My younger sister and I have never had a great relationship. She is terrible to me, constantly trying to outdo me or prove that she is “the better one.” She has threatened to banish me from events or milestones if I don’t do exactly what she says in the way that she wants it. She single-handedly went out of her way to cause stress and chaos the morning of our wedding…and after having previously told my husband he had to wait a certain length of time after her own wedding before he could propose… you get he idea. My family members have commented on how terrible she can be to me, but, as the older sibling, I am told to “be the bigger person” and get over it. This hasn’t bothered me for the last five years as she was living on the other side of the country – and it was pure bliss — but she has recently moved back in with my parents after getting pregnant and is now searching for a house for her family. You can imagine my surprise when she commented that she wanted to move close to me. My first response was to think “she’s moving closer to me to make it easier to compete with what my husband and I have and be ‘better’ in our community,” and my husband agrees.
I am panicking over the thought of having my sister move into our community. She is not someone whose behavior I tend to condone, and to be quite honest I really don’t even like being associated with her in public – I was so happy to change my name after marriage so I wasn’t automatically pinned as being related to her. We are so happy here and I honestly do not think we could continue living here if we ran the risk of seeing her frequently when we went out, having her stop by unannounced, always asking me to watch her kids (like she currently does with my parents) or constantly comparing our homes, lives, etc.
What can I do protect the kingdom we have worked so hard to build for ourselves here?!? We spent years working up to this, and I can’t believe this could possibly happen. PLEASE HELP!!!! — A terrified Wife and Husband
I was sympathetic toward you all the way until the end of your letter when you referred to the place you live as your “kingdom.” A kingdom that you worked so hard to build for yourselves. You and your husband moved there last year, right? So, you’ve lived there like a few months, basically — at the most twelve months, but probably less than that. What, exactly, is all the “hard work” you’ve put into building this kingdom in less than a year? Being neighborly and friendly to people? Fixing up the home that you bought? Have you been involved in local politics, community fundraisers, the local public schools? Have you helped prepare buildings that need it, tend to public indoor and outdoor spaces, volunteered to help those in your community less fortunate than you? Just curious what the hard work is that you’ve done in the past few months to build this kingdom for yourself…
Anyway, about your question: No, you can’t stop your sister from moving to your community. You can’t tell her not to (at least, you can’t if you expect to retain any sort of facade of a relationship, which you should want to retain if for no other benefit than to keep the family peace). What you can do is stop talking your community up–stop talking about how great it is, how much you love it, how happy you are. You don’t say you’ve been doing this, but I have to imagine there’s been some talk about it or your sister wouldn’t suddenly be interested in moving there. Maybe you haven’t even talked to her directly about it. Maybe she’s hearing from your parents. Either way, you know your sister feels competitive with you. You know there’s some sense of her trying to better you. The best way to combat that is to downplay how wonderful things are for you. Be humble and modest.
What if that doesn’t work though? What if downplaying how happy you are in your community doesn’t deter your sister from moving there and your worst nightmare comes true and she becomes a neighbor? Well… I think you cross that bridge when you get to it and try not to worry about it too much right now. If that happens, you’ll have to set some clear boundaries so that she doesn’t stop by unannounced. She might ask you to watch her kids, but she’s only going to continue asking you over and over if you give her reason to by saying yes sometimes. If you want to avoid this scenario, you simply don’t watch her kids ever. And if she compares your homes, ignore her. Just don’t engage. Don’t play the game.
As for worrying about being associated with her, that just sounds snobby. So what if people know you have a sister who’s really different from you? Anyone who’s going to judge you for your sister’s behavior isn’t a friend worth having anyway. And if a whole community is going to look down on you because you have a sister who doesn’t fit in, maybe that isn’t such a great community after all.
But, again, I don’t think any of this is worth worrying about right now. It sounds like your sister has made a comment about moving close to you and that’s it. There are no plans in motion, no house picked out, no need to freak out just yet. She might start asking you some questions as she narrows down her choices, and if she does, remember to be modest, humble, and not talk about how great “your kingdom” is no matter how proud you might be of the hard work you’ve put into building it. The less she knows about how fabulous it is, the better. In fact, maybe you should start pointing out some less ideal things about it. Lack of privacy and autonomy, maybe? Inability to avoid people you don’t really like?
Eek, good luck!
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.