Wednesday, December 21, 2005

sisterly love

Christmas is a time of joy, giving, love..... but also of family bickering. Anyone out there who tells me their family never even has a whisper of dispute over the holiday period...well they're likely to be telling big fat fibs. Either that or their family is so emotionally repressed that all the negativity is stored inside their bodies, ready to explode one day in a huge, alienating war. (This is what I tell myself, anyway, in order to not feel like a horrible person)

My family get-togethers over Christmas are always a bit messy, as, like many others, I have divorced parents. This is not too much of a problem, though - just logistically a bit tricky sometimes.

It's more my sister-to-sister interactions that I find grate on me a bit. I feel guilty even writing this, but truth is like that - not always pleasant.

I am the eldest in my family. I guess I've always been a responsible, 'goody-goody' sort of person, as eldest kids often are. I find it hard to say no to anyone needing help, and will often overstretch myself to try to please everyone. I probably try to 'help' (also known as interfering) in situations where people want to be left alone, or don't need my advice or concern... it's a fault of mine. A strength of mine is that I'm fairly tough, and I don't quit easily.

My little sister is the baby of the family, and she is loving and straightforward - she doesn't analyse every social interaction like I do. She needs fewer people - she has a couple of close friends, but may go several weeks without talking to one of them... whereas I barely go a day without speaking to at least one of mine. I doubt if my sister would complain to someone about me - not because I'm perfect (ha!) but because she just takes me as I am, warts and all. I would like to be more accepting, like my Sis.

As the older sister, the older, hypercritical sister, I find my little sister frustrating when it comes to family duties. It's all about our different roles and personalities, I know. Here's an example.... when there is a family get-together to be organised, my married-with-no-kids Sis usually manages to weasel out of holding it at her place ( "I'm working that day" says Sis. Or, " I'm tired" or "We don't really have enough chairs here"). It drives me to distraction - firstly because in the past I have worked very long hours (pre-kids), and still managed to have everyone over here for a meal. Secondly, since having kids I have continued to entertain family and I know now that managing a function with a small baby and 2-yr-old is WAY harder than having people over when you're just a bit weary from work. You do these things, though, because you love your family, and you want to be with them.

Anyway, in a typical scenario, Sis drifts over to our house, takes a seat on the back deck, stretches her feet up onto a chair and moans, "I'm beat!", as I chop salad in the kitchen with one child asking for a drink and another calling from the bathroom for me to help turn the tap on. Do you hear my resentment here? Is it practically setting your computer screen alight? (yes, I am a mean ol' big sister all right)

You may ask why I don't talk to my sister about my feelings.. the short answer is that I have tried to, gently. I don't believe I have a right to be too hard on her about this when she puts up with me and my flaws. I don't want to upset her, or make her feel unloved. So I've talked about how I sometimes feel like I do more of the 'family duties'. Sis has taken the criticism quite well (which I know I wouldn't have), but has basically told me that often I make a martyr out of myself, and that she doesn't want to be like that. Which certainly has some truth - I sometimes do take on too much, and then feel overwhelmed. But life to me is all about people - being with them, talking to them, helping them, or being helped by them. So I choose overinvolved over underinvolved any day. Oh, and next time Sis comes over (hmm, that will be Christmas Day, at our place!), I'm going to call her in, tell her The Martyr has died, and put her to work chopping salad.

In the end, I realise Sis is not 'wrong', but nor am I - we're just different people with different ways of living. Which is probably the root of my frustration - she's my precious, adored sister, my flesh-and-blood - so why isn't she more like me?!!


Heather said...

"But life to me is all about people - being with them, talking to them, helping them, or being helped by them."

I love what you said, Jelly. My parents are divorced too so the holidays are always frantic around my house. My husband asked me if I was excited about Christmas and my reply was that I was really excited about the week after Christmas because I will be able to rest! ;-)

Motherkitty said...

This reminds me of the story of the Little Red Hen. You know how it goes. The Little Red Hen says, "Who will help me plant the corn?" When no one volunteers, she says, "Then I will." This goes on and on with everyone refusing to help until it's time to eat the fruits of all her labor and that's when everyone says "I will."

Sounds like you and your sister. As the eldest, you have the personality and the desire to ensure that everything is done and ready and meets everyone's needs. As the youngest, your sister knows that you will do it, so she sits and waits until it's time to eat. She will probably continue to behave like this until forced to change her ways.

In the meantime, you know you will do everything to make your family happy because that's your nature. In this way, they're happy also.

Symbiosis: the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship. Does this sound like you and your sister?

susan said...

WOW! Do you feel better now? Just kidding, glad we were all here to listen to you vent. Are you still glad your family does not read your blog? Wouldn't it be stifling to have to always worry about what you were writing about them? I think your situation is common, first child/baby child syndrome. I can even see it a little in my two girls. Hope all goes well at the family gathering!

jellyhead said...

Thanks everyone for listening to me rant a little, and for being sympathetic. I do feel better to think of it like you said, Motherkitty - just a relationship that we both enable.

And yes, I am glad this blog is still private :)

judypatooote said...

I think your to hard on yourself, your not a bad person....and I think you worked it out as to what to do.....Yes I feel your sister should help you.....when I go somewhere, I always jump in to help, but I guess I'm like you that way.....and it is frustrating when you do all the work, while others that could help don't....
Have a Merry Christmas, and grab that girl and hand her a chopper..

Bonnie said...

Hi Jellyhead,

I like all of your articles!!

Alice said...

Jelly - forgive me for being brutally honest, as I see it. Firstly, your sister may love you but she doesn't respect you because you don't respect yourself.

You say that you don't want to be too hard on her, etc. etc. because she puts up with you and your flaws. Hey, wait a minute. Are you such an inherently bad person that you have to be grateful to her for putting up with you?? Of course not.

Acknowledge that neither you nor your sister are perfect, but you are doing the very best that you can, and you certainly don't deserve to be used as a doormat.

Perhaps you do go to extremes in organising these family get-togethers and wanting everything to be peaceful and harmonious and not hurt anyone's feelings. I think that if your sister is willing to attend these functions and thereby benefit from the strengthening of the family relationship, then she has a filial obligation to contribute in some practical way, not just drape herself decoratively over a chair.

Very possibly she doesn't contribute because you have tried to gain her cooperation by making her feel guilty. She may not actually see any need to help out as you may well appear to her as super-efficient.

This Christmas, drop the martyr routine, ask her to peel the potatoes while you slice the beans, then set the table while you make the gravy, etc. She may do it quite willingly if she sees that you think she is quite capable of doing it, and that her assistance is perfectly normal family behaviour.

I truly hope that you will all have a relaxed and happy Christmas together.

PHOTO said...

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas jellyhead

jellyhead said...

Wow, Alice! Don't beat around the bush now, will you?!

Really, I like straight-talkers. I appreciate you caring enough to 'tell it like it is'. And I agree with almost everything you said. The one exception would be - I do believe I respect myself as a person, but I don't always ASSERT myself enough. Funny how asserting yourself can be situational, though...I'm sure my dear husband would tell you I am way too assertive for my own good! (lies, all lies)

Anyway, thanks Judy, Alice and Bonnie for your comments. And I am definitely going to calmly enlist my sister's help *this* Christmas :)

jellyhead said...

Merry Christmas Photo to you, too!

Alice said...

Jellyhead (the assertive one!) - thank you for taking my comments in good spirit, as they were intended. I agree there is a difference between respect and assertiveness, and from your earlier writing, I think you do respect the person you are and the job you are doing - in your career, and as a wife and mother.

So, be happily more assertive with your sister (even Fatty - I'm sure he loves it) and have a great Christmas - and future family gatherings.

jellyhead said...

Thanks, Alice! Your words have definitely helped me decide to make some changes in my interaction with my sister (before getting feedback on my blog, I wondered if perhaps I should just work harder to accept things as they were). Your friendship means a lot to me.

Wishing you and your family a very Merry christmas!