Make us your home page

Let sister learn from hearing 'no'

Step aside and let sister learn from hearing the word 'no'

Q: My sister has several career paths she could pursue, but her heart is set on one in particular. She's applied unsuccessfully several times for her desired degree programs, using our parents' money. They said her current attempt was the last they would support.

Recently, however, she outlined to me her strategy for her next (fourth? fifth?) round of applications.

There is a long history of my ending up in the middle of my sister and our parents — partly because my parents see me as a convenient go-between, but I've been complicit in it. I realize I need to extract myself from their conflicts.

I'm not sure what I should do now, though. I seem to be the only one who sees this may be headed for a messy and hurtful showdown. Would it be appropriate for me to say something to my sister or parents? Does staying out of it mean sitting back while the train wreck happens?

Out of the Middle

A: If there is a train wreck, it'll be thanks to all the well-meaning but misguided efforts to protect your sister from the word "no." It's a good word. A healthy word. It clarifies for people what they can and can't have.

It applies to you, too. Your parents couldn't make you their go-between without your saying "yes" to that. And since you're on the verge of meddling again, just knowing you're complicit apparently isn't enough to thwart the impulse.

So figure out why you're complicit. From your last paragraph, I would guess that (1.) you equate minor conflict (your sister's disappointment) with major pain (train wreck), and (2.) you think you can prevent the pain. Close?

If so, then minimizing your interference will be a matter of minimizing both your sense of drama and your role in that drama. This isn't a "showdown" — it's one party saying "no" to another party who doesn't want to hear it. You, a third party, can't prevent that.

Nor should you. If your sister gets her heart broken, then it will be sad, sure — and if she blames your parents, then it will make family life tougher for you. But that still doesn't make this your business, and that still doesn't make the heartbreak bad. I would argue it's seriously overdue.

Your parents' money has repeatedly shielded your sister from natural consequences, so her pursuit of realistic career advancement is now two? three? years behind schedule. Enough. Let fate do its job, and let your sister get on with hers.

Don't expect friend to express affection the same way you do

Q: One of my friends (who I consider one of my best) has a tendency to get really absorbed in things she's busy with, and frankly, I feel neglected and abandoned. I'm busy too, but I make an effort to reach out to my friends anyway.

I've told her this and she seemed to take it to heart, but her behavior hasn't really changed. Am I to conclude that she doesn't care about me as much as I do about her?


A: You are to conclude that she's not you. You show affection your way, she shows it her way. If you can't accept or adapt to her way, then that suggests you don't like this friend enough to consider her "one of my best."

Let sister learn from hearing 'no' 02/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 22, 2009 9:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours