I have two families. I have my older sister and her husband. I also have my younger sister and older brother and their spouses. These two families no longer intersect. These two are completely separate. We all lived in the same house and yet we were all raised by drastically different parents.
We do not have a huge difference in age – there is a 7 year gap between the oldest and the youngest. We were all just treated so very differently and not taught to appreciate each other. In fact, we were taught to compete against each other for my mother’s love, affection, and gifts. If we did not please her, we would receive none and be the butt of jokes with the other kids. This was most true for the girls in the family. My brother never felt this. He always could depend on her to love him and support him – How a parent should be, but often in ways that enabled behavior it should not have. Interestingly, her dynamic with him was like how us girls were treated by her – we feared losing her acceptance; she feared losing our brother’s acceptance.
As adults, it has been difficult. We all left the home after high school and never looked back. My sisters and I went to college, graduated and moved away. My brother went to college, then the military, and moved away. None of us returned home regularly. My youngest sister was and is the only to remain in Michigan, so she was the best at visiting, but still, it was not like other families. My mom died suddenly in 2009. Apparently, she had been quite ill for a bit, but refused to go to the doctor (a lifelong mantra by my mom), and so my dad just tried what he could. It did not work and she had a heart attack and died in her chair, probably the way that we all remember her.
In our family, my oldest sister has always been treated like the black sheep. I cannot remember a time when she and my mom were not fighting. I have two very vivd memories of this (astounding as I remember almost nothing from my childhood). The first was when my brother and sister got into a fistfight in our living room (probably over the bathroom, as I remember this being a running theme). My mom, me, and (I believe) my little sister sat on the couch while my mom cheered on my brother and told him where to hit my sister and what to do. It was one of the first times that I realized that we were not all equal. The second, I did not witness, but saw the aftermath. Somehow my sister’s hand ended up getting cut by glass and my mom claimed that my sister had tried to kill her with it. By this time, I had seen my mom lie about my sister and the rest of us so much that I did not believe her and my sister was the one with the injury. My dad came home, whipped out his belt, chased my sister out of her room, knocking her down our (uncarpeted) stairs and threw her into the bushes in the front yard telling her to not come back.
I desperately wanted and needed an older sister in my life, but mine was barred from me. Had I aligned with her, I would have been my mother’s enemy. Not aligning with her cost me a huge part of my childhood. I vowed to be a good big sister to my younger sister. This did not work out as planned. When my oldest sister left for college, the pattern repeated with me being the outcast. My little sister could not align with me. She cast me out, and I understand it. I tried writing my oldest sister while she was in college. I desperately tried reaching out to her. Until my mom’s death, I believed that my sister had received those letters and chose not to respond. That she could not forgive me for not aligning with her as a child. My sister never received a single letter. They were all confiscated by my mom before they could make it to her.
The events that followed paved the way for my two families. My oldest sister took charge. The pain from the past crept into our responses. It was not pretty and got even worse when my dad died in 2014. I am currently the only one speaking to everyone in my family. This is hard and I hate it. I do not agree with everything anyone in my family has done or said, but there is nothing done or said that is worth me losing them.
My oldest sister and her husband have been my rock since my mom died. I have turned to them for advice and level thinking over and over and over again. My sister just helped me with my taxes – again! She never asks for anything in return and I can never thank her enough. My son ADORES them both. They are an ever-present source of support for him. My sister has no children and she relishes her role as fun and crazy aunt.
My brother and little sister and I try to plan a trip to get our children together each summer. It does not always work out, but when it does, it is the highlight of the summer. The cousins are all close in age (except for my oldest nephew) and they LOVE hanging out together. Growing up, we were not allowed to hang out with our cousins and so this is important to all of us. But, my oldest sister is not invited. This is heartbreaking for me. She has never let her feelings for my siblings extend to their kids and I know that this hurts her to be excluded. I wish I could find a way to bridge the gap, but I think there has just been too much hurt that started long before we had any control.
I truly believe that my parents did the best they knew how to do. I still have a lot of mixed feelings about my childhood that I have not come to terms with. I try to raise my son by taking the best of what they had and mixing it with the best of what I have read and seen in others. I do A LOT of research. I do not want my son to look back at his time with me and struggle like I have. I want him to have close and healthy relationships with his cousins, aunts, and uncles. I want him to have peace and happy memories. I work hard to try to make this happen