Annie Lane: ‘Sucking it up’ is not the answer

Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Dear Annie: I’ve read a few letters in your column in which parents wrote about two of their children arguing and wanting there to be peace. And in all of the replies, you have advocated trying to remind people about the good times and work toward building back the relationship.

Generally, in most of these situations, there is one sibling who was the one hurt. I know in my case I had a three-year estrangement with my sibling, and my parents acknowledged that my sibling was the one in the wrong. However, they kept saying that even though they were wrong, I should apologize and make peace so the family can “be happy.” This really damaged my relationship with my parents because all they really cared about was having their wonderful fantasy of a happy, loving family.

When a parent tries to pick sides or tries to convince the quieter or less volatile sibling to suck it up for the family, that may work for a short period of time, but it is going to create resentment and disillusionment in the long run. While my brother and I did eventually make peace, what’s happening now is that they are trying to micromanage all the situations to avoid triggering the volatile sibling — my brother — at the expense and fairness of the other one — me. I would suggest in the future that parents continue their relationship with their kids as they normally do, but let the siblings work it out or not work it out as they see fit.

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Every holiday, I visit my parents and get yelled at because they want to make sure that my brother and his family don’t get mad. And because my sibling is the older one and lives closer to them, it’s important that they keep him happy, I guess, because it would work out better for them. Here is one such example. For the last 20 years, I have always made the cranberry sauce for every holiday. One year ago, I called my nephew to the kitchen and showed him how I made it. My nephew has decided he doesn’t like me adding some mulling spices and orange juice to the cranberry and he wants to make it himself now. The day before the dinner, my dad yelled at me that I cannot make cranberry sauce because it’s important to keep the peace. He doesn’t want my brother to get mad that I am making the cranberry sauce. Even when I suggested that my nephew make his own and I make my own, that was not enough — just in case my brother got mad at that idea.

I can’t keep living like this anymore, so I’m thinking of gradually going low contact with my parents. Parents forcing a reconciliation when it is not wanted directly is also contributing to my feelings of alienation.

— Calling It Quits

Dear Quits: Ask yourself, is it really about the cranberry sauce? Telling you to suck it up is never the right response; having you walk on eggshells in front of your brother is never a recipe for a happy family holiday get-together. But saying that your sibling is the one always in the wrong or jumping on that type of validation from your parents is not going to solve anything.

The goal is not to be right; the goal is to be peaceful and joyful and happy with your family. The best way to do that is to look at the big picture and not sweat the small stuff. Tell your dad how you feel; make the cranberry sauce your way, and let your nephew make it his way. The point is to try to be flexible with each other and loving your family. If you decided to not participate at all or call it quits, then that is you who is being rigid and inflexible.

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