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Carolyn Hax: 'Stressed' sister gets all the attention

Published June 22, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • How do you kindly tell a family member that she is no more "busy" than anyone else in 21st-century America? My sister is always given a break by my mother. She gets out of all sorts of family obligations, gets tons of child-care help and sympathy, gets passes on forgetting birthdays, milestones, and engaging in generally surly behavior a lot of the time, because she's just so "stressed." My sister works 40 hours a week. So do I. However, my mother often cannot help watch our kids because my sister "needs" her so badly. If I can't make it to Aunt Gertie's 80th-birthday blowout, it's a guilt trip. But she gets a pass because she's so "busy." I am sick of it. My sister's latest thing is not returning phone calls because she's just so scattered. It is beginning to cause major resentment for me. Her husband works long hours, too, but hey, so does mine. And we'd like to warrant the same compassionate, you're-busy-here's-some-help treatment without having to behave like complete messes to get it. Help?

But I'm So busy

Dear Busy • Let it gooooooo ... just drop your end of the rope. As legitimate as all of your complaints sound, they're only as useful to you as they are productive. And what have they gotten you? Has your sister ever said, "You know, I really monopolize the family's attention — I'm so sorry"? Has you mom ever said, "You know, I realize you're just as busy as your sister, but deep down I feel responsible for her inability to get it together, so I let her suck me into the drama, and that's not fair to you"? Hafta think not. If so, then it's time for Step 2, to stop looking for returned calls, child-care help or validation from your family. Unfair? Sure is. But dwelling on that only amplifies the impact of the unfairness on your life. If you mentally (emotionally?) write them off as being too low-EQ to recognize their messed-up dynamic, then you start looking elsewhere in your life for satisfaction and validation. Your spouse, your kids, your work, your circle of non-family loved ones, your causes close to your heart, your ability to live within your organizational means. They're your rock.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.