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Advice appreciated on sibling(11 Posts)
Would appreciate some advice on this situation. I'm in my late 40's (my sister is 3.5 years younger). To cut a very long story short, my sister and I grew up with a loving and giving mother and an abusive father (both verbally and physically). Although we were both afraid of him, my sister had a worse time than me. I was the more academic, square, obedient child (I discovered that this was the line of least resistance). My sister was a much more normal kid. Teachers would compare us academically at parents evening. My father nicknamed her “Gormless” and without a doubt was more cruel to her than he was to me. My mum was too afraid to leave when we were little (Dad used to make threats) but eventually she did.
Fast forward and two years ago, my sister asked if I had ever been happy because she didn’t think she ever had been (even in her adult life). Her words have haunted me since. She is a workaholic, has had numerous failed relationships, seems always to be seeking approval from others, and rolls from one crisis to another. I think it is pretty clear that this stems from a painful childhood and over the years, my mum and I have offered help where we felt we could (a listening ear, financial help and practical help) and she has accepted that. She lives alone.
During lockdown, she’s been calling my mum every day and their conversations are usually about an hour with most of this being my sister complaining about her problems with the neighbours etc (She used to phone up and go on about problems with people at work, but now the neighbours are her main focus). And yes, there are some issues with neighbouring properties (knotweed spreading onto her garden, neighbours not repairing fences which are their responsibility etc), but these seem to be consuming her and she is very angry. My mum makes suggestions (perfectly reasonable when someone keeps complaining about the same things over and over), but in the last couple of weeks, my sister has now decided that my mum is “telling her what to do”. She’s accused her of trying to “take over”, of “not wanting to listen to her”.
She called me before the weekend, and although the conversation started off pleasant enough, she quickly started making all these accusations about our mother. My mum’s in her 70’s and is a little bit deaf and we’ve both suggested hearing aids. My sister brought this up on the phone but when I said that I agreed that it would help, but it was mum’s choice, my sister disagreed. She said that if mum really cared, she would want to get hearing aids to listen to her properly. Both mum and I do listen to her. It’s just that we sometimes have a different opinion, but when either of us says so, she views this as criticism and creates a conflict out of it.
She talked about her making time to speak to my mother every night and pointed out that I don’t call mum as often (not sure if this was designed at point scoring but I don't think it is necessary for me to call mum more than once or twice a week) But then she makes out that she is having to spend so much time on the phone because mum is retired and bored and needs this level of contact. My sister is now resentful of the time she is having to spend on the phone. She is accusing "people" of infringing on, and not being respectful of her time when she has such a busy life. As I say, she is a workaholic and regularly works unpaid hours (of her own volition) over and above what she is contracted to do. But what she says isn’t true. I don’t have much contact with my sister at all (and her phone calls to mum are 90% my sister using mum as a sounding board when she is having a rant at mum about her problems). My mum is exhausted with it, but doesn’t want to upset her so she listens.
With Christmas approaching, my sister has also voiced resentment at “having to come to see mum and me at Christmas” ( I invite them both every year and they come and I never had any notion that she didn’t really want to, and so whilst taken aback by this, I pointed out that she could have declined the invitation and I would not have taken any offence).
And after she’s accepted all of the offers of help from us over the years, she now appears to be throwing that back at us too and is now referring to both of us seeing her as a “charity case” . No help has ever been forced upon her, but when you care about someone, you do offer to help where you can (e.g. with moving house, transport, and also with helping her out financially when she’s been struggling) and since she's been happy enough to accept help, we had no idea that this was causing her emotional issues.
She’s also now saying that she stayed in bad relationships because mum and I both encouraged her to, and she says she’s had some very bad advice from us (although in the next breath she says she’s not casting blame). We’ve never encouraged her to stay with her previous partners. This is pure fabrication.
Towards the end of the recent call, she then got on about myself and my husband being high Covid risk (since we are still going to our place of work – although we’ve had a risk assessment and are taking precautions) but she said I shouldn’t be seeing my mother, because if I do, she can’t (even outside in a public place) because she is working from home and needs to protect her boyfriend and his parents because she's chosen her boyfriend as her bubble. But the fact is that since lockdown, I’ve seen my mother once, outside in a public space which is within the rules. Mum and I are perfectly happy with this, but my sister clearly is not and at this point in the call she decided to put the phone down on me after 2 hours 20 mins of going on about how nobody understands her, everyone just treats her like a child and nobody cares.
If this was her just hurling stuff at me, then I could cope with it. I know she probably has some form of attachment disorder, but I am angry that she is hurting my mum – a woman who has not had the easiest of lives, but has always given us 100% and has always put us before herself. I cannot agree with my sister’s perceptions as being the reality of things so eventually I told her that I think she is not communicating what she wants properly (i.e. saying one thing but thinking another) and is building up resentment. She is letting her problems consume her and is being selfish and laying the blame on other people who love her. She has no sense of humour, latches on to anything she can interpret as criticism and is so, so sensitive. Because I said that, my sister says she thinks I can be nasty and rude. And yes, after trying the gently, gently approach, I did get direct with her and she didn’t like to hear it. I’ll admit that I was getting frustrated with how she is perceiving everything in such a negative light, and I know I am protective over my mum and don’t want my sister hurting her.
Has anyone else been in a similar situation and managed to resolve this? I think my sister needs professional input. We’re just too involved to help her work through her emotional issues, but at the minute she thinks it is everyone else who is wrong and against her. I don’t want to spend the rest of my adult life walking on eggshells or having conflicts with her and I don’t want to see my mum upset. Apologies that this is so long, but any advice would be appreciated.
I havent read it all but I think you have to accept that your sister's relationship with your mother is very different from yours. You call her a "loving and giving" mother but the sad truth is she failed in her most fundamental duty to protect you both (but esp your sister) from harm.
It is likely that your sister has a lot of unresolved emotions around her childhood and wants things from your mother that she is unlikely to supply (a heartfelt apology for a start). That she wants to be "heard" by your mother is very telling. And yes, professional help is really the only thing that is likely to help her, although it's unlikely to make you all into a happy little family unit going forward - I bet there's a lot of anger hidden away there.
Your sister obviously sees your mother in a very different light to you. If she was so giving and kind she would have left your father and it is natural to feel resentful that not only you escaped the worst abuse, your relationship with your mother is as if childhood never happened.
Ideally your sister would seek advice from someone other than you or your mother and they would help her see that you were a child so also trapped and being studious was a coping mechanism rather than a attempt to deflect abuse on her. She'd also hopefully come to understand that your mother wouldn't have had as many options or places of support to leave your Dad as women do today. If she learns to accept/forgive a little I suspect that her mental health would improve.
Your sister's childhood has clearly held her back as an adult. I suspect that seeing you happily married and friends with your mother as if the painful past never happened is a kick in the teeth. I suspect she's both ashamed that she needs help and feels that she deserves it as she didn't get it as a child. If this was a movie she'd have a perfect husband, job and could say fuck you to get Dad but life has dealt her a crappy hand and she's clearly dragged down by it. She doesn't realise that she will never be able to make your or your mum hear her properly. She is angry, resentful and you and her mum are easy targets.
You're not going to convince your sister to see your mum like you do and vice versa.
Thanks for your reply and it's good to hear a different perspective. My sister has always said that she loves my mum and has said in the past that mum always does so much for her (and she certainly does). My mum gave up work when she had us and had no means of supporting herself outside of the marriage with my dad. They moved to live beside his parents when I was five. My grandparents stopped mum's female friends from visiting. Said married women had their husbands and children and shouldn't have friends (nutters!) Honestly - my two sets of grandparents were like chalk and cheese. My mum's parents were lovely, gentle people. My dad's were just troublemakers. Dad made it clear that if she ever left him, she wouldn't get a penny and she wouldn't get us. He even said that in front of us. He was good at making veiled threats. She was scared for what he'd do if she left. I don't think this was unfounded. Mentally unwell people sometimes do take drastic action. She tried leaving later and went to stay with her dad. He started to make life hell for her elderly father so she went back. When she tried again, I helped her and arranged for her to stay somewhere my dad wouldn't find her. He made all sorts of threats to me if I didn't get her to go back. He even threatened to abduct his own grandchildren. It got very nasty and we had to involve the police. I understand what mum's fears were about leaving him. I think it is hard to judge unless you have ever been in that situation. My sister has always said the same. Of course mum feels guilty and she has apologised a thousand times saying that she didn't know what to do for the best. But now mum just goes along with whatever my sister wants. This mistreatment of my mother is only a recent phenomenon but it's not just my mum....seems like after all these years there is a torrent of pent-up resentment about me too.
Completely appreciate that relationships are individual things so my sister's relationship with mum won't be the same as mine. My sister has always had problems with other people and has always turned to mum and I (mainly my mum) and has always appeared grateful for the support we've offered (and we've offered it because we love her) But this complete change in attitude towards us after so many years (As I say, she is mid-40's now) is quite shocking. I know she's been working from home during the lockdown. I don't know whether this has been a factor or whether she truly has felt like this all these years and has just been pretending for the past 20+ years. After all we've been through together, my sister just looks like she is pressing a self-destruct button. Has anyone ever tried to talk to a sibling about a suspected attachment disorder? I don't want her accusing me of saying she is mentally unwell because whilst mental illness shouldn't be taboo, I know she will see this as a criticism and I don't want to add fat to the fire.
@Namedlooby I have been in your sister's position (I am the same age as you now). I love my mum and, in many ways she is a good woman and a good mother, but that doesnt negate the fact that she brought us up in an abusive relationship because she didnt have the strength to leave. She had choices , not good ones but they were there - and they were there for your mum too.
Until I had children of my own it was my dad I was always angry with (for good reason). But I did then go through a whole period of being angry with my mum when I realised how defenceless kids arevand knew I'd do anything to keep them from harm. Our relationship did survived, it was just something I had to work through.
Honestly, your mum is at least partly reaping what she sowed. Your poor sister.
Could you encourage her to go to counselling? Could you even offer to go together?
I think you've got it right that your sister needs to talk to someone impartial. It sounds like she's developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms from her difficult childhood and will need professional help to change that.
Thanks Porcupineinwaiting. I have grown up boys now, but my sister doesn't have kids and dad's been dead for over seven years. Maybe you have a point and she directed all her negative emotions towards him when he was alive (we were estranged from him, until the last few months of his life when he needed nursing care and when I got involved with him again - more out of a sense of duty (since there was no one else) but also out of a sense of curiosity about whether he had any remorse and a desire to bring closure. My sister supported my decision at the time, but didn't get involved and I supported her decision not to). Maybe now he's dead and life hasn't got any better for her because she still seeks approval, tries too hard and is always quick to assume people are judging and criticising her, she needs a different focus for her anger. I guess our own personalities and experiences do colour our views. My father was an extreme and unpredictable individual. We were all terrified of him. But when I was in my early twenties, a work colleague also split from her husband and he went on to murder their three and five year old children. She lived in the flat upstairs. I think the horror of that helped me see my mum's dilemma in a different light. We have never buried our childhood and have been quite open with each other when acknowleding the pain of the past. But I think it is time I encouraged her to think about whether she resented me at the time for not being verbally abused and belittled quite as much (although I was hit just as much as her). My mother could not have given us more of a heartfelt apology and my sister and I both worried about her when we left home, but you could be right, although my mum is the most gentle, sacrificial, caring person I know, and my sister has often agreed that she is, maybe she does still blame her....as well as maybe me for getting off slightly more lightly, but she doesn't want to admit it. I'm going to try to explore these issues with her and tell her that these emotions are okay if this is how she feels. I started off life with a dysfunctional family, I really don't want to end it this way. Thank you x
She’s clearly damaged by the actions of your dad and inactions of your mum when she was a child. Yes your mum has taught her to stay in unhealthy relationships by virtue of seeing her do that so her childhood.
She may also resent you (rightly or wrongly) for not having as bad as her.
Lockdown has given people time to reflect and has stretched some people’s resilience to the limit so it’s unsurprising that these feelings are coming out now
YoniandGuy. I think she would benefit from counselling, but that has to start with the acknowledgement of a problem. Because I lived through this too, I think I could try to play a role here (it's just difficult because I feel like I am walking on egg shells and she is very sensitive), but I don't think I would be the right person to go with her to counselling. We've adapted too differently and it's clear that she resents me also which I find quite hurtful.