Dear Readers - Family ties can be a support system, or a cause for conflict and pain. If there’s opportunity to choose the better path, do so:
My brother married my close friend 17 years ago. My new sister-in-law and I had gone to summer camp together and bonded as pre-teens.
My brother and my friend are a loving couple with two sons.
I was naturally invited to the kids’ young birthday parties but something had changed. I was labelled “sister-in-law” instead of “friend.”
I found I had to be careful not to ever make even a joking comment about the kids (rambunctious but also great fun). Every statement had to be praise.
Yet I was present when other guests our same age could tease my sister-in-law about her children’s habits (messy but loveable).
I never spoke to my brother about being placed on the “in-law” list because I feared I’d appear super-sensitive.
Now their kids are interesting teenagers and I enjoy seeing them whenever there’s a family event. But I don’t get casual phone calls to just chat as girlfriends.
Is there anything I can do/say now that all our children are busy with high school and there’s more time for us to occasionally get together for lunch as she does with her other “friends”?
Stuck as Family
Being an in-law is a category that grows in importance over time. As the children grow up and their parents look for signs of their inherited traits, your growing up in the same environment as her husband are a window into their reactions, natural skills, attitudes, moods and far more.
Your brother’s wife has a lot to gain from your knowledge. And you don’t have to wait to be asked, if you have something positive to contribute.
Also, as her husband’s (and your) parents age, you become a partner in decision-making as to how to respond to their health issues and needs. No friend can fill that role.
Consider your expanding role over time, and be more positive about your position. Her only request is asking for loyalty when discussing her children.
I believe there’s the makings here of a growing mutual respect, far deeper than what you knew as younger girlfriends.
I’m a man in senior years. Early in our marriage my wife commented that even though I thought I had a close relationship with my younger brother, we spent little time together, and rarely went out together as two couples.
We never spent Mother’s Days, Father’s Days or Birthdays as a family. When I suggested getting together, he’d reply that they’d already taken our aging mother out!
I must’ve done something to offend them in the past but have never been approached about it. Our mother had even asked me if it was my brother or his wife who caused this disconnect.
Meanwhile, my brother refused to attend our daughter’s wedding but wouldn’t tell me why!
It’s taken me years and several therapists to even be able to think of him. I still dread any large family get- togethers.
On my best days I consider him only as someone I used to know. The thought of him still causes major anxiety!
Unfortunately, his family experienced a recent terrible tragedy. But the first thing he told a close friend of both of ours was that he didn’t want to hear from me.
No Response Needed
A response to your brother is VERY needed. Tragedy usurps past silences. A note of sincere condolences is a start.
FEEDBACK Regarding the “cheating husband” who blames his wife for being “uninteresting” (Sept. 8):
Reader – “This is a classic example of "gaslighting." Knowing and understanding what gaslighting is about, might help her self-confidence and realize this is NOT her fault!!!”
Ellie - So many websites now “define” gaslighting with varying degrees of its effect...
“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships. It’s an insidious and sometimes covert type of emotional abuse” ... from www.verywellmind.com.
Also, “A false narrative which leads another person to doubt their own perceptions to the extent that they become disoriented and distressed” ... from Wikipedia.
The term "gaslighting" initially comes from the movie "Gaslight" - a 1944 psychological thriller - in which a man manipulates his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind.
Here’s my column “tip” that day, regarding the woman’s situation: “Don’t let an unapologetic determined cheater wear you down. Take charge of moving on for your and your children’s sakes.”
Tip of the day:
When tragedy strikes, show kindness and caring.