Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My sister (step) and I get along great and have a lot of fun together … as long as our parents aren’t around. When my mom and her dad are there, she is snarky, mean, easily offended, easily offensive, and it’s awful.
We’ve been talking about planning a vacation for all of us with my young son to Disney World and it’s already gotten contentious. A very large part of me wants to suggest that we break this up and just go to Disney with me, my sister and my son. But if my parents go they will pay and I can’t really afford to go on my own. My sister could definitely afford to pay for all of us, but I don’t think I should ask for that.
Any advice? This is so so obviously a bad idea, but I don’t know how to pull this off without lots of hurt feelings. I guess I can just go with it and put up with the sniping and anger in exchange for a free trip to Disney? Ugh.
Family vacation disaster
The most obvious Option 1 is to back out of the trip. Say you’re not comfortable being paid for and would like to postpone until you can save up for it. Two missions accomplished: getting out of this trip, and uncoupling the train from your parents. Three missions, if you count the whole independence thing.
Option 2 is to be more straightforward with your sister: “I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same thing, but we seem to get along better when the parents aren’t around.” Could be interesting – but you have to be careful not to lay the blame on her.
Option 3 is to go on the trip as planned, but with a different attitude toward your sister. Someone who acts the way you describe is obviously stressed. Can you think of why? Can you find empathy? Can you help? Or maybe just, can you get away when it gets bad?
Even if you go with Option 1 or 3, file away 2 for another time. The underlying tension? rift? competition? between you that corrupts your time with your parents is begging to be addressed.
Re: Family Vacation Disaster: My sibling and I have a similar dynamic – we get along much better when there’s no one around to see it. I think it’s hard not to fall into bad patterns from childhood.
I try to remind myself of this dynamic beforehand, and not rise when sibling starts sniping. And since there are certain types of comments that sibling tends to make, I’ve asked my parents to be on the lookout as well, to help diffuse the situation, because I know I don’t always react well. In our case, I think it’s driven by my sibling’s insecurities tied to how this sibling thinks we are perceived by our parents and others, intentionally or otherwise. Even though I generally think our parents have done a good job of not labeling us, to a certain extent it happens anyway just because we’re so different.
Thank you. It can also help to appreciate, openly, what is different about her; think of it as changing cause to change the effect.
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