Over the past 30 years, my parents (and particularly my mother) have never been satisfied with the level of effort I expend toward family relationships. As a child I was accused of ignoring and not liking my sister, and forced to seek her out to apologize for hurting her feelings. My sister, by the way, used to pin me to the ground and pull hair out of my head and painfully tickle and pinch me when I was young. Now she is divorced. She has always been a kind yet very negative, sarcastic person with a mean streak. I find being around her very tiring.
My father’s personality is difficult–he’s either overly affectionate or cold and remote. His traumatic childhood was the backdrop of my own, with stories of abuse and neglect dominating my family life.
My mother is manipulative and uses guilt to try and make me do things–most notably call my sister more often and visit their home 500 away. She’s warm when you do what she wants and icy when you don’t. She’s been pressuring me for 20 years to develop a closer relationship with my sister. I have always found this difficult. My sister has not made any effort that I am aware of.
Recently I did call my sister. I asked about her plans for Thanksgiving and she said she and my parents had arranged a beach house with several of her single friends. I felt hurt that neither I nor my family had been invited to this or even made aware of it. My sister did not extend an invitation when I spoke to her (honestly, with 3 young kids we probably would have declined anyway).
My wife has invited my parents to our house for Xmas and they have declined, saying they are recovering from their recent trip to Europe. They asked if we would come to their house. We declined, citing the difficulty of the drive with 3 kids. This was several days ago (all via email) and they have failed to respond at all.
What do I do about this situation? I am sick of being pushed around but also feel sad that the family I grew up in seems to hate me and my family. I do not enjoy being estranged from them yet have always felt that my wellbeing (and my family’s) requires that.
It is time to detach from your family emotionally by changing your expectations. You seem to have a very good handle on how each member of your family has treated you — and their lack of reciprocity. This doesn’t mean you need to push away — it means to unhook from needing anything from them while having compassion. In 12-step programs they talk of detaching with love. But this strategy will work with anyone whose personality pattern and interactions are self-absorbed.
Since no one in your family is extending themselves in a real way to make a meaningful connection — your one-way effort will continue drain your energy and enthusiasm. They do not resond with anything that fills you up. I would not announce this new approach of detachment, but rather limit your time, exposure, and expectations from them. This will leave you with more emotional resources to make deeper connections with those who can reciprocate — your wife, children, and friends.
Wishing you patience and peace,