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.