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Family Almanac

Extend an Olive Branch To Your Bitter Sibling

By Marguerite Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page C08

Q. I haven't spoken to my sister -- an angry woman -- since October, and if I apologize, as she wants me to do, she will only have more snits.

It started when I said that perhaps her two teenage sons and her 20-year-old daughter might come to the party we'd be giving when my husband got his promotion, but then we decided to invite adults only. This made my sister furious. She said we should make an exception for her, since she was a single mother, but we did not.

She didn't RSVP our invitation, which we sent to her alone, and showed no interest in our preparations. But when it was over, I asked if she wanted to hear how things had gone. She exploded and demanded an apology for excluding her children. We got into a hideous argument on the phone and haven't spoken since, except for a curt conversation on Christmas day. I guess my sister resents me for having a husband, a home, a career and hobbies.

She also got mad because my mother is coming to watch our dogs since my husband works long hours and I'm going on an extended business trip. My sister told my mother to stay home because "They're only dogs!" and because my dad got sick for a week last month and he might get sick again.

I think my sister just wants to undermine mom's visit because she doesn't like her to help me. She is very controlling and wants everything her way.

My sister also forbade me to see her ex-husband and his new wife, who live near us, because she is still bitter about her divorce five years ago. I wouldn't agree because our husbands were college classmates and have a shared history.

We have two family events coming up: my nephew's graduation in May and a family reunion in July. I can't imagine going to either one if I'm not speaking with my sister. How can we go forward?

A.You can go forward if you put your pride in your pocket and your feet in her shoes.

The divorce has made your sister lose her status, or so she thinks, and she resents everybody who seems to have a better life than she does, especially her ex-husband and his wife.

This made her bitter, and she will remain that way until she gets over her divorce. This could be now or never, but in the meantime, don't keep score. Surely people have overlooked some foolish things you've done or said. Now is the time to pass those kindnesses on to your sister, because she needs them so much.

She has her children to comfort her, of course, but her teenage sons and even her 20-year-old daughter are undoubtedly more concerned about themselves, as children always are at those ages.

It's time to call your sister. Tell her you've missed your chats with her and ask her how she is. If she still demands an apology for not inviting her children to the party, tell her you're sorry it upset her so much, which isn't an apology as much as a sign of your empathy. Then quickly change the subject. If you keep talking about the exclusion of her children at your grown-up party, her amber alert will shoot up to red.

Don't talk too long or too much about yourself, either, especially about promotions, extended trips, parties and other good times. Your sister would rather hear that you just burned your spaghetti sauce.

Instead, ask her how she spends her time; how her daughter is getting along; whether the boys have focused on a particular subject yet at school and if they could visit you for a few days during spring break, either singly or together. The richer or more talented you are, or the better you look, the more you must reach out to those who aren't so lucky -- especially your sister. This is a code you -- and everyone -- should always live by.

Also send your sister inexpensive gifts occasionally for no reason at all, like a box of Spanish soap or some personalized stationery, or send her a gift card to get a facial on her birthday. A divorced mother of three probably can't afford to buy luxurious presents for herself anymore.

Or send her a good book called "The Perfect Sister" by Marcia Millman (Harvest, $15). It would be a good read for both of you.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.comor to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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