Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Childless sister miffed that active toddler interrupted visit
Jealous Sister: Last weekend, I drove four hours round-trip, with my 1-year-old, to visit my sister (my husband stayed home to have a well-deserved break from baby care). Sis and I had agreed in advance that I'd visit for about two hours, since she had a busy schedule.
My toddler spent the entire visit zipping from one room to another, with me following her fairly close behind since sis' home is not particularly baby-proofed. (The first kitchen cabinet the toddler opened had all the cleaning products!) Sis does not have kids, but does interact with little kids from her husband's family.
I had brought books, toys, etc. — but of course that is not nearly as interesting as new rooms to investigate. Upon leaving, I told Sis I was sorry we didn't have time for more adult conversation.
When I called her the next night to see if she wanted to chat, and apologized about my baby taking up all of the time, she lit into me, saying she'd never, ever, been around someone less capable of having an adult conversation while caring for a small child, etc., and how truly awful/uncaring I was toward her.
I hung up feeling stunned — she and I have had bumps in the past, but we've been getting along well ever since my child was born. It's been a week and I'm still feeling pretty raw. Do you have any advice?
Carolyn: Heh. Well, I'm not sure you're ever going to get through to someone who views an active toddler through the lens of her own wounded feelings.
It's just, often, too many steps to walk someone through: You have to cover the fact that different kids have different levels of energy and curiosity, and therefore her experience with other toddlers doesn't necessarily translate to yours; and that those differences require different degrees of child-proofing. You also have to cover the fact that with an energetic, curious toddler in a non-child-proofed house, staying a foot or two behind said child can be a matter of life and death — then you hope you won't have to, but still may have to, cover the fact that opting to keep your toddler alive is not a reflection on your feelings for your sister.
Perhaps the highest hurdle to this is the natural dismay you feel at being personally attacked for what amounts to doing two jobs, to the best of your ability, that have little to do with your own immediate needs: keeping said child out of the hospital, and maintaining ties to your sister on her terms. Add the third job of giving your husband a breather, which of course isn't your sister's fault, and you're going to feel pretty drained and bent.
So, where does that leave you? You have two choices, really. You can try to walk your sister through the reasoning I laid out above, or you can accept that this sister Will Not Get It — at which point you content yourself with knowing that you did your best, and that, sadly, friends who are capable of empathy (along with your carefully raised kid) will give you more quality companionship than you can ever hope to get from your sister.