dayis 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 reigns 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 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.