Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Family and Children => Topic started by: shylar on August 10, 2010, 10:32:12 AM

Title: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: shylar on August 10, 2010, 10:32:12 AM
I have an incredibly toxic sister. I've done my best to befriend her or tolerate her but she's been so rude and aggressive to me that I've finally decided to cut her off. I'm at peace with my decision. Right now, due to a series of bad financial decisions on her part and a bit of bad luck, she finds herself living with my mum. The last time I went to see my mum she went out of her way to be rude, hostile, contrary, argumentative and aggressive with me. My mum is aware of this (it's gone on for years) and generally asks me to be tolerant, rise above it and put up with the abuse because 'that's what she's like'. While my sister is an adult, I think my mum holds some of the responsibility here because she's encouraged us to tolerate this behaviour for years.

Recently, my mum invited me to her house. I declined, and told her it was because I was tired of the way my sister behaved towards me and I didn't want to be around her any more. I also invited my mum to come and see me at my house. She was upset, said I was putting her in the middle and declined the invitation. I haven't heard from her for over three weeks, which is very unusual for us.

My question is, how long can the parents of adult children be reasonably held responsible for the behaviour of their children? While my sister is an adult, she's also a guest in my mother's home and I'd be mortified to host a guest who was so rude to my other guests. How irritated with my mother am I entitled to be?
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: ShadesOfGrey on August 10, 2010, 10:33:57 AM
You are being perfectly reasonable. Your mother and sister - not so much.

Invite your mom to a neutral place - a park, museum, out to lunch or a play.  That should hlep. 
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Poppea on August 10, 2010, 10:34:56 AM
As long as your mother is enabling your sister's behavior she bears some responsibility for it.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Bibliophile on August 10, 2010, 10:36:01 AM
Your sister isn't a guest.  She's living at your mom's house.  A guest usually has a home of their own.  Your mom is not responsible for your sister's actions, she's only responsible for her own actions & reactions to your sister.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: fountainsoflettuce on August 10, 2010, 10:36:36 AM
Mom can enable Sister as long as she wants to.  Best option is you meeting Mom at a neutral location - lunch; shopping; coffee; etc.   This situation will never change until your Mom decides to change it.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Bethalize on August 10, 2010, 10:41:41 AM
She was upset, said I was putting her in the middle and declined the invitation. I haven't heard from her for over three weeks, which is very unusual for us.

Rest assured that you are not putting her in the middle. What you are doing is refusing to take up the slack for her in dealing with your sister.

My question is, how long can the parents of adult children be reasonably held responsible for the behaviour of their children? While my sister is an adult, she's also a guest in my mother's home and I'd be mortified to host a guest who was so rude to my other guests. How irritated with my mother am I entitled to be?

I think it is reasonable to be irritated with your mother. The fact that the person causes the problem happens to be your sister is neither here nor there. Your mother is expecting you to be a doormat and take abuse. You refuse. Your mother is unhappy because your action did two things: first it made her think about her beaviour and how it is lacking; secondly it made her face a new set of choices and that is probably worrying her. Hold strong to your boundaries and hope that your mother will change her behaviour at least enough to cope with the new set of facts i.e. that you won't be stepped on any more.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: MerryCat on August 10, 2010, 10:44:23 AM
So, let me get this straight - you asking your mum to come over to your house is "putting her in the middle", but your sister attacking you verbally in front of your mother is "just the way she is?"

Your mother is being unreasonable here, not to mention unfair. Unfortunately, in many families with toxic members, the rest of the family tend to focus on appeasing the toxic person at any cost. Especially if they are not the ones facing the worst of the toxic person's venom.

As long as you continue to cave to your mother's demands to be the bigger person, there are no repercussions to your mother, and she'll see no reason to take a harder line with your sister. I would back off from your mother for a little while, and let her deal with toxic sister.  Perhaps, when your sister's rudeness and aggression overflows onto your mother, she'll realize the extent of what she was asking you to actually put up with.  

I'm really sorry you're going through all this. I hope things get better for you ((hugs))
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: KimberlyRose on August 10, 2010, 10:51:33 AM
So, let me get this straight - you asking your mum to come over to your house is "putting her in the middle", but your sister attacking you verbally in front of your mother is "just the way she is?"

Exactly.  Mom and Sis are the ones who are putting Mom "in the middle."  Mom just sees it as easier to guilt the OP than Sis.  OP, I see your mom as being very responsible for the situation.  She *chooses* not to set limits with your sister because it's too much work.  Until she's ready to move past her denial and enabling, Sis is going to keep acting this way, because she hasn't been given a reason to change.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Slartibartfast on August 10, 2010, 10:53:58 AM
In general I think you have the right idea, but it could stand a bit of tweaking:

All you can be responsible for is your own decisions and actions, not your mother's.  So while you can choose to cut your sister out of your life (as well you should, if she's toxic), you can't demand your mother do the same.  If you mother chooses to let your sister live in her house and mooch off of her and throw toddler tantrums or whatever she does, that's your mom's business and the only thing you can (politely) do is decline to get involved.

So yes, you are perfectly right to not visit at your mother's house while your sister is in residence.  However, if you have asked your mother to change her own behavior (kick your sister out, stop being walked over, etc.) and your mother has refused, then all you can do is bean dip and possibly leave the room or end the visit if your mom starts trying to bring you into her (sister-caused) problems.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Animala on August 10, 2010, 11:06:09 AM
There is a thread about my uncle on here somewhere.  He's near 60, still lives at home and is a rather toxic person, so it can go on forever.

Make healthy choices for you.  You don't have to put up with bad behavior from your sister and your mom cater to her all she wants.  Tell her she doesn't have to pick between you and your sister, because you aren't asking her to.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: shylar on August 10, 2010, 11:10:16 AM
Thank you all for your replies. In a lot of ways, I'm very torn on my feelings about this and don't trust myself to be objective.

On the one hand, I'm sick and tired of being the family punch bag and I won't put up with it anymore just to make everyone else's experience at family events easier. Her attitude is easy for everyone to ignore if I choose to put up with it. If I decline to go to family events and tell people why I am declining, I figure they can't pretend that enabling her rudeness isn't hurting or affecting anyone any more.

On the other hand, I really struggle with the idea that it is anyone else's job to deal with or reign in my unruly unpleasant sister. She is an adult and weather she is a guest or a household member, she isn't really answerable for her behaviour to anyone other than herself.

But on the third hand (!!) I am a mother myself, and woebetide any of my children who saw fit to talk to one another in the way she talks to me - and that goes if they were 5, or 25. Some things are not acceptable no matter how old you are, and as a mother I reserve the right to point that out even if my children aren't officially my responsibility any more. I kind of wish my mum felt like that, and also feel very immature that there's a part of me that wants her to step in and stick up for me.

Sigh. Thanks for the hugs. I've slowly been cutting off toxic family members (see my previous threads) in the hope that it will improve my relationship with the spineless enablers of the bunch. Instead, it just leaves me feeling like I've no family left.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Sabbyfrog2 on August 10, 2010, 11:37:59 AM
((HUGS))

I cut of members of my family long ago. I know exactly how you feel. But in the end, it's worth it. You will have  peace of mind. And you will always be surrounded by your friends and loved ones who DO value you and treat you well, even if they aren't "blood."
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Bethalize on August 10, 2010, 11:42:51 AM
On the other hand, I really struggle with the idea that it is anyone else's job to deal with or reign in my unruly unpleasant sister. She is an adult and weather she is a guest or a household member, she isn't really answerable for her behaviour to anyone other than herself.

People are naturally amoral. Learning what is right and what is wrong happens to us as we grow up. If your sister hasn't learned that yet then the only way to help her learn is by cause and effect. She knows what the cause is, the effect is not you leaving but the disapproval of others that you have left.

Anyone who is constantly as unpleasant and aggressive as this person sounds must be very unwell.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: LEMon on August 10, 2010, 07:31:53 PM
Your 'on this hand, and on that hand' is very thoughtful.   But may I add another hand?

You are a mother too.  Do your kids deserve to see/hear/know you are treated this way by a sibling?  And that it is allowed by your mother?  Do you bring it home with you (if you are the only one to go visit) by being irritable or upset?  How will their views of family be shaped by what is happening?

My personal feeling is they will be happier without the conflict, as will you.  So, IMHO, stay away from sis, and talk to mom on the phone or meet in neutral places till sis is no longer in her home.

Your mother is feeling the pressure right now: you are cutting off sis so how does she deal with it?  You decide what is right for your family and you.  Give her time to decide what she will do.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: gramma dishes on August 10, 2010, 07:45:11 PM
Sometimes "family" consists of people who love and respect you.  Period.  Genetics sometimes doesn't make good choices.
Choose people who love you and respond to you with consideration for your feelings.  We aren't always stuck with the family we grew up in.
And I agree that your children shouldn't be witness to this mess.  It isn't okay to treat people like that, siblings or not.

You invited your Mom to your home.  She chose not to come.  I'd let it rest for awhile.  If she does get into contact with you at some time in the near future (for some reason OTHER than to yell at you or blame you for the status quo), I'd do as other posters have suggested.  Invite her (alone) to some neutral territory -- sandwich shop, coffee place, etc. (your treat if you can afford it) and see how that goes.

But you are right to have stopped tolerating the inexcusable behavior of your sister.  I think there's some kind of old saying about that.  The general idea of is is:  You can't be treated like a doormat if you refuse to lie down.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: mj on August 10, 2010, 08:00:27 PM
Shylar, my DH and I are on a similar path as you regarding a family member.  For awhile I was downright angry or puzzled why her parents didn't reign her in, they saw it!  But they wanted everyone to excuse her because that's just the way she is.  It's maddening b/c her parents do have the power to change things, she lives with them as well. But they will not take responsibility b/c it is much easier to make everyone else just put up with her. 

Anyway, it's not easy.  Just when we think we've gotten it through to her parents that we will see them without her and they start accepting consequences, they'll slide and start trying find ways to include her in our plans again.  It's an ongoing process of putting your foot down to say you mean business.  With a lot of people like this, they are only set temporary consequences and then their bad behavior is allowed to rule again.  My advice is to be firm, don't back down, don't cave, tell your mom clearly that you will not be around her and then DO IT.  When it comes up, say clearly you will meet them somewhere else, only they are invited to your home.  You really have to mean it.

Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Venus193 on August 10, 2010, 08:41:43 PM
On the one hand, I'm sick and tired of being the family punch bag and I won't put up with it anymore just to make everyone else's experience at family events easier. Her attitude is easy for everyone to ignore if I choose to put up with it. If I decline to go to family events and tell people why I am declining, I figure they can't pretend that enabling her rudeness isn't hurting or affecting anyone any more.

This sounds like you are the designated victim here and someone is afraid of replacing you in that role if you choose to absent yourself.  Let that fear become reality for them.


Quote
On the other hand, I really struggle with the idea that it is anyone else's job to deal with or reign in my unruly unpleasant sister. She is an adult and weather she is a guest or a household member, she isn't really answerable for her behaviour to anyone other than herself.

Perhaps, but if nobody consequences her for it she will continue to behave in her toxic manner.  I am guessing that nobody calls her on her endless toxicity because it's too much work for them or they are somehow afraid of her or your mother for protecting her.  That's their problem.

You need to see this almost like the mentally ill criminals on Law & Order shows who rant about having the right to stop taking psychiatric meds.  In fact, their right to stop their meds ends (or should end) at everyone else's right to be safe from the dangerous behaviors these meds were prescribed to prevent.  Your sister's right to behave like toxic waste should end at everyone else's right to maintain their own mental, financial, or physical health.


Quote
But on the third hand (!!) I am a mother myself, and woebetide any of my children who saw fit to talk to one another in the way she talks to me - and that goes if they were 5, or 25. Some things are not acceptable no matter how old you are, and as a mother I reserve the right to point that out even if my children aren't officially my responsibility any more. I kind of wish my mum felt like that, and also feel very immature that there's a part of me that wants her to step in and stick up for me.

Your mother somehow lost her spine around your sister.  Can you determine when and how this happened?


Quote
I've slowly been cutting off toxic family members (see my previous threads) in the hope that it will improve my rel@tionship with the spineless enablers of the bunch. Instead, it just leaves me feeling like I've no family left.

I know it can feel that way; my friend Blanche was reluctant to cut off her brothers despite their constant condescension and lack of anger management.  I told her what everyone else is telling you:  Blood is trumped by the ability (or lack of it) to place emotional trust in a person.  It should never be an excuse to abuse.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Hushabye on August 10, 2010, 08:52:56 PM
As long as your mom lets your sister live with her and enables her behavior toward you, she's responsible for the fallout that occurs.  And if that means you ask her to visit you rather than you visiting her, then so be it.  You're not asking her to kick your sister out or even to control your sister's behavior, just to allow the two of you to spend time together without being exposed to the toxicity.  I see that as asking your mother to be responsible for her own actions, because she's the one who's facilitating the toxicity.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Balletmom on August 10, 2010, 09:05:14 PM
OP, my heart goes out to you. ((()))

The thing is, you're expecting rational behavior from an irrational person (your mother.) She expects you to put up with your sister's abusive and rude behavior, because it's too difficult for her to establish boundaries and standards. I understand how hard that can be as a parent (both my DDs regularly accuse me of giving the other one a pass on their worst and most frustrating behavior) but your mom has clearly given up in terms of mistakenly keeping the peace.

In making that choice, she chooses to alienate her other daughter. Decisions have consequences.

Stay calm when you talk to your mother, and restate her feelings, so she can deal with the feeling of being caught in the middle. You're not putting her in the middle, but she feels that way. She knows if she'll enforce appropriate behavior with the Toxic DD, she'll lose that one. So she wants you to just "understand" and accept it, because you're not the crazy one.

"Mom, I hear that you feel caught in the middle. I'm sorry that is happening to you. I wouldn't like it either."

"Where can we meet for lunch/dinner/coffee so we can catch up so this is easier for both of us?"

OP, acknowledge your mother's feelings, you won't be able to change her perception, but throw the monkey back on her back by asking her to take a step towards meeting you away from Toxic Sister.

Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: blarg314 on August 10, 2010, 09:16:59 PM

Your sister is an adult, and responsible for her own behaviour. Your mother is also an adult, and responsible for her own behaviour.

In this situation, your sister's bad behaviour has resulted in you wanting nothing to do with her, because she will not treat you with basic courtesy and decency. Your mother, on the other hand, has decided that she is okay with the way your sister behaves, and has decided to blame you for standing up for yourself. In your family, it sounds like your sister's role is to behave badly and get away with it, and your role is to put up with all the crap.

At some level your mother recognizes that your sister is behaving badly - her comments about "that's just the way she is" show this. But the family situation is one where your sister gets away with behaving badly, and everyone soaks it up.

You are being very sensible in setting limits on how you are willing to be treated. But you are also bucking years of established family dynamics, and so you are likely to be seen as the one who is causing trouble.

This is not at all an unusual situation, and is one where counselling can be *hugely* helpful. It won't change your sister, but it will give you a sane view of the situation, an analysis of how things work in your family, and tools for dealing with it in as effective a way as possible.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Clara Bow on August 10, 2010, 09:21:50 PM
If your mother wants to put up with that behavior and is content making excuses for it, there's little you can do to change her mind.

You do NOT have to put up with it. I think that you are in the right one hundred million percent.

Perhaps if more people refuse the honor of being crapped on by Darling your mother will start to come around.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Danismom on August 10, 2010, 10:55:00 PM
Your mother is only responsible for the behavior she allows in her home.  If I read the OP right your sister lives in your mother's home.  If so, then you can simply inform your mother that you do not wish to be around your sister as her treatment of you has become intolerable.  Tell your mom that you love your mother and that you would like to continue to have a relationship with her.  (Oh, wait, you've already done that!!  Good for you!!)  Then when mom insists you are putting her in the middle, make it clear that you are doing no such thing.  You aren't insisting she take sides or get on to your sister.  You simply refuse to be around sister.  If mom wants to be around you, she can do it elsewhere and away from sister.  You aren't demanding that mom kick sister out or have nothing to do with her.  That would be putting someone in the middle.  Nope.  You are just refusing to go somewhere or socialize with someone you know is going to be mean to you. 
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: Goog on August 10, 2010, 11:20:52 PM
Not much to add, except for a suggestion for a response for the next time someone says 'that's just the way she is':

"Well, *I* refuse to be treated so shabbily/talked to so condescendingly/enable her horrible behavior.  That's just the way *I* am."

Yes, I know what it's like to be blamed when you refuse to enable and accept the bad treatment "just to get along".  Sure, maybe it isn't so hard for one little thing.  But it's all of those little things that add up, and then you start to doubt yourself and feel like a real female dog for saying 'no, I won't put up with this crapola any longer' when everyone else is turning a blind eye to everything.  But, like a pp said, I eventually started asking myself 'would I want to be around her if she wasn't related to me?' and the answer was a resounding NO.  So why should an accident of DNA make me have to put up with whatever she chooses to dish out?
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: NotCinderell on August 11, 2010, 10:23:33 AM
I just want to say that I was in a very, very similar situation a few years ago, and you have my sympathies.  

My situation resolved itself, as my mother's boyfriend pressured her to get my sister out (he doesn't live with her, but he saw, rightly, that my sister was making enough money to support herself and at the ripe old age of 26, was more than ready to live on her own), so she did.  My sister stopped speaking to my mother shortly after that, for reasons that she has yet to articulate in a coherent manner to me, and I think it's because she's resentful that the gravy train came to an end.  

Before and immediately after my sister's moving out, my mother and I had a very strained rel@tionship, almost to the point of permanent estrangement.  She would often throw me out of her house when my sister started fights with me, because "we" couldn't get along, and she couldn't throw my sister out, because she lived there.  I was very resentful.  Of course, my sister took this as license to start fights, because she had nothing to lose from the situation and it would always work out in her favor (i.e., me getting thrown out)

Now, my mom and I are better.  I no longer speak to my sister anymore, either, after she told me that it was my fault that she had to check herself into a hospital for depression.  I wish her well, but I know that if I let her back into my life, she'll just resume using me as a human toilet again, and I just don't gain anything from that sort of interaction.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: JoyinVirginia on August 11, 2010, 03:02:45 PM
OP, Take care of yourself. Just because someone is a blood relation does not mean you have to take any abuse at all from that person. People will respect you for refusing to take abuse. (eventually)
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: pierrotlunaire0 on August 11, 2010, 03:21:43 PM
First of all, Danismom expressed very well how I felt about you "putting your mother in the middle."  Your mother has put herself there, but again Danismom is far more eloquent than I.

Second point is however, where does your mother draw the line?  Is your sister allowed to punch you, or only verbally abuse you?  Can she steal from you?  Is it only your sister who is allowed to mistreat you, or does any family member qualify?  Or can any person treat you poorly?

I am asking these because your mother needs to realize what she is demanding of you.  This is a very slippery slope she wants you to perch on.
Title: Re: toxic sister - how long are parents responsible for?
Post by: TootsNYC on August 11, 2010, 11:21:16 PM
So, let me get this straight - you asking your mum to come over to your house is "putting her in the middle", but your sister attacking you verbally in front of your mother is "just the way she is?"

Exactly.  Mom and Sis are the ones who are putting Mom "in the middle."  Mom just sees it as easier to guilt the OP than Sis.  OP, I see your mom as being very responsible for the situation.  She *chooses* not to set limits with your sister because it's too much work.  Until she's ready to move past her denial and enabling, Sis is going to keep acting this way, because she hasn't been given a reason to change.


You may need to make this a little unpleasant for your Mom. Guilt *her* for a bit. Or simply leave it that you don't see it. It's too bad--I'm sure

I don't think Sis will change, and I don't think your mom is still responsible for your sister's nastiness. Your mom didn't create your sister all by herself, and your sister has had plenty of OTHER influences in her life that she could have used to make herself a better person.

I think your sister's nastiness is all her fault.  And that your mom can't "fix" her, and you shouldn't be pressuring your mother to do so. That *IS* "just the way she is"; grownups have to fix themselves. You can't change her, you can only change how you react.

You are doing it all right. Except that you are still expecting your mother to "fix" your sister, and that's unfair.

So simply say, "Mom, I'd like to see you. If you think about what it's like to hear Sis when I visit you, I think you will realize that it's unfair of you to ask that of me. You pressuring me to spend time around a nasty person is actually you putting *ME* in the middle. Come see me. Because you love me, and because you don't think I should have to be around someone speaking nastily to me, as the price of seeing my mommy."

Then, stick to your guns.