Carolyn Hax: Assert yourself with demanding sister

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 20, 2013

Dear Carolyn: My only sibling has highbrow tastes and the income to match – a Type-A perfectionist who expects all who cross her path to be likewise. We have aging parents in common.

I have two major concerns. First: How do I deal with all the events she plans for them or decisions she makes on their behalf and then wants me to help finance and execute to her standards? She assigns me tasks and I find myself wanting to say no, no, no, but I also have to keep good relations due to our parents. I do push back, but not as much as I’d like. I feel I’m taken advantage of and not respected for the low-key lifestyle I chose.

Second: She’s all alone, after several failed marriages. I’m her only family and I really don’t want to associate with her anymore. Do I abandon her when I no longer have my parents? Amazingly, she’s very family oriented in her own way. – Anonymous

It’s so sad – yet understandable, and quite common – that the first resort when dealing with a difficult person is to play along until the opportunity presents itself to just wash your hands of the person entirely.

But. While some relationships have damage that exceeds their value, and the only sensible answer is to declare them totaled, that’s a last resort, not a first – especially when you’re dealing with a family member.

What you do need to worry about, or at least decide on, is the right balance between indulging your sister to protect your parents and standing up to her to protect yourself. Right now, I’d say you’re out of balance, because you’re in effect borrowing against your future relationship with your sib to preserve the illusion of harmony now.

So, please consider asserting yourself – firmly, yes, but also with kindness and compassion for your sister’s frailty – and doing so not just as a reaction to her excesses, but as a viable, long-term plan for peace you can bear to maintain.


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