August 15, 2022

EXHAUSTED: the background, the underlying issues, and the current climate

I'm 51 years old and I'm annoyed with myself that I let my sisters bother me. I guess it isn't their fault. Not sure that it matters at this point. The division between my two older sisters and myself has gone on for so long  that they now consider themselves a twosome, a separate entity. 

I can't crack the code.


It started so long ago, my parents laid the groundwork. Ann and Marie are two years apart, almost to the day. I'm 2 years and 4 months younger than Marie. The way we were always grouped , you'd think decades separated us. My brother, Pat, is less than a year younger than me, and Mike is 18 mos. younger than him. My parents ALWAYS lumped me in with the boys. 

Our one local girl cousin - born smack dab between my two sisters. The 3 of them went to see Grease together. I wasn't allowed. They did sleepovers together, I was too young. They roller skated together - not me. You catch my drift. 

Add to that scenario that I'm different than my sisters. I tend to speak up - even speak my mind. My sisters follow the rules. I'm not quite as by-the-book as they are. They are closed minded. I'm not perfect, but I usually have more of an open mind than they do. If someone has pushed my buttons I prefer to clear the air. They'd rather stew about irritations and complain to one another than confront someone.


When Lad arrived, both sisters had little guys. At last, something in common. I was part of the crowd. They each would pop out another girl and I'd birth another boy. We did things together for awhile, but Ann still barked at me at the drop of a hat and Marie was out of the country for years. Eventually they planned vacations together and even borrowed the Great White for their ND tailgate. 

I babysat for Ann's kids and Lad came with me. Coach was a full time student and we needed the money. Ann worked part time as a nurse and would only agree to a shift if she had a family member to watch her kids, which was usually me. It seemed like the perfect fit. Each and every time Ann came home from working a shift, she would say, "So, do you want me to pay you then?" She paid me $7/hour (late 90s), so I was hardly robbing her blind. She and her then husband were VERY well off. 

How was I supposed to answer that question? "Um, yes please pay me." Humiliating. 


The hardest thing has been how they plan things with our mom, and don't include me. 

 In 2010, the two of them went on a shopping weekend in the city while I was helping my dad travel to Gettysburg in the Great White with 7 of my sisters' kids and my 3 boys. 

They go to dinner with my mom, or manage to spend our mom's birthday with her and I'm not included. They don't even try to hide their exclusivity, or act like they are doing something hurtful. My feelings don't count.  

When I'm excluded from adult gatherings, particularly when my mom is involved, it's because Ann has never really liked me. She was mean to me growing up - she preferred everyone to act prim and proper. I don't do prim and proper. She was never corrected. As a parent, I cannot understand this. If my kids sneer at one another, Coach and I urge them to try harder, accept differences, etc. 

I suspect that during her divorce, Ann requested that I not tag along, and then the three of them decided that if they got away with it once -they could always get away with it. The entire family works hard not to upset Ann. The mentality:  'she's divorced, so she's upset'. They do what they can to please her. 


My middle child syndrome is so pronounced and I wish it wasn't. Really. I want to get over it. Move on. In my family of origin, I've been over-looked, left-out, and glossed over FOREVER. 

I see a therapist. It doesn't help. My kids and Coach see things clearly, which does help, but they can't solve it. The hurt lingers.  

Someone told me recently that Marie is never going to change. (neither is Ann, but she is so controlling that I gave up on her years ago) As you know, now that my folks are older, both sisters monopolize them. I've made a point to pop over to my parents' house. If Coach and I go for a walk and Ann's car is there, I feel like I should be there too. It's not normal, and I dislike the 'what I am missing' feeling. 

On the way to Omaha to drop Tank at school, I asked him to read my next chapter. He opened my laptop and was more interested in reading a file titled:  To Marie.

I explained:  I probably won't send it, but I occasionally write in it. Tank read it and asked why I hadn't mentioned how hurt I am that they went to see Elton John together last week, etc. (I saw that on FB). I really wasn't bummed that they didn't ask me to go to Elton John. That's  not the point. Most of what I vent about it my writing 'To Marie' is the emotional immaturity they display when talking behind my back and not addressing a thing that upsets them to my face. 

I pointed out that asking them to include me in stuff the two of them do is silly. I don't enjoy spending time with them. That ship has sailed. While I still think I'm better off without trying to be included, the fact that they do things with my mom without me is hurtful.

As far as I know, their biggest issue with me is that I wrote a funny story about a thing that happened over 35 years ago. Then they griped about it and my nephew told Lad. *I did ask each of them to speak to me about what upset them, and neither of them would* 

The funny thing? They've always considered our family 'close knit'. They hold our family of origin up as if we are the model everyone should try to emulate. Funny because Coach and I bend over backwards to not repeat the favoritism and exclusivity. 

Cousins had a blast playing
slammo in Wisc.


Remember how I sort of dreaded the weekend in June with my side? Before the big dinner at a fancy old mansion, Coach and I and our kids attended mass. We ended up getting to the restaurant before anyone else because it made no sense to go back to the hotel for 15 minutes when we were already dressed. 

The room was arranged with lots of various tables. Mini chose a table for all the young adult girl cousins. We mapped out where the boy cousin groups would fit, etc. The table in the middle of the room seemed to make the most sense for my folks. There were 6 chairs. We put my folks in the loveseat bench at one end. I sat next to the bench with Coach. Ann and Pat sat in the remaining chairs. (Aunt Leprechaun stayed home with a kid who'd been exposed to covid).

Oops - it was Mom's 80th. Glad I
wasn't in charge of ordering the cake.

I felt guilty all night. I felt like Marie probably wanted to sit at the table with my parents, like I didn't deserve to sit there. I wasn't worthy. Marie and her hubby/Mike and his wife were alongside this table at two tables for two. 

Isn't that awful? To feel bad for sitting with my parents? My sisters are very robotic and they didn't send me cards for my anniversary last week - I think this is a first in 26 years. Hey, so long as Coach remembers our anniversary that's all that matters. They've sent an unspoken message though. 

My fam leaving the restaurant
 that was on the water.

*Another story but to be transparent, I'm adding it:  I texted Marie a few weeks ago, days after Mom got out of the hospital. I asked her to *please* urge Dad to click over when someone is clicking in on the other line. He'd emailed me asking me if one of the kids could sit with Mom while he ran to the bank. I called him to discuss what time, etc. I called, and called, and called. No answer. I had many balls in the air and I had a small window that would work. Life stood still at our house while we waited. The window was closing. 

Marie was annoyed and snappy. She was confident that it hadn't been her. She'd only spoken to him briefly. She wondered how she was supposed to know that someone was calling on the other line. *I refrained from telling her to start by removing her head from her ass*. I can hear when someone is clicking in, there's a hiccup in the connection. 

After I drove Mom to PT that day, I took a photo of Marie's number on the caller ID on my parents' phone - it had been her. I texted her the photo, saying OOPS, I GUESS IT WAS YOU. She snarled something back to me. 

I don't think it's wrong to say 'please' do this or that in order to make things easier for everyone who is trying to help our parents. She is used to being in charge - or thinking she is, so she didn't like that. She asked me to text her to let her know how PT went that day. I texted right back, SHE'LL DO FINE. *I refrained from telling her 'get a hobby'.* 


What to do? And I apologize if you've heard about this too many times. I'm exhausted by it myself, and I imagine all of you are too. I want to shed the nonsense and stop the hurt. 

If you are speechless, you can take a guess at approximately how many single socks I unearthed in the boys' room as part of the check out procedures. Yes, I've been begging people all summer to dig out any unmatched socks in their rooms. No, no one obliged. Shock. 


Nicole MacPherson said...

This is all so sad, Ernie. I'm so sorry your family of origin has been like this. It's a dreadful situation and I wish you could just leave them behind. I know that's not a solution for you, but I'm sure they are not going to change in any way. I'm just sorry, it's awful all around.

mbmom11 said...

Ad for the socks, throw them all out. Let your beloved children buy themselves new socks at college. One less thing to pack.

As for your sisters, I think you've cracked the code- they are not going to think of you as one of their group. You are an optimist and look for the good, and they will always treat you as the little, annoying sister. It stinks. As for thinking they're part of a close family, people like to be believe in that myth and not look at the pesky details that belie it.(My husband is like that too- a great guy but is stuck in the patterns set up in his youth and the myth makes him feel happy so why mess with reality?).
I'm cynical this morning.

ccr in MA said...

I would so much prefer to deal with a person like you than one like your sisters, with the cliques and the in-groups and the exclusions. Just reading about them exhausts me! I wish you luck letting go of your (perfectly reasonable but apparently unobtainable) hopes and expectations for family relations. Sigh. It sucks.

Pat Birnie said...

This is so hard Ernie and so sad. I can understand why you struggle with it. I wonder if maybe it's time to look for a new therapist? One of the hardest lessons in life is to accept that we cannot change other peoples' behaviour, only manage how we respond. I just came across this interview and discussion on childhood trauma.
Here's a link to an interview:
He also wrote a book that you may find interesting. take care of you.

Nance said...

I agree with Pat Birnie: if your therapy isn't helping, then it's time to find a new therapist.

Sometimes, one has to ask the question, "If these people/this person were not family, would I subject myself to them and this treatment?" If the answer is no, then perhaps it's time to pull back and pull away for your own health.

I sadly speak from experience; this was my husband's only remedy. It was life-changing--in the best possible way--for all of us.

Jenny in WV said...

I'm sorry, that sounds so stressful!

It's frustrating when siblings are a source of strife and anxiety! Perhaps even more so when it is a lifelong pattern.

Kari said...

I'm very sorry you're feeling excluded. No one wants to feel that way, and we've all felt it, but feeling that way from family is a different type of pain. Ernie, I agree with the others that you can always find a new therapist. Because it does not appear that they are providing you with the support you deserve. By the way, I have friends that are better than family to me. Remember that you don't have to keep your family in your life. It takes courage to break generational patterns. I'm sending you my love.

Ernie said...

Nicole - Thank you. It is a difficult situation and if it weren't for the many, MANY cousins and the fact that my parents are still living, it would be easier to just create a distance from them. Thanks for listening to me vent.

Ernie said...

mbmom - The sock conundrum is so irritating. Finding PILES of them - mind blowing. How are we living like this?

I agree - the myth of the rosy childhood is just not realistic, but a former therapist once told me that everyone has a different childhood experience, even within the same family - and that seems to make so much sense to me. We were not treated the same, so they might think it was all rainbows and unicorns, but while I was a happy kid - I really suffered from the emotional backlash of being overlooked. I don't think you are cynical - just realistic.

Ernie said...

ccr - Thank you. I do think that I've become an adult who is capable of confrontation or simply addressing situations. My sisters still seem to hide in Mom's skirts, talk about stuff behind people's back rather than handle it like grown ups. Hey, adulting is hard.

Ernie said...

Pat - This is amazing. I am searching for this book already. The used book store near me is closed today, but if they don't have it, I'll order a new copy, or a library copy. I think this might be so helpful to me. I watched a few minutes of the interview as well.

Honestly, I was beating myself up a little for posting this. After I got back from driving Tank, I tried to take a nap and I ended up crying instead, thinking about 'everything' (not about kids going back to college). I thought maybe writing it all out would help me. I was fearing that I was going to turn people off after going on and on about the same old same old, but now I'm glad I did. I think I might be ready to be done with therapy for now too. I've thought that for a few months. Not feeling lots of benefits of it.

Ernie said...

Nance - I do think that I might be ready to take a break from therapy. It feels like I just talk about stuff and nothing gets resolved. I can talk to other people like friends about 'stuff'.

Our family is so large and the cousins are very connected, I don't know how to pull away. I have over time separated myself from much of them - but now with Mom's health declining, we are all bound to bump into one another. You raise a good point though, if they were friends - I would not continue to have a relationship with them. *sigh*

I like to get stuff off my chest, because I don't think they even know how badly they've behaved. I would want to tell them how they've ticked me off. Perhaps a character flaw of mine, but I'd prefer to tell them both off AND then take leave of them. ;)

Ernie said...

Jenny - It is stressful. I am able to keep 'fairly' busy (hee hee) with the family Coach and I have created, but there are times like the 80th weekend celebration for my mom and the her recent hospitalization, etc. that crop up and drain me.

I am always in awe of people who have amazing sibling relationships.

Ernie said...

Kari - The excluding thing is so long-lasting that it sends me over the edge. Coach used to remind me that I didn't really enjoy being with my sisters anyway, but he soon learned (when I spelled it out to him loud and clear) that this was BESIDES the point.

I think I'm ready to at least take a break from therapy. It really isn't helping. I just vent. I can do that to the mirror or strangers at the grocery store and get the same results. Ha.

I do think about breaking ties, but it would be so hard to do while my parents are still living. My kids are old enough that they can continue on building relationships with cousins. I have friends who are better to me than family too, and I do choose to spend time with them . . . when I get the occasional break from travel basketball.

Thanks for the encouragement and the love. Much appreciated.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I hate this for you. I loathe their attitudes towards you and your family. YOU deserve better.
Do you feel like you are making progress with your therapist? Maybe you need a different one because I want SOMEONE to help you get past the hurt, or at least make peace with it and move on, not expecting much from them. THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT from you. I don't see them ever changing; no one wants you to change.

Sending you the biggest hugs from way down here in hawt FL.

Socks? Let me guess 15 socks were found. I hope you kept the security checks.

Ernie said...

Suz - Thank you, I appreciate you hating this for me, because it's more fun to hate things together with friends.

I feel like a broken record and I fear that people around me are tired of hearing about it. I'm trying to imagine living without feeling this - it is interfering with my happy parts of life. I do have a therapist and not sure if it's me or her, but she listens and understands but the annoying part of all of this won't go away. I've been thinking about stopping therapy for a while now. It started when Lad had his issues, and while that isn't all wrapped up and tidy, I think Coach and I have a handle.

Does stopping being part of the family mean I won't be invited to my nieces and nephews weddings? Do I stop inviting my sisters to the kids' grad parties? They don't add a lot, unless we host a party with moping as a general theme.

They are so different from me, and if my kids want to kick me where it counts they will occasionally say you are acting like Aunt "so and so" - Don't worry, I threaten to knock them into next week and they must take that major insult back on the spot.

Thanks for the sweaty Florida hug. This is my last day before babysitting starts. Did some chauffeuring of my kid grounded by seizures, some writing, some ordering around of kids who needed to pitch in, said good-bye to Ed, and I think I need a nap in my lounger on the deck in the sun. It's only 80 here, so nap time it is.

Jeanette said...

I have three brothers and no sister. I spent the majority of my life wishing for a sister. A lot of people have told me that having a sister is not always what it's cracked up to be but I think it's siblings in general! My mom passed away 16 years before my dad and when she did I knew I lost my family ally! During the next 16 years my dad clearly favored my brothers over me. There was strife with my brothers until my dad passed away and that was the end of it. We keep in touch and see each other maybe every few months but that's about it. I guess my point is that you should do what you can for your parents and know when they are gone you don't have to deal with your sisters anymore if you don't want to.

Ernie said...

Jeamette - I would be in the sisters aren't the greatest camp, but I do hope that Mini and Curly continue to be good to one another. I'm so sorry that you lost your ally so long ago. That is so sad. I do think that there will be a shift when my parents are no longer with us. I rarely see my siblings now, usually just holidays, but even then we don't always get together. Maybe a few times a year, and 4 of the 5 of us live about 10 minutes away from one another. I do think if I can continue to keep my distance then one day this will be more manageable. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

Charlie said...

Sounds like you need a new therapist Ernie? I think what you have to remind yourself about is that although you have FOMO you don’t actually enjoy their company or feel like they are doing the activities you’d actually be interested in. Hang in there because life will change eventually and you’ll have more control about how much influence they have in your life. Sending hugs

Ernie said...

Charlie - Thanks. I think I am going to try just taking a break from therapy. Awkward - maybe I will say it is not you it's me. ;)

I used to feel bad when my sisters left me out. I don't feel that way anymore, except for the times when my mom joins in with them and the three of them do things together. That is the thing that hurts.

I do think there will be a shift eventually, if I can just keep my distance from my sisters.

Ally Bean said...

I'm sorry these people continue to hurt you and you cannot escape their [manipulative?] clutches. My only advice is to declassify them in your mind's filing system as "family" and put them into a "casual acquaintances" file. Once there, you'll have different expectations about how they should behave, and you'll be less disappointed. Has worked for me over the years.

Beth Cotell said...

I'm sorry about your family. I hate that they have made you feel left out and like a third wheel your entire life. I'm also sorry that you are trying to deal with aging parents with siblings who don't consider you or your feelings. The whole situation is horrible. I hope and pray that you can find the best way to help your parents (that you feel good about) while also taking care of yourself and your feelings.

Bibliomama said...

Yeah, I don't know that there's any way to arm yourself against feeling hurt when your family seems to go out of their way to be hurtful. You could cut them out of your life, but that has its own issues, especially when many of them don't live far away. It's a bit of a toxic stew, though. It's too easy to say don't let it affect you. It's always going to, although hopefully less so because you're aware of it and able to articulate it.

Ernie said...

Ali - You nailed it. Yes, they are hurtful. Yes it is easy to say that they are and still not easy enough to ignore because of the close proximity and the fact that we are all engaged with my folks. I am trying more and more to give myself space from them and focus on/surround myself with the people in life who may not be related but who are always supportive and available to me.