Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Resent My Sister’s Pregnancy”

I love your advice and hope your no nonsense approach will help guide me through a sticky situation I find myself in.

My sister and I are estranged and have been for almost a decade. We were once very close, but the bottom fell out after a culmination of my feeling mistreated and being used and my subsequent frustration at my family for playing favorites. Distance has done me good, and through therapy I’ve learned where I went wrong in that relationship and have made peace with how things ended. She thinks she did nothing wrong and I should get over it, so I’ve accepted that things likely won’t change between us.

This past year while going through my first pregnancy I did reconnect with a few key family members and have slowly begun to rebuild my familial relationships. It has been lovely having support and a somewhat normal family experience. I even ended up seeing/speaking to my sister at my baby shower. It was fine, nothing major, but it left a lot of people hopeful we would reconcile.

I’ve since given birth and am immersed in being a first-time mom to a 3-month-old. Recently I received a text from my mother informing me that my sister was pregnant and having a boy. My first reaction was to be annoyed that my sister will very likely overshadow me/my son and it would have been nice if I could have enjoyed my family for a little longer before the focus shifted to her (because that’s how the dynamic usually goes). But after processing my initial pettiness, I realized that this is a big moment for her and she deserves people to be happy for her.

Then a secondary wave of thoughts and feelings came through. My sister told everyone in my family she was expecting several weeks ago but excluded me. Now I am stuck in this awkward situation where I know very personal information that I was not supposed to know. I feel rejected and left out but also like I shouldn’t have been informed because it is her right to have her pregnancy announced on her terms. For what it’s worth, when I was pregnant, I sent her an announcement in the mail. However, I should mention that she had moved and it got sent back before I resent it. It did take a bit longer to get to her. My understanding is that our dad told her before she received the announcement.

Now I feel like pulling back from my burgeoning relationships with family to avoid the topic of my sister’s pregnancy. I feel like wallowing in self-pity. I feel immature and petty for wanting to wallow. So how do I proceed? How do I eliminate these feelings of resentment and rejection? I want to be supportive to her, but my guess is she doesn’t even want me in the loop. — Resenting Sister’s Pregnancy

I am sorry that you’ve been estranged from your sister and distant from what sounds like most of your family for many years. It’s nice that you’ve been able to reconnect with some key family members and that your sister attended your baby shower, but all these people are the same people they always have been. Yes, you’ve been going to therapy and you’ve worked through a lot of stuff, but there’s no indication that they’ve done the same or that they want to. You say that distance (at least from your sister) did you good, but I get the feeling that the idea of having something you always wished for – a “normal family experience” — with some indication and hope that maybe that could/would finally be possible—has changed your expectations, and now distance is no longer something you are willing to accept even though you say it was good for you.

Your expectations have changed despite no indication whatsoever that anyone else’s behavior or attitudes toward you have changed. Now you expect – and, of course, deeply desire — a familial connection. You have felt that such a connection might be possible with the presence of your baby, and now the promise of another baby threatens the shaky connections you’ve been trying to re-build. If those connections are so shaky that an additional baby threatens to replace yours — and you! — in the hearts and minds of your family members, then I promise nothing ever changed except your own expectations and willingness to hope. Of course, all of this is speculation. You don’t really know that you and your baby will be replaced any more than you know that your sister didn’t want you to learn about her pregnancy. And it’s ok to have hope – as long as you balance it with realistic expectations.

So, how do you retain hope while also balancing your expectations? Therapy can help, so if you’ve stopped going, please consider going back. It could be especially helpful as you embrace this exciting but exhausting stage of your life as a new mother. I would also continue to remind yourself that relationships don’t change overnight, and they don’t change by way of only one person making an investment. Continue making some investment in your family relationships, but make and honor your own boundaries. Don’t give more than you feel you are getting in return. Send a message to your sister – an email or text will do — saying you heard her good news and you’re happy for her. Do not expect a response. Your job is to make a small investment, which a quick note to her will do. If she cares to return your small investment, she will, and you can make a slightly bigger investment the next time. The key is to never give much more of yourself than she’s giving. That will help you to balance your hope with your expectations. The same goes for the rest of the family as well.

Finally, despite your relationship with your family of origin, you have control in creating the “normal family experience” you crave. You have your own child now and, I have to assume, a partner with whom you share your child. I hope you also have some close friends – people you might consider your “chosen family.” With these people, you can share the love and support you hoped to share with the family you grew up with. Shift your expectations to the circle of people who have not disappointed you so deeply, and while you make small, incremental investments – as warranted — in your family of origin, make the much bigger investments in your child and the people in your life who have made the biggest investments in you.

The family you crave is not going to look like the family who surrounded you when you were young. If you haven’t grieved that yet, you need to. But at the same time, the family you crave, while looking different than you expected or wanted, is going to be better for you. And it’s in accepting this that your feelings of rejection and resentment will dissipate (and maybe even finally disappear!). After all, your family hasn’t rejected you; it’s the people who love you and haven’t rejected you who are your family.

***************
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

29 comments… add one
  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 12, 2019, 11:27 am

    Honestly? My take is the polar opposite Why so sympathetic, Wendy? I mean — c’mon! The LW comes across as petty whiney. More — offers up no REAL evidence of mistreatment. Just vague obtuse gobbledygook. NEWSFLASH! A persons feelings aren’t necessarily based in fact or reality.

    Even so, I must admit — yeah, sometimes families DO play favorites.. Sometimes it’s because one sibling is simply a real headache…

    You know what classifies as being a real headache? Gee, I dunno. How about resenting your siblings pregnancy and then resenting that sibling for — surprise, surprise! — somehow NOT telling you…

    🙄

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      Jennifer November 12, 2019, 4:37 pm

      I thought the same. When I read this, I thought to myself, wow this sounds like my sister. A total drama queen who always feels so slighted and left out for the tiniest of “slights”. She is constantly competing with me for attention, as she feels that I am the “favorite.” I loathe the competition, and I try to just ignore her drama. And at this point, there is distance between her and the family, but it is mostly self-created. Who wants to spend their lives walking on eggshells among their own family?

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    ron November 12, 2019, 11:49 am

    I agree, BGM. Something seems very off about LW. She seems to invent reasons to be upset. She doesn’t list a single valid reason in her whole, long, post. It would be one thing if she was just feuding with sister, for unspecified reason, but she severed relations with most of family and then took an initially very selfish tone when she heard of sister’s pregnancy. A lot more therapy needed here, a whole lot more. A strong desire to wallow in self pity is not a good look for anyone, but this whole post is ‘flat’. No mention of a happy life with new child and bf or husband, nothing but a fixation on being the family star for longer, due to birth of child. And again, not one instance of sister or birth family doing anything wrong — it seems to be all in LWs head.

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    anonymousse November 12, 2019, 12:22 pm

    Your family isn’t going to change. I think you should get back into therapy because it’s clear you haven’t fully realized that they will never become the people you wish they were. You need to adjust your expectations and come to terms with the family that you do have. It’s hard to rectify that, but it’s the reality of your situation.

    I think the pregnancy isn’t really the issue here. The issue is the same issue that’s always been there. You know she didn’t get pregnant AT YOU. It just hurts that you thought your baby gave you this extra interest and attention you haven’t been getting from your family. And now you’re worried that it will all be directed at her, and not you. You need to look at the long term goal for yourself. Leave your sister out of this little thought experiment. Do you want your parents and other family involved in your life? Keep them involved however feels best for you. Send email updates every two weeks, or post a lot of photos on Facebook or whatever it is that helps you maintain at a distance. You need to be careful to keep these feelings of resentment or not enough to yourself in front of them and play as nice as you can. It will be so easy to point out your bitter and resentful behavior if you let this momentary feeling overtake you.

    Please try to stop thinking about your sister. Be cordial. Send her a congratulatory note, be pleasant if you see her in person but stop comparing yourself to her. You have to figure out how to focus on your life and your family and stop allowing your feelings about her to dull your own happiness.

    And start therapy again. Get these feelings out that way. Good luck.

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  • avatar

    brise November 12, 2019, 12:38 pm

    LW, you are projecting a lot here. There was probably a pattern of your sister domineering you and catching more attention – as you say you suffered of that inequality during your childhood, but it is also a matter of interpretation and own behavior. It reveals a fragile narcissism, a lack of confidence in yourself. I think it is normal that you feel vulnerable now, right after giving birth. Such an experience recalls your childhood and your family roles. It is a period of regression and progression at the same time. But now, you are an adult, you grew and made a lot of steps forward. You built your own family and you are mending fences with your family, at your own pace, which is great. You are free to socialise with them or to take some distance as you feel like. I suggest that you accept the way you feel, because these are just emotions and replay of old vulnerabilities. Let it be. But I garantee you that it won’t be a reenactment of your et your sister childhood, because now you are in charge for a good part of the relationships. You have agency. Let see the good side: it will be great for your child to have a little cousin, and their relationship will be probably very different. If your sister is projecting her own competitive or domineering manners on the babies, you can just see that this is her limits and detach or find your own deflating answers. Don’t play her game if she starts comparing. The same with your parents. Don’t enter any comparison game. Be proactive in organising playdates, but also separate baby-sitting or visits with your parents. People are the way they are, they won’t change massively, but you can control your own attitude. My guess is that you will be fine. Meanwhile, yes, congratulate your sister. Don’t overanalyse everything. Just enjoy your baby and focus on this.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 12, 2019, 12:41 pm

    The whole competitive pregnancy thing is just odd.

    Years ago, I went to Thailand. I was looking mighty forward to sending my family quick little notes every few days via email and REALLY wowing them with my epic Far East adventures!

    On very first morning upon landing in Bangkok — my sister dropped the bomb that’s she and her husband were expecting their first child.

    The first child in our family since my sister!!!

    She’d just learned this that very day. Boy, was this ever TRULY exciting news. Now I have alway thought — wow, how cool that I learned such fantastic info when I was on such a fantastic adventure myself!
    .
    But reading letters here, I often wonder if I should have instead somehow exploded with RAGE! How dare my sister upstage me in such a way!
    .
    Seriously. What the fuck is with so many people writing in here who view each and everything people do as a attack on them? Sorry, I seriously don’t get it!

    Grow the fuck up,

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      Buttery November 12, 2019, 2:05 pm

      OMG this totally reminded me that someone in my family got upset that I was “stealing her thunder” when I got pregnant 5 months later. I don’t know, in my experience people who think these types of thoughts have personal issues, probably a lot around self esteem and worth.
      LW your sisters pregnancy isn’t about you. I second the therapy, I think it would be a relief to get to the point where you don’t have to be so concerned about the motives of others in this way. You’ve got much better things to do, like enjoy that baby!

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      Csp November 13, 2019, 9:09 am

      HA! This^^

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    golfer.gal November 12, 2019, 12:43 pm

    I’m glad Wendy was more gentle with this LW. First of all, being a first time new mom is HARD. 3 months in she is still a bundle of hormones and shock and no sleep. It’s a very emotional time, and it’s understandable it would bring up some sadness about her family situation.

    The LW tells us she was estranged from much (all?) Of her family in part due to their willingness to choose her sister over her, to the point of feeling unsupported and rejected. She reached out, became hopeful, and is now realizing her hope was misplaced. That sucks. She knows her resentment about her sister’s pregnancy is petty and wrong, and she didn’t act on those feelings in any negative way. Which I think is commendable. I was waiting for the part where she behaved horribly and lashed out (lord knows most letters we get here would have that component) but she didn’t. She realized her feelings weren’t fair and is processing that. She’s allowed to feel what she feels.

    LW, I agree with Wendy that some time back in counseling is a good idea. The holidays are almost here- can you plan some fun, low key things that could become new traditions for your new little family? Maybe make some time to see your most supportive friends? I think all of Wendy’s advice is spot on.

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    • CurlyQue

      CurlyQue November 12, 2019, 2:07 pm

      At one point is it proving that “her hope was misplaced”? All that’s happened is her sister is now pregnant and she heard about it from their mother instead of her sister. She herself didn’t share her pregnancy news personally with her sister so i feel like this is more misplaced feelings than any real slight.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark November 12, 2019, 2:50 pm

        Exactly!!

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        golfer.gal November 12, 2019, 3:41 pm

        Fair enough. I’ll amend to say she’s grappling with the possibility/fear that her hope was misplaced. I agree the sister didn’t do anything wrong. Really no one has done anything wrong here thus far. I do think the LW may be particularly emotional because this time in her life is…particularly emotional. And as long as she isnt acting on any irrational feelings, I don’t want to bash her for simply having those feelings and trying to work through them.

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    Part-time Lurker November 12, 2019, 1:58 pm

    LW your a bundle of crazy hormones, lack of sleep and adjustment to massive changes all rolled into one right now. Accept that weird feelings happen, ride it out and don’t guess. Let me repeat that DON’T GUESS. NEVER try to guess at other people’s motivations or feelings. Also, don’t engage in creating possible scenarios that haven’t happened. Tell your sister you heard the news and that you’re happy for her and then see where it goes. If you start feeling like she’s suddenly getting all of the attention and your being shunted off to the side please try to remember that it’s her turn (you had your turn) and make sure that you aren’t just perceiving favoritism etc based on past experience. Some times other people never change. Some times we do’t change.

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  • CurlyQue

    CurlyQue November 12, 2019, 2:05 pm

    LW, definitely more therapy is in order but i think it’s good your acknowledging your differing emotions and that some (all?) come from a place of pettiness.

    You admit that you didn’t tell your sister of your pregnancy and that she in fact heard it from your father. How is you learning of her pregnancy through your mother any different? It’s very likely you were’t excluded. Maybe she knew that your initial reaction would be negative so was holding off on telling you?

    What you do is tell her you heard she was pregnant and wish her the most sincerest of congratulations. You show up at the baby shower with a gift and a smile.

    It also sounds like the issue with your family is more with your parents showing favoritism and her for benefiting from it (which isn’t her fault) so maybe she is the family member you can keep. Having sons so close in age might be a great bonding time for you both, as well as a great time to reset your relationship with each other.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse November 12, 2019, 2:09 pm

    So much of this could honestly be explained by the hormones and the lack of sleep.

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    • avatar

      ron November 12, 2019, 8:45 pm

      The latest ‘troubles’ perhaps, but her estrangement from sister and partial estrangement from most of family long pre-dates her pregnancy. This is simply the latest chapter in a long-running tale of turmoil

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph November 12, 2019, 4:42 pm

    Also weird that you’re mad she didn’t tell you. Idk, I didn’t tell most people that I was pregnant this time around (and haven’t gotten around to do anything like a facebook announcement) but after we told both sets of parents they just kind of started spreading the news. Meh, let them. Saves me from having to announce over and over. Maybe your sister got “congratulations fatigue” or maybe she’s having a rough pregnancy and doesn’t have energy for all the emotional labor of breaking the news to a bunch of people (including someone like LW who apparently won’t be very happy for her).

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  • avatar

    dinoceros November 12, 2019, 6:29 pm

    I feel like you’re overthinking this. TBH, sending out pregnancy announcements in the mail is not common, unless I just live in a weird social bubble. In my family, family members update people on stuff and don’t necessarily feel the need to contact everyone individually. My aunt tells us when stuff happens to my cousin, etc. Sure, people can choose when to share their pregnancy, but it’s not like someone told you a deep dark secret. Whether she told you or not, you’d find out eventually. I think the hand wringing over being told is a little unnecessary.

    Second, I would probably argue that you did not in fact find peace with how things have gone if you are finding yourself in another situation where you are expecting to be treated like a close family member and then disappointed when you aren’t. I think you need to accept that you guys aren’t close, and if there are situations where you can bond or have a positive experience, that’s just extra. Don’t take one experience and assume it changes your entire dynamic.

    I know this is a very human reaction, but surely you realize that resenting someone for stealing the spotlight of having a baby is silly. I know literally 15 people right now who are pregnant. Once you reach a certain age, everyone is having babies and it has nothing to do with you. Please try to dismiss that resentment.

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      dinoceros November 12, 2019, 6:30 pm

      Also, based on the title, I was expecting this to be a letter about someone struggling with infertility who was upset that someone was having a baby because it brought up painful emotions. Definitely count your blessings that you’re only worrying about whether someone gets more attention than you, since you have a baby and get to enjoy time with them!

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  • avatar

    Sea witch November 13, 2019, 9:20 am

    Give yourself *one* day to wallow in self pity. Tell yourself it’s okay to wallow for 24 hours, get some chocolates, do whatever you need to do to pamper yourself.

    After you’ve gotten it out of your system, get back to reality and accept that a) your pregnancy announcement never made it to your sister and b) she didn’t get pregnant on purpose to annoy you and steal your thunder and c) you probably need therapy because it doesn’t sound as if you really have resolved your feelings about your relationship with her.

    You can’t change anything about her, you can only change yourself.

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      Sea witch November 13, 2019, 9:21 am

      ETA: I just realized that she has done therapy. She doesn’t say if she’s still going, but I suspect there’s more work to be done.

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    mimi November 13, 2019, 9:58 am

    LW, accepting that your family is not as loving or supportive as you want or that a sibling might be preferred is a life-long lesson in letting go of what you can’t control and finding what you need elsewhere.
    You will only make yourself miserable if you’re weighing every word and action, looking for offense and calculating all the ways you think THEY think you don’t measure up, etc. Really, don’t torture yourself – you are guessing what other people think and feel and coming to conclusions based on past hurt and your assumptions – this is no way to live. You’ve already proved your resilience by getting out and away and building a happy family of your own. You are OK and you are enough as you are – no one can take that away from you – so enjoy the good from your family when it is offered and let go of the rest. When you circle back to that negative tape in your head about your sister and who did what and didn’t do what, etc. recognize it for what it is – old crap that doesn’t define your life today – and move on. It’s not easy, but you can do it! For the sake of your beautiful new family, do it! Good luck and congratulations.

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  • avatar

    STK November 13, 2019, 12:05 pm

    I wanted to thank Wendy and all those who voiced their opinions and insight into my problem. Wendy is spot on, I allowed myself to have hope (and feel vulnerable) that I might have a normal family like I have always wanted despite no indication others had changed or wanted to change. She is also right in that I need to manage my expectations of others and only invest as much as others invest in me. Chosen families are such a blessing. All of her insights were true!

    It was also helpful to acknowledge that I am going through crazy hormones and sleep deprivation. Normally I just tell myself to toughen up and power through whatever issues come my way, but this situation really made me feel bad in the moment. I was caught off guard, but have since allowed myself a few hours to process and vent and move on. I do love my sister and want nothing but the best for her. This wasn’t about resenting her pregnancy,  it was about my fear and sadness at the loss of the first shred of familial love I have experienced in, well, forever. Plus feeling left out when I thought we were making positive steps forward clearly stirred up old feelings from my childhood and that sucks. 

    As far as listing the ways I’ve been wronged in my initial letter, I didn’t get into it because the note was already long and also it didn’t seem necessary to the issue. I’ll go as far as to say that my mother had a serious substance abuse problem and my childhood was not a good one. There was physical, emotional/verbal and sexual abuse as well as major neglect. My sister was a baby at the time, so she was (thankfully) spared and doesn’t remember anything. I carry the weight of that time in our lives alone and my family has never really been able to acknowledge the depth of what happened to me or how it shaped me. We were adopted when I was 10, my own father was not interested in taking me so my sisters father raised us as a single dad. He did the best he could despite his own addictions. 

    My mom says she doesn’t remember that time in her life and I come from a family that believes we should all just “get over it” and that children don’t remember things accurately and there was “plenty of love” in my childhood. Trust me when I say these experiences from my formative years were awful and very much real, not a dramatic exaggeration. It was devastating as a young adult to have a family who would not validate what I had gone through. My sister was always indifferent to my struggles and didn’t seem to care about anyone but herself. It caused several painful scenarios where I was left feeling used and humiliated. I was seen as an inconvenience by most of my family and treated as such, while my sister was viewed as the easy one and was given much more positive time and energy. Granted I was very angry and closed off as a kid, so perhaps it was that my caretakers just didn’t know how to support me. In order to save my sanity and self worth, I did remove myself from my family. If I hadn’t, they would have either expected me to pretend everything was fine or play the role of problem child. I wasn’t willing to do either. 

    Fortunately I am now a successful gal with an amazingly supportive husband and a solid life of our own. Our son means everything to me, even if I can barely see straight these days! Yes, I am still in therapy and probably will be forever and that’s ok with me. I did reach out to my sister to congratulate her and will leave it alone. If she wants to involve me, great. If not, I’ve got my own family to focus on. Thank you again to Wendy and those who took the time to share helpful advice, it is much appreciated.

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      SpaceySteph November 13, 2019, 2:05 pm

      I don’t at all want to say she had it worse than you, but I do think that your sister might have been more impacted by the abuse she suffered as a very young child than you imagine. There are studies (usually regarding babies in orphanage situations) that the lack of loving human contact during infancy affects brain development and can have life-long consequences in how people form bonds. Just because she doesn’t remember the abuse doesn’t mean she wasn’t impacted by it.

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      Teri Anne November 15, 2019, 12:08 pm

      I really empathize with the LW, because I also had an abusive childhood. I am also adopted. When I got married, I was really excited because for the first time in my life my family was actually paying attention to me. I was so happy that relationships with my family were finally improving. Then a year later my younger sister got married, and all the attention evaporated forever when most of my siblings ghosted me. There is a lot of stigma being abandoned by your family, but I did get on with my life although it wasn’t easy. The LW is off to a good start moving on with her life, by continuing with therapy and enjoying the new family she is making with her husband and friends.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 13, 2019, 1:28 pm

    If all that is true than I simply REALLY don’t get why all your anger and resentment somehow falls mainly on your hapless sister and NOT your monster of a mother and family from hell. Truly the only blameless one of that entire miserable bunch is your sister…

    Great that you are in therapy. Now find yourself a better therapist.
    NEWSFLASH: you BARELY reached out to congratulate your sister. HELLO! You sent a note to her a dead address… How your therapist has failed to point that out baffles me…

    Also it’s hilarious to now claim that this really ISN’T about resenting your sister’s pregnancy when — really —that was the ENTIRE thrust of your original letter. You definitely do like revisionist history…

    Okay. Sure. Whatever.

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      anonymousse November 13, 2019, 1:55 pm

      She sent her own pregnancy announcement to the dead address by mistake.

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    anonymousse November 13, 2019, 1:54 pm

    Your reply is a little confusing. If your mother and family were neglectful and abusive, why were you and your sister estranged?You grew up differently, and it seems with at least a few years between you. You had different realities. It may be that her reality is seeing you being bitter and resentful of her and her mother and that’s what she knows you to be like, all the while you consider her self involved and cool to your issues. I have a half sister who is eight years younger than me. She grew up in a stable household with dual incomes and involved parents, when my situation was starkly different. When I was younger, I was very jealous of her. It took me years to understand how that’s not fair to her at all. Maybe there’s more to this situation that really makes you have anger and resentment to your sister, but it’s not very clear in these comments.

    I agree with Mark that it might be time to find a different therapist, or one that can refocus your thoughts about your childhood and your sister. You shouldn’t hold more anger at your sister than you do your mother or other family. It does seem like your anger and bitterness to your childhood is holding you back from your family. You need to choose whether you want a relationship with them, or if you don’t, or if there is some sort of in between that would work best for you. If you want a relationship with them, you do need to find a way to try to forgive the past as much as possible and move forward. I have a lot of past hurts from my family but with therapy and reflection, I try to judge and react to their behavior and involvement with me now, rather than what happened 25 years ago. If I dwell on the events of the past, I am angry and all that does is ruin my day and affect the family I’ve made. None of us can change what happened back then. The apologies (although nice to hear) don’t actually change the past and make it better. You need to find a way forward even if that means just forgiving them in theory, so that you can at least let go of the anger.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom November 13, 2019, 2:34 pm

    One thing I’ve found as a parent is that you feel things much more when they involve your child. You have learned to deal with this yourself but want to protect your child from all the trauma that you suffered. When it feels like it is happening all over again, and not just to you but to your child also, it brings all of the old emotions flooding back.

    It sounds like your sister didn’t know and didn’t understand what you went through. She had a different childhood. That’s not her fault, especially with her being so much younger and unable to see what happened to you. I’d be wary about bringing people like your mom back into your life unless you think that they have definitely changed. Your sister is probably different than your mom. She may be more worth having in your life and your sons could be close cousins. If it turns out that she isn’t good in your life it is okay to impose limits or distance yourself entirely. It’s okay to stick your toe in the water to see if it is okay before stepping in up to your ankles or yanking your foot back because your toe is getting scalded. Just try a toe for a bit and see how it works.

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