Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Parents favor her sister, but is that really helping the sister?

DEAR CAROLYN: I'm wondering whether to make an issue of my parents' blatant favoritism of my younger sister. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but it still bothers me. They couldn't help me or my brother with college; when we went to the nearby state school, they considered letting us live at home as a big favor. But my little sister "had anxiety" and the only school she felt comfortable going to was a small private college two hours away. My brother and I bought our own first cars, but they had to buy her a really safe one — meaning, brand new and expensive — since she's a nervous driver. They're paying for her whole wedding next year, since, according to them, we could all use a big party. My brother and I got no money for our weddings — I'm a girl, so you can't even blame simple sexism. My brother is venting by making snarky comments on their wedding posts. He told me he might skip out on it in protest, saying it's time to finally, publicly, call them out. What do you think?

Not Used to It By Now

NOT USED TO IT BY NOW: I think you and your brother have a valid complaint. I think he's making his so childishly, he's going to squander much of his moral capital.

And I think you both seem to be missing the fact that the person harmed most by your parents' poor judgment is your sister.

I know, I know, I know — fancy degree, car, wedding, poor poor baby.

Whether there's diagnosed anxiety there or not, though — I leave room for parental dysfunction as the root condition here — your parents' rushing in with stacks of money to pad the corners of all of life's coffee tables is a terrible disservice to her.

Buffering kids from the ups and downs of normal life stunts them badly. Your parents may win a battle here and there but not a war against life: It will keep slinging ups and downs at your sister and eventually it will serve up more than your parents can absorb for her.

And when that happens, she will have to process them after never having developed the skills, resourcefulness or self-confidence it takes to do that.

And: She will have to do this without the loving support and camaraderie of siblings, because your parents sacrificed those bonds when they prioritized ... whatever impulse they were serving when they chose to coddle your sister.

About that "whatever": I won't vilify your parents as much as I'm tempted to. Anxious children can terrify and torment their parents, leading to good intentions and unwise choices — which they then rationalize as necessary, which over decades becomes such a habit that they justify throwing an unfair overpriced foofy wedding as noble.

You and your brother have a point, and a lifetime's worth of justified anger. Yes.

But you also have skills and resiliency, right? You navigated a big public university, bought your own cars, threw your own weddings. Please resist petty social media posts and harness your strengths for a healthy response to your unhealthy family.

A good family therapist can work wonders — as can reminding yourself, as you behold the sisterly spectacle: "There but for the grace of God go I."

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