harsh, but you’re only ‘in the middle’ when you put yourself there. stop letting other people’s fights become yours. yes, it is crappy that the younger sister didn’t send a card (even if she did buy a plane ticket), but it’s not your kid whose feelings she hurt. so quit acting like you’re in the middle of this one, ‘cuz you aren’t.

  11. tasterspoon Jul 18 at 3:09 pm Reply Reply

    In the sister’s defense, she may not have realized she was supposed to send something. Most of my aunts never acknowledged my graduations but it never occurred to me they were supposed to. I never felt that my progress in school was of interest to anyone other than me and my parents. One thing you could do (also none of your business, but if they say anything to you) would be to reassure the girls that the aunt still thinks the world of them, and that just because their graduation is such a big deal to them doesn’t mean other people are going to make a big deal about it and doesn’t mean those people love you any less. Both girls are adults now, they should understand that.

  12. N Jul 18 at 5:32 pm Reply Reply

    I have a crazy older sister. Armchair diagnosis: paranoid narcissist. She’s awesome at being fun and nice, but even better at being wretchedly evil and manipulative about it. I can’t even begin to describe her. If I were to try, I might sound like the letter writer here. Because it’s not just one thing she does. It’s the sum of them. And it’s mostly little tiny insidious things that you can’t put your finger on. So I’m hesitant to say she’s being totally ridiculous. I think it’s possible she has a sister like mine who is completely impossible to describe (other than vague hand-wavings and mutterings about hypersensitivity and walking on eggshells and never winning any argument ever), but every single person I know who has met the REAL her walks away saying, “Oh my gosh, I GET it now.” Even the people who go in claiming they won’t take any shit from her.
    .
    So. Anyway. If that’s not what’s going on here, I agree with Amy. I am just not great at doing things (yes, even sending cards) for special occasions. It’s something that I really suck at, and I hate that I suck at it, and I do everything from putting reminders in my computer to buying a stack of cards ahead of time, to setting alarms on my phone. And none of it works. I love my nieces and nephews, and my siblings even more–yes, even the crazy one. But this is just not something my brain does. It has nothing to do with how much I care about people.

  13. h Jul 18 at 10:33 pm Reply Reply

    My only addition to Amy’s comments is that the girls in question are old enough to manage their relationship with their aunt, especially the one who just graduated from college. I have relationships with aunts and uncles that are separate from the relationships they have with my parents (which may or may not be contentious at any given moment). If the girls don’t feel like their aunt acknowledged their accomplishments, then they can take that up with her in a way that befits their relationship with her. Whether it’s a simple question next time they see her (“hey, did you receive my graduation announcement?”) or a comment like “wish I had seen you at my graduation” it can be as loaded or as innocent as they like. Honestly, this situation has NOTHING to do with the writer, and increasingly very little to do with the girls mother.

  14. M Jul 18 at 10:56 pm Reply Reply

    I think it the magnitude of the slight depends on what usually happens in their family – many of the comments are saying “Hey, some people don’t send cards” but if Younger Sister USED to acknowledge birthdays, holidays, etc., and ignored these two events, it IS hurtful and not just a matter of “forgetting”. I have a large extended family and my mother’s siblings are always taking their fights out on the children in exactly that way. They’ll send a lavish bday gift to one cousin, and ignore another. Even though I am an adult now, my feelings are still hurt when one or the other of them is deliberately rude or uncaring towards me because of something I had nothing to do with. However, it is uncomfortable for me to bring it up, exactly because I know it has nothing to do with me and that kind of immaturity is hard to confront. So I think the sentiment that the OP wants to help her nieces is well-intentioned, and an email from her to Younger Sister might work better than the nieces getting involved.  

  15. -k- Jul 19 at 2:12 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with Kate re: the pile-on here. I don’t get a bitchy/judgy/petty vibe from the LW- it sounds like this is a special case for her because the kids (her nieces) are hurt, which the sisters have always tried to avoid. And if I try to put myself in the nieces’ shoes, having aunt-that-I-adore book a ticket for Grandma *but never take the 90 seconds to call/e-mail me to recognize the once in a lifetime event*? Is hurtful.

  16. andrea Jul 19 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

    Stay out of it.

    So many times over the years I’ve been in the middle of fights between my mother and sister.  I went in with the best of intentions, trying to get them to establish a relationship.  After a particularly bad fight last Thanksgiving where I ended up in the middle of it all my sister really called me out on overstepping my bounds.  It was hard to hear and harder still to hear my husband confirm it.  But there it was and they were right.  The best thing I could do for both of them was to stay the hell out of it and let them work it out.  So I stopped butting in.  I have not since mentioned the other in conversation not even to talk about positive news.  And you know they have actually started talking to each other.  By butting in I was fostering the break down in communication. Now they have to talk to one another. 

  17. JB Jul 19 at 3:27 pm Reply Reply

    I haven’t read the other comments, but I basically came here to echo @Alison’s comments.

    You answered your own question:
    “I shouldn’t be a “Butt-inski”.”

    Stay. Out. Of. It. Guess what, when your niece gets engaged is actually none of your business. And it worries me that you DO think it’s your business, and that you’re “surprised” that she didn’t get engaged. It’s not your ‘surprise’ to ‘have,’ if that makes sense. (Sidenote: Good grief, she just graduated college! Let her LIVE a little! Have you SEEN the divorce statistics…).

    If the other sister comes to you with complaints, say “oh, I’m so sorry to hear you feel hurt, you should really talk to Other Sister about that.” Same if your nieces share concerns with you (which it sounds like they….haven’t, you’re just hearing it from your sister/their mom). Refuse to be a gossip in your own family. In court they call this “hearsay:” “Well, Bad Sister, I heard from Other Sister that *Nieces* said that….” And it wouldn’t be ‘admissible’ in court, for good reason. Just No.

    Like the saying goes, “you tend your garden and I’ll tend mine.” Though they are in your family, any issues between the other two sisters are not ‘your garden’ to tend.

  18. Lisa Jul 23 at 8:57 am Reply Reply

    I agree with staying out of it. We cannot control other people, places, or things. Sounds like there are lots of “Expectations” in this family. And expectations bring on RESENTMENTS, when our expectations are not met. So, whatever is going on with the younger sister, the older ones have the choice to drop the resentments and expectations, or to let it fester…

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