“My Sister Is Leaving Town For My Milestone Birthday!”

My 60th birthday is next week and I am feeling sad already. Both of my daughters live out of town, and my husband will be working that day. I just found out that my only sibling in town, my older sister, has made plans to go somewhere on that day and doesn’t have any plans to see me. I admit that when she told me, I was surprised and asked if her plans could be postponed to any other day. She seemed uninterested and basically told me it was what she was doing and she didn’t plan to change anything. What is ironic to me is that her plan that day is to go with her daughter to meet some distant relative that she found through Ancestry.com, all while her closest relative – her sister — is here in town alone on her milestone birthday.

I know I am really feeling sorry for myself right now, but I am very hurt and can’t help it. My sister and I are close, and I can’t fathom why she would do this. Am I overreacting? Any advice for me please? — In Tears

I can understand feeling a little hurt, but anything beyond feeling some disappointment and then moving on would be overreacting. If it was important to you to do something special with someone special on your 60th birthday, you should have planned something instead of passively waiting for the plans to be made for you. It’s not as if you don’t have family — you have a husband and two daughters — and I hope you have some friends, too. Could you not ask your husband to take a day off from work if it is important you celebrate all day? Or meet you for a lunch date even? Could you not travel to visit either of your daughters? I imagine your husband gets off work by evening, in time for a celebratory birthday dinner, right? So, it’s just in the daytime hours that you would be alone? And that’s unreasonable to you? What is it that you think your sister should do with you all day, anyway?

I’m sorry I’m not more sympathetic; it just feels kind of childish to completely give up agency of your own birthday and then get more than a little disappointed when no one else takes the reins and gives you the kind of day you want. You’re a grown woman – when you realized you couldn’t spend the daytime hours of your birthday with your husband or kids, and it wasn’t satisfactory to do something on your own that day until your husband was off work, you should have reached out to your sister (and/or friends! do you have friends?) to plan something. Sure, it would have been nice if your only local sibling had reached out to you first, but the fact that she didn’t doesn’t mean you are not important to her! She may have assumed your husband had it covered, or she didn’t realize how important it was to you to do something special during the daytime hours of your birthday. Maybe the date to meet the distant relative from the internet was one that worked for all parties and it simply didn’t occur to her to reserve the date for you when, to her knowledge, there was nothing planned and she didn’t realize you were expecting HER to plan something.

Anyway, you have a few days to get something on the calendar so you aren’t sitting around all alone on your 60th birthday, feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for your husband to get off work. (And if you haven’t planned something to do with him yet in the evening, don’t wait for him to do it; get on the horn and make some reservations somewhere or, at the very least, tell him where you want to go and give explicit instructions for him to make a reservation.) If you have friends, call them and see if anyone can meet for brunch and maybe a nice drive if it’s a pretty day. Go antiquing or to the spa or see a movie or go to a museum or — I don’t know, whatever someone like you would want to do on her 60th birthday where you live. This is your day and your life – you’re in charge.

I just had my 39th birthday and was greeted by a birthday card from my estranged mother. I have gone to great lengths to break all ties with her, including changing my phone numbers in two countries, blocking her on social media, and relocating — at great expense — from my mortgage-free home in the country to an expensive renovation in a different town, all so that she would not be able to find me. I won’t go into too many details, but she failed to protect me from abuse when I was young and shamed me when I told her about it. She also slut-shamed my sisters who were also being abused as children.

I moved again six months ago, and I kept my new address hidden from all my family. However, when my sister, “Joan,” asked for my address I gave it to her on with the explicit understanding that she was not to share it, EVER. She agreed and I trusted her completely, yet the card from mum was posted the same day. I phoned Joan in a rage and she admitted giving it to my 14-year-old niece who lives with my mum. Mum altered her writing on the envelope to make it look like it came from a child, maybe to ensure I opened it. I am distraught that Joan betrayed me in this way. I have confided everything to Joan — we suffered the same abuse — and she broke my trust. I feel vulnerable and now dread collecting the mail because, once again, I don’t know what I will find. How should I approach Joan now? How can I forgive her and trust her again? I am devastated. Please help. — No Longer Hidden

I’m sorry this happened to you — all of it, including the abuse, the irresponsible way your mother handled the abuse, the general dysfunction in your family, and now the betrayal of your trust by your sister, the one family member you thought you could trust. You ask how you can forgive her and trust her again, and I’m not sure you have to do both. For your own peace and well-being, I do recommend forgiving her, and that can be helped along by considering the limitations she faces as a result of your shared abuse and the dysfunction she grew up in (and may still be intimately engaged in if she’s in regular contact with your mother/other family members). Therapy can also help you get to a point of forgiving her. And you can forgive her without necessarily trusting her again. The forgiveness is for YOU. The withholding of trust would also be for you, to protect your emotional and physical well-being.

Because Joan is still under the spell of your mother, it’s clear you need to create stronger boundaries with Joan. That may mean not speaking to her anymore, or it may mean only speaking to her superficially and never sharing any details with her that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with your mother knowing. If you feel there’s literally nothing you can say to her that you wouldn’t want to be shared with her mother, the answer is to cut off Joan completely. You can do that with love though, even if you can’t guarantee that Joan will perceive it that way. (Remember, you don’t have control over other people’s perceptions, thoughts, or actions; you can only control your own).

Here’s a sample script you could use with Joan that will help couch your point in love and forgiveness: “I love you and while I forgive you for sharing my address with our mother, it was an enormous disappointment to me and has caused me undue stress and emotional turmoil. I do believe you only had loving intentions, but you betrayed my trust and the repercussions will take a toll on me indefinitely. The lack of protection we had as children has made me hyper-vigilant to protect myself as an adult now that I have agency to do so. Remaining inaccessible to our mother is one of the best ways I’m able to do that, and I can’t let anyone threaten my ability to do so, which is why, going forward, I will have to limit my communication with you. Thank you for understanding.”

As you know, family dysfunction and all the tools employed to manipulate and control loved ones don’t disappear once children become adults. The fucked-up dynamics of a fucked-up childhood still exist, and when those dynamics threaten the security you’ve built for yourself as a grown-up, sometimes the answer is to avoid them completely. It’s unfair, I know. But you have to prioritize your well-being in a way your family has always failed to. You’re one of the lucky ones though – you recognize this and you can do it, despite the continued pain the loss of such relationships creates.

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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.


  1. Lw1 you do realize you can celebrate your birthday on a day that isn’t your actual birthday right? Pick a day everyone you want to be there is available and celebrate! Even if you’ve been officially 60 for a week. You can still celebrate it. Hell I can’t remember the last time we celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas on the right day. We just pick a day that works for everyone and do it then

  2. Wow. What a contrast in letters and circumstances! And Wendy’s answers to both were incredibly perfect. LW 1 – chill and spa day it! That’s what I’d do as first choice. I texted my sis in law the other day for her bday asking what she’s doing and she said hopefully not have to deal with anyone – my thoughts exactly LOL. I’m the type who would have fun if someone planned something for me but I would book a weekend stay at a spa, or casino with a spa in a heartbeat – and the KICK IT for the weekend. Making myself jealous right now.
    LW 2 – wow, you are strong. Keep up the good work! My mom was nut too – though not to this extent – so I still allow her around but give her plenty of instructions. But we have had years long breaks and again, she was nowhere near as egregious as what you mom sounds like, so kudos to you.

  3. Wouldn’t it just be incredibly ironic if LW1’s family was planning a surprise party for her?

    That being said, I don’t understand people and their leaving things like this up to chance. People are not mind readers. If you want something in life, you need to make what you want explicitly clear to those you want it from. Now if you had told everyone how important your 60th was to you, and everyone blew you off, I’d get the angst. But, it is a week from the day, and you’re now just mentioning it. If you act like something is not a big deal, why would anyone else in your life act otherwise?

    When I was coming up on my 40th, I sat my husband down and said, my 40th is coming up. PLEASE do not plan a surprise party for me. Miss Saigon is coming into town, can we go see that instead? Guess what we did for my birthday? A bunch of my family and friends got together for my birthday to have a nice dinner and go see Miss Saigon. During that conversation, he told me he’d never had a surprise party and wished he had. Guess what we did for his 40th, I threw a huge surprise party for him.

    So many “problems” we have in life are a result of us just not using our words and communicating with the other person.

    1. This! I’m extremely particular and I learned early on to take the reigns if I want something “special” and I plan appropriately.

      I celebrated my 40th in January. I wanted to go on fun trip with my husband (we went to Africa) and I wanted to celebrate with my girlfriends. The weekend before my 40th, I planned a great Saturday brunch at one of my favorite restaurants that led into day drinking. I paid for everyone of course because I’m 40 and I don’t want people to pay for my “special” days. The weekend after, we left for our trip. The day of… I don’t think we did anything. Since my birthday is in January and the weather in my city was super crappy on both my 30th (also planned by me) and 40th, I declared that for my 50th, we’re going an island somewhere.

      Two of my other girlfriends are turning 40 this year and both have already planned something special. My calendar is marked.

      So, LW, don’t passively wait for things to happen. Make them happen!! Travel to see your children. Ask one of them to visit you. Plan an evening out with your husband. Do something fun for yourself during the day. Personally, I would get a massage and enjoy lunch somewhere with a good book.

      Also, communication is key!!!

  4. LW1: Plan a beautiful 60th birthday party with your relatives and friends, and call your sister to find a date that will work for her. She might not be indifferent, but didn’t want to alter a commitment that was somehow complicated to make, toward basically a stranger. Let it be. I would offer myself a hair cut, a massage, a movie, whatever makes me feel really on a day vacation where I care about myself.
    LW2: I am sorry about this abuse and your mother’s harassment. But I think you give her too much weight in your life if you flee her like this, at your own expense. Whatever she does, you can deny her any answer, you remain free to not react at all. You can’t make it as if she didn’t exist because she does. You can only control your part, so ignore her and consider that your sister can’t be trusted.

  5. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1) Eh. I’d say — Grow Up! But you’re sixty so clearly that will never happen.

    LW2) Is your mother actually physically dangerous? You don’t seem to say as much. Sorry, but really? This all just sounds like an lot of drama — I mean why not just throw the card away in the Trash? Honestly? I can’t for the life of me think of a single reason why you would give out your address to anybody if it was truly that big of a deal to you. Unless you are addictive to drama, All these moves and blah blah blah. I dunno. Seems excessive. This address fiasco seems like a self created fifth act in the ongoing drama that is your life.

    1. The LW included a lot of details that I left out for brevity sake. I don’t think anyone ever needs to explain why he or she would have a strict zero-tolerance for a family member who condoned child abuse. To accuse her of being “addicted to drama” because she doesn’t want her psychopathic, manipulative mother to know where she lives is gross and out of line.

      1. Anonykins says:

        Agreed. I am no contact with my mother and tried to prevent her from getting my address. When I got a package from her I flipped out – terror because of what she has done to me and what that package represented as a continued attempt to intrude into my life. A reminder of ‘I’m here, and your attempts to protect yourself won’t work.’ I’m sure to many the reasons for our estrangement don’t seem like enough, but they did not have to live my life. The LW, like me, has a right to protect themselves from people who are threats to mental well-being.

      2. Why does the neice live with the “mom”? I put it in quotes because she sucked and it seems she continues to. She could have asked Joan to GIVE her sister the letter, or Joan could have said, sorry mom, you can’t have the address, but I will pass the letter along the next time I see her. Should we be worried about the neice? If she’s an adult, perhaps not. Perhaps all the truly abusive men that used to be in Mom’s house are gone now. Mom was emotionally abusive then for sure, and still has problems with boundaries and is still capable of manipulating Joan. There are cameras now that are inexpensive that may help give you peace of mind that she isn’t coming over. I’d read the letter because it’s *Possible * that she apologizes, has been in therapy and is learning understand boundaries now. Not likely given how she got the address, but hey. Finding out how to get a restraining order so that you can do it immediately if needed in the future and getting a few cameras for your house may help you feel more secure for now. I’d also tell your sister how extremely disappointed you are at her betrayal. She KNOWS what you went thru to move, and why. You made it clear she wasn’t to give the address to anyone. What kind of emotional blackmail did mom use on her to break her? Joan needs therapy to learn about boundaries among other things. I’d go NC with her unless she takes steps to get help with her inability to have boundaries to protect YOU even if she’s not willing to protect herself with them. We taught our son about emotional blackmail when relatives tried to use it. We did not cave. One of them later admitted we were right. The other basically begged us to just never speak of it again when I wrote them a letter about emotional blackmail and why it wasn’t ok and that we would NEVER, EVER give into it.

    2. Rosacoletti says:

      Wow, empathy not your strong suit hey!

  6. Brise and BGM – Do not tell an abuse survivor that they are wrong for how they are handling it. That wasn’t her question.

  7. Bittergaymark says:

    Fine! Move again, LW2. Disrupt your life! Lose even more money. Give the abuser still more power.

    1. Money isn’t more important than her life, peace of mind and well-being. Here I thought you posted all this hateful stuff and nasty attitudes because you’ve “been through things” as they say, but if you don’t even understand the concept and the need for – and RIGHT TO – self protection, then perhaps you’ve more of a coddled life than previously supposed…interesting

  8. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    LW1 Why be so angry and disappointed with your sister. Your husband is going to work that day and you don’t mind. Your kids aren’t coming home and you don’t mind. Your sister made her own plans and you mind. Why would it be more important for your sister to spend the day with you than your own immediate family? I would be very surprised if a relative was doing nothing with their family on their birthday but expected me to have planned to spend the day with them. People usually take their cue from you. You were planning nothing and neither was your family so it was pretty normal for your sister to assume you weren’t planning to celebrate. This just proves that your sister doesn’t read minds.

    You’re wanting your sister to prove that you are more important that her plans to visit a distant relative. If your sister is involved in tracing the family tree and the distant relative has an entire branch already done I can see your sister not wanting to cancel on someone she barely knows. Canceling would make her flaky and unreliable. The family tree is for everyone in the family, including you. This isn’t her putting a distant relative ahead of you. It’s her choosing to keep her plans, that were already made, when you suddenly decided she should spend the day with you. It’s demanding and rude to expect her to cancel. She is taking her daughter with her. Her daughter is a closer relative to her than you are. You and your sister both grew up and married and created your own families. It seems like you are displacing your disappointment about your own family onto your sister. Maybe it feels safer to be angry with her?

  9. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    LW2 Wendy is right. You can forgive in time but you don’t have to trust. They are two separate things. Once Joan has proven that she can’t be trusted with your address there is no reason to trust her with it in the future. Forgiveness might come with time or maybe not. It’s hard to forgive someone who knows what lengths you’ve gone to for privacy from your mom who then gives away your address. At the very least she should have asked you if you minded her giving the address and you would have said no she couldn’t. Don’t beat yourself up trying to forgive or trust. If it happens it happens but it isn’t something you can force. I personally find that forgiveness comes when I reach a sense of peace, internally, over a situation. It isn’t something I can decide to make happen. Trust is based on experience. Until Joan’s mental state is in a much different place I doubt you can trust her. You mom will figure out a way to get the information out of her. It is okay to not trust.

  10. Skyblossom —
    Tough love, but dead on, especially the last sentence. A lot of people don’t think birthdays, celebrated on the exact date of birth, are any sort of big deal at all for those over 21, ‘milestone’ or not. Sixty is a strange milestone. I’ve known quite a few people whose preference was to just basically ignore it — also sort of silly, you’re still 60 and people close to you still know it, whether you celebrate or not.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Birthdays are truly awful. I wish that entire concept had never been dreamt up. They are nothing but endless headaches and disappointments for most people. I truly loathe birthdays.

    1. I feel the same way about weddings. I loath everything about traditional weddings. I don’t begrudge people who have their hearts set on one, but I just don’t get the $30,000 appeal

      1. I totally agree with you. I just don’t get it.

      2. Oh, people spend SO much more than that! A friend’s daughter is getting married soon and despite limiting the guest list to about 30, it’s going to be about 35k, although since it’s a destination wedding that does include a lovely hotel for the guests to stay in. No band, no dj, just an iPod and speakers.

  12. dirtorsoil says:

    LW2- My heart goes out to you. Having a similar background _I_can read between the lines even though others cannot …. Also, screw what “others” think. A majority of the population is lucky to not know the instant fight or flight response of those that survived childhood abuse. Its not something you can control by “getting over it”. But I digress. I disagree with Wendy in that you do not need to forgive or forget. She does not deserve forgiveness and in actuality does not deserve even a tiny bit of your mental or physical energy. Its tricky and takes time to create that space between you and her influence mentally, but it can be done. It takes constant vigilance on your part of policing your own thoughts and advocating for yourself against the soundtrack of your mother’s abusive voice nay-saying and criticizing (or worse) that you have internalized. This is not your fault. One thing I do, when my Mother comes to mind (estranged for 10 years after a life-time of abuse) is think, ” Myself, do you think she gives one single shit about you? No, she does not. So do not give her anything, even a thought because that continues to give her power over you.” Also “She made her bed and shes going to lay in it. You abuse and neglect everyone around you I guess you are going to die alone”. I’ve said it enough times that it doesn’t even make me feel guilty to say so anymore because its a fact. Also, I would put your sister on a zero information diet. Convo will be about the weather and sports (or whatever). She is clearly still under your Mother’s influence and is not to be trusted. If you still have the letter I would burn it unopened, sounds dumb but its an amazing release. Any others that follow can meet the same fate. Just because she gave birth to you doesn’t mean she loves you or is a worthy person. Realize that she is a pathetic person and at some point karma will catch up with her, but most importantly, in your day to day life she is irrelevant to you. You have control over your own life and you never have to subject yourself to that again.

  13. dirtorsoil says:

    LW2- Forgot to add, if your Mother has the balls to show up at your house, call the police. If you are worried about answering the door I would get an inexpensive door camera and screen from there. Obviously its up to you what you want to do, and if the triggers/fear of them is too much, but moving again disrupts your life and if you can manage it another way I would do that.

  14. LW1, yes you are being way too sensitive. Pick a day before or after your sister’s trip and celebrate your birthday with her…go out to eat or whatever. On your actual birthday go out to lunch with some friends or something.

  15. dinoceros says:

    LW1: Before I started reading, I assume the milestone birthday was 18 or 21 or maybe even 30. Generally, by a certain age, people realize that birthdays are not that exciting or important as an adult. By seeing how other people don’t swoon over your own birthday and how life is so busy that we don’t spend much time on other people’s birthdays either. It’s fine to celebrate it, but basing your measure of someone’s love for you on their willingness to drop everything on the exact day of your birth 60 years ago is childish. Celebrate on another day with your loved ones. If you want to have a special day, plan things for yourself that make you happy with whoever is available, if anyone. Otherwise, celebrate with the only person in the world who cares the most about your birthday.

  16. I never understand adults who care that much about their bday. Are you turning 60 or 6?

  17. LW1, i understand wanting to celebrate your birthday (milestone or not) as i do too. However, i plan things and invite people. It sounds like you just expected people to make a big deal out of it and that’s not fair. It’s also not fair to put the brunt of your unhappiness on your sister instead of on your husband and children. At this point if it’s too late for your husband to take it off or plan a lunch date with then you should take yourself out to celebrate. Plan a spa day/ order food/ etc.

  18. Rosacoletti says:

    LW1 – if you expressed your disappointment to your sister the same way you did in this letter, could she have forgotten it was your birthday and was too embarrassed to admit it? It seems unnecessarily cruel to flaunt the outing she has instead esp if you are so close.

    Lots of commenters have said you need to be in control of your own celebration but maybe like me, youre a bit too scared of rejection to do that. I did however learn this somewhat earlier than turning 60 and also stopped getting disappointed when others didn’t acknowledge my birthday.
    I hope you can arrange some treat for yourself and maybe a nice informal get together when your family are available.

    Happy Birthday

  19. I guess it’s not for everybody but for years I have celebrated my birthday for a week or more with everything from fun trips (Disney when the kids were young) or the mundane (going to the library and grocery store for my birthday!). Of course, this extended to everyone. My husband and kids love to do the same. So everyday things are celebrations for the birthday person as well as anything special that happens. I bring it up constantly whether it’s for myself or someone else.

    But LW2, I grieve for you. I’m so sorry for the repeated betrayals and terror you have experienced at the hands of those who should have protected you. Wendy gave you great advice as did some other posters who understand your terror and pain more personally. If you have not sought counseling for your trauma I hope you will.

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