My older sister, now in her early 50s, just doesn’t like me. I have spent many years trying to build a relationship with her and return her hate with kindness, but no matter what I do, things don’t change. She often hosts family gatherings and doesn’t invite me, or when she does, it’s at the very last minute and through my mom. When we are both at the same gathering, sometimes things go well, and once every year or two, she’ll start screaming at me for no apparent reason except for “you think you’re better than everyone else,” which I don’t, though it is true I have always been very different from the rest of my family, which is very conservative politically and socially (and I’m not). Another sister said that my siblings are uncomfortable with me and keep their distance because I had been in a same-sex relationship in my 20s and am now married to a man. My son is an only child, and he longs to have close relationships with his cousins. And I would like to know my nephews better. I keep trying to initiate get-togethers, and she either doesn’t answer or is noncommittal. A few weeks ago I called and she didn’t call back, though she did look up my LinkedIn profile, which was very strange and hurtful to me. My son keeps asking me why he can’t see his cousins (who live 1.5 hours away). I’m trying to figure out how much to keep trying to amend the relationship with my sister, and if so, how. Or maybe I should stop trying, for it causes me so much pain, especially this time of year.
I am sorry. I think this time of year can be so ironically cruel for anyone who doesn’t have a picturesque family experience (even the decorations at Target are screaming at us to “BE MERRY! BE BRIGHT!” Good grief!) that it makes it worse, when you start to imagine what families are “supposed” to be like, and how warm and welcoming and communal everyone is supposed to be feeling all the time. But unfortunately, that warm and loving family relationship that you wish for—and that you may very well have done your part to try to achieve for years and years—simply might not be possible with your sister. I get why you want to give the gift of close cousin relationships to your son, but honestly, for him to see his Mom treated this way, and to associate family gatherings with potential explosive behavior is not anywhere near the fun frolic that good childhood memories are made of. I think it might be time to give yourself some peace by understanding that your sister—for whatever reasons, but all her own—is incapable of building a truly sisterly relationship with you. And that you have to take what you choose to embrace of the rest of your family relationships. They may be your allies or not, intervene on your behalf or do nothing of the sort, but that is almost beside the point – right now, you’ve been spending years trying to move a boulder that not only won’t budge, but somehow manages to spit on you as well. As for your son, you can reveal more and more to him over the years as he is old enough to understand, but for now, a simple “I wish we could be closer to them too. Sometimes, though, families can’t always spend time together” can start a conversation, seeing where he goes from there, and following his lead. And over time, you can put some of that no-longer-wasted energy into building an extended “family” of friends and neighbors who actually are capable of providing the connections that you’re longing for.