Sister should drop defenses and apologize to end sibling drama
Q: I am the oldest of five siblings. My younger sister is 27. She is a new mother, of a 9-month-old. I have invested much love, time and energy into my sweet nephew. I am married with two stepkids of my own, 8 and 9.
My sister has been keeping me up to speed with her struggles in adjusting to a baby. I admittedly have expressed such sentiments as "Wait until he can walk, you will be even busier" and "Enjoy this sweet time with him, because things will change."
Yesterday, she informs me that she is sick of my "wait until he gets older" comments, because she feels like I am judging her as a parent. She says I have no idea what it means to be a "real parent" because I have only had "stepkids" since they were 4 and 5 and only on a split-custody schedule. This came out of left field. I asked her why she didn't say something before, and she tells me that I am such a hard person to talk to.
She was crying and yelling and then hung up on me. I understand we all have bad days, and maybe I caught her on one. How am I supposed to communicate with her? I want to know if I am out of line in calling her on not speaking to me about this sooner. I'm tired of all the drama, and of being labeled the "mean" older sister.
A: I don't know about the "mean," but you will live up to the "hard to talk to" label if you throw up your defenses and attack her back. That helps make her case that you're not approachable.
Should she have spoken up sooner anyway? Yes. There's also no justification for her screaming, phone-slamming and emotional sucker-punching.
Still, none of these missteps erases the fact that she expressed a legitimate grievance. Any "just you wait . . . " comment is heavy with condescension, because the whole premise of it is that the speaker knows something the listener doesn't. Her coming back with the accusation that you're the one who doesn't know anything was childish, for sure, but please find some sympathy for the impulse: You are quite aware of your place as Big Sister, and Little Sister, apparently, has had enough.
Your best bet now — to be fair to your sister, to start breaking this nasty older/younger pattern, to stay close to your nephew — is to apologize for talking down to her. Admit that your focus on what lies ahead in child-rearing has been dismissive of her current circumstances. Admit that it might be an unconscious drift, on your part, to a phase of child-rearing you do understand, because you are, in fact, at a disadvantage when the conversation is about babies.
In other words, drop your dukes. Completely.
If your sister takes this opportunity to launch an uppercut to your jaw, then you'll have lost nothing, because she'll be alone on the low road, and you'll have gained the knowledge that an adult relationship with her isn't realistic, at least for now.
But if she is open to meeting you halfway, then she will apologize for her withhold-and-explode approach to conflict — ideally without your having to prompt it, but ungrudgingly either way.