I have a friend who has been on the outs with her sister ever since I first met her seven years ago. I sent her a Happy Holidays text the other day asking how she was doing, and she responded, “Still dealing with sister drama, but otherwise, GOOD!” I texted back, “Girl, you haven’t divorced your sister YET?” Ahh, if only it were that easy. The crux of the ongoing feud between my friend and her sister is that my friend is successful. Okay, she’s not just successful, she is a true BADASS. And her older sister? Well, isn’t. At all. And for some reason, she has decided that she is my friend’s responsibility.
Sound familiar? I hear this scenario repeated time and time again when I’m talking to my friends who have worked really hard to make something of themselves. But their siblings, or other close relatives who haven’t been as successful, feel that the successful one owes them something. And the crazy thing is … the successful sibling usually agrees to a certain degree. When you grow up with someone—same parents, same background, same environment, same opportunities—but you end up worlds apart, there is some semblance of survivor’s remorse floating around in your brain. Why did I make it and my brother/cousin/niece didn’t? It usually boils down to one thing: choices.
You each made different choices. Not necessarily choices that were better or worse than those made by the other, but choices that were simply different. You chose to go to college; your brother chose not to. You chose to follow the letter of the law; your cousin, not so much. You chose to hang in there on a job with a boss from hell and keep your mouth shut when he belittled you. Your niece chose to talk back and walk out, with nothing else lined up. You may have both been molested as children, but you chose to get therapy or seek a higher path. Your relative chose to let it define them. I know that sounds harsh, but barring any psychological problems, it’s usually the truth.
So here you are with their choices making you feel guilty because once again you’re expected to bail them out of some life situation gone wrong. SCREECH! Wrong again. No one can MAKE us feel any way without our permission. Didn’t some former president’s wife once say something along those lines? Well, she probably had some trifling relatives in her family, too.
Life IS built on each and every choice we make. Your family members have free choice just like you do. So this year, before you give into GG – guilted giving – ask questions instead:
“You need me to loan you rent money? What did you CHOOSE to spend your rent money on instead?”
“You need to borrow my car because yours got towed and you can’t afford to get it out? Why did you CHOOSE to park in a tow-away zone?”
“You need me to babysit the grandkids again? Why did you CHOOSE to accept a job with such horrible hours before first lining up daycare?”
And guess what? If you don’t like the answer (or Lord help me, the ATTITUDE that is served up with the answer), you have another choice: You can CHOOSE to say “No.” It truly is a complete sentence.
I know, I know – y’all think I’m setting you up for World War III in your family. And it might just come to that. And please note, I’m not saying you should say no to everyone, all the time. Just those repeat offenders who never can seem to get their sh** together! You can keep the peace, or you can BE at peace. But being an enabler doesn’t help anyone. Not you. Not your sister. And certainly not the overall relationship. This year, give tough love. You might just be surprised at how much it helps everyone involved. The choice is yours.