Home > Dysfunctional family dynamics, & a heart-to-heart with my sister

Dysfunctional family dynamics, & a heart-to-heart with my sister

November 10th, 2012 at 12:09 am

My sister is mostly estranged from me and my mother. When it's the two of us talking, we get along fairly well, but my sister quickly becomes short-tempered, grouchy, nasty and incommunicative with my mother. (Even with me, i mostly feel I have to walk on eggshells around her.) It's been like this for many, many years, and I've pretty much given up on my sister after so much anger and resentment that she treats us, her family, so poorly. I never had the kind of sisterly relationship many sisters seem to enjoy.

In the past year or so, my mother's experienced a number of health scares having to do with irregular heartbeat, severe, full-body arthritis pain and vaginal bleeding for unknown reasons.

When many of these events happened, my mother panicked, called 911 and was transported to the emergency room, sometimes for several days of tests. A few times she called me.

She's fine right now, but all of this stuff was kind of like the writing on the wall, meaning that at some point, my mother's going to have more serious health crises that my sister and I, as her only family, are going to have to deal with.

And for a very long time I've felt pretty much on my own when trying to help my mother out. Aside from the obligatory family dinners at major holidays and birthdays, my sister has nothing to do with us, even though she lives nearby.

Some of my mother's health issues have been extremely stressful for me to handle. When my mother was in extreme pain from the arthritis, there wasn't much I could do except urge her to see her doctors, etc.

And I've been getting increasingly resentful toward my sister that she does nothing to help out. Since my mother's third divorce many years ago, I've often felt my mother's trying to make me her "husband," coming to me to for help and reciting all the hassles or stressors of everyday life. She will relay every aspect of her experiences in excruciating detail (he said this, then I said that, then he said this....).

So basically, her stress becomes my stress. I'm not sure that's really fair, but for as much as I am a strong and independent woman, my mother is just the opposite. She acts very helpless and very needy, which drives me insane.

So last summer I wrote my sister a letter, basically asking her to step up to the plate and help me take care of our aging parents. My dad certainly has his share of health problems, but he never complains or asks for help, and he is 3 hours away anyway. (My 2 brothers are closer to him.)

I told me sister that while I knew that mom could be extremely difficult to deal with, it's still our obligation and responsibility as her daughters to help her in her advanced age,and that i needed to know she was willing to do that with me. A lot of it for me, I admit, is psychological. I'm not sure there was ever a lot I had to do for my mother physically, except drive her to or from the hospital, but I really could have used some emotional support from my sister.

I never got a reply to the letter. Which fueled my anger toward her.

Then my sister called me tonight to announce she was treating me and my mother to Thanksgiving dinner at a local inn. My mother always cooks, but it's a lot of work and may be just easier to eat out, though none of us is rolling in money. I told my sister I'd pitch in to pay for the meal; she said it didn't matter.

Then I asked if we could talk about the letter. And we did. I'm not sure we resolved anything, but I feel much better becus we were able to have a civil and candid conversation, about my mother. She said she has tried to be more patient with her, but acknowledged not much success. I told her I understood how she feels about my mother, becus i feel the same way, although not as extremely as my sister, and I do feel a strong sense of responsibility for my mom. I said, well, if you can't talk to mom, if would really be helpful if I could know that I could talk to her (my sister) about issues with my mother if her health issues recur. She had no problem with that.

She said she had a problem with my mother calling 911 multiple times for "frivolous" health issues when maybe she could have waited til morning and made an appointment with her doctor. I told her I didn't think they were frivolous, and that it really wasn't for either one of us to judge the validity or seriousness of my mother's health complaints anyway. We obviously weren't in her shoes.

The big difference between me and my sister, when it comes to my mother, I think, is that my sister seems to have no compassion or empathy for my mother at all. She's very hostile to her.

My mother's also gotten hard of hearing of late and practically everything you say to her has to be repeated. This is also annoying when you are together for any period of time. My mother doesn't want to wear a hearing aid, or be seen wearing one, so she hasn't had her hearing checked out, even though I think the hearing problem is also contributing to worsening relationships with her daughters.

My sister did have one good idea, to try to get my mother to move from her condo to one that's ranch style, becus the arthritis could really be a problem with her double flight of stairs to her current living space/townhouse.

At first, I didn't like the idea becus I know my mother has a lot of friends where she lives now and at her age i wouldn't want to see her go to a brand new place and not know anyone. But then I wondered out loud with my sister on the phone whether there might be ranch style units at the complex where my mother is now.

After we hung up, i went online, and indeed there are ranch style units there. They are slightly smaller, by about 130 square feet, but I think it could really make life easier for her down the road. Yeah, it's not easy for a 79-year-old woman to move, but to wait until there's another health issue and then it's really a crisis, would make it worse.

So I guess we were able to put some stuff on the table. Thinking about it more, I would really like to get my sister's email. Years ago she said she had stopped using the computer, but i really knew it was just that she was tired of getting constant emails from my mother and didn't want to give out her new one to us. Maybe if I promise not to share it with anyone.

6 Responses to “Dysfunctional family dynamics, & a heart-to-heart with my sister”

  1. MonkeyMama Says:

    I can totally relate, and trust me, it could be MUCH worse. (If that helps at all?)

    There are no positive sisterly relationships on my side of the family for sure. My aunt was quite abusive with Grandma towards the end, and often did not tell us what was going on. Very very difficult for Grandma and for my mom and for everyone. WE almost felt relief at Grandma's passing to finally cut her out of our lives 100%.

    I wouldn't even know where to begin with my sister. I had never particularly thought that far ahead, but doubt she will even be alive to deal with my parents old age. Which maybe is for the best. I am blessed to have my spouse as he is 1000 times more helpful.

    & then there is my dh's family. HA! There is such a thing as too-helpful and too involved. They are the last people you want around in a crisis. But of course they love you and they want to be there - but everything just turns crazy. Though this falls solidly in the "could be worse." I think it is worse to not care at all.

    I share because I think most of us can relate. Personalities really shine or don't shine when it comes to hard times. & some people are just better cut out for the caregiving side of things. I think the communication is VERY good, but beyond that there is some element of "it is what it is" and not wasting a lot of energy on trying to change things that won't change. ((HUGS))

  2. PatientSaver Says:

    Thanks, MM. I think there's a lot of truth in your very last sentence. Commnication IS important, but it is what it is (acceptance, resignation) and try not to exhaust my energy on a non-productive endeavor like trying to change my sister.

  3. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    I don't know if my reflections will be of any use, but:

    My sister despises our mother. I think she has never gotten over a teenage feeling that she was treated unfairly, and she has continued to nurse that teenage feeling of being mortally embarrassed by the parent. She has continued to believe that our mother was willfully and profoundly incompetent as a parent and human being in general. Anyway, she stopped talking to Mom around 15 years ago. She never asks about her; but she does politely listen when I catch her up on Mom (and on our other sister to whom she doesn't talk).

    I've found my sister's shut-down to be burdensome to me. It does make me angry. I wonder whether she would even want to know when our mother dies. Would she want to hear so that she could perhaps feel relieved? Would she want to talk with her brother and sisters the way people just do?

    Ironically I find my sister shows more and more of the same short-comings that really are our mother's worst. I doubt she has any idea that I see her as being a lot like her own despised mother. I did not see that when she was young. I think she has just grown into it.

    I love my sister and she loves me. We talk a lot by phone. A lot!
    This is mirrored by:
    I love my mother and she loves me. We talk a lot by phone. A lot!
    But never the twain shall meet.

    I was just thinking earlier today that I might have that classic middle child, "Please can't we all just get along?" With six kids, there were four of us middle children and my sister was one of them, too. So where is her get-alonginess?

    sorry for the book. i guess. no energy to lift my other hand to press the shift key.

  4. PatientSaver Says:

    Thank you both for sharing such personal thoughts with me. It is comforting to know the rest of the developed world is not all idyllic sunshiney family happiness. This is why i am sort of glad I don't have TV, as the upcoming holiday season douses everything in such cheerful family perfection that it becomes such an obvious, jarring contrast to my own realities.

  5. PNW Mom Says:

    I am so sorry to hear this....I can relate in some parents are aging, and right now, my mom, sister and I are estranged from my brother. My parents are married but my brother doesn't have the issues with my dad. Both have some health issues (dad much more than mom). Glad you at least tried to open the doors of communication with your sister...hope it will turn into at least some sort of compromise for all of you....hugs

  6. Pleeze Says:

    Caring for an aging parent is stressful. Your mother comes from an era of dependent women, meaning they were wired that way in their upbringing. My mother is the same way. I am the sister that thinks "outside of the box." There is no age at which a person cannot change. It may be difficult, but not impossible. It sounds as if you are a rescuer personality, and while your intentions are good - you aid your mother in remaining a child. 79 is not too late to become an adult. Start setting boundaries - don't make decisions for her - offer choices along with talking about the consequences of each choice. Allow her to start thinking. You are not her husband, you are her adult daughter. Help her grow up.

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