Dear Captain Awkward,
It’s always been clear to me that my younger sister is the ‘favorite daughter’ of the family. My parents have never really accepted any of my life choices. They tolerate them, to be sure, but they don’t accept them as valid. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the words “I’m proud of you” from either of them. They also ask me not to bring my partner over for family dinners, something which really hurts because I love my partner and want her to be a part of my family, but my family can’t seem to accept that.
Contrast this with my sister, who is ten years younger than me and is their perfect daughter. I don’t think she makes choices specifically to make them happy, but her interests always coincide with what my parents find acceptable. She also gets to bring her boyfriend to family occasions without any family complaints, and my parents are actually happy to have him around.
Now, none of this has hurt my relationship with my sister. I used to blame her for it, but I grew out of that about the time I graduated high school. In recent years we’ve grown closer than ever, and we’re pretty much inseparable as far as sisters go. But we both recognize that our parents are playing favorites, and it’s not hard to see why: she’s the perfect daughter who does everything right, while I’m the strange, humanitarian, lesbian daughter who goes against the “good values” of the community. (And before you ask, no, religion does not factor in here. Both of my parents are Atheist, as are my sister and I.)
I want to sit down with my parents and talk with them about this, but I don’t know how to approach the subject. Do you have any advice that can make this conversation easier? And should I include my sister in this talk, since it involves her as well?
My heart really goes out to you, Letter Writer. What a shitty, untenable situation.
I believe you that you have lots of evidence of their preferential treatment of your sister, and I’m very glad you’ve realized that it’s not her fault and formed your own relationship. The thing is, it’s hard to have a conversation about all of it together. “You don’t love me the way you love my sister, and it hurts my feelings, and here is my decades of evidence for that” is a hard conversation to start and a harder one to finish. What can they really say? So I think you should focus on the issue of your partner and her inclusion in family events. It’s a specific, concrete issue that perfectly encapsulates the larger issue and also has a possible solution. So the conversation starts with “I would like (Partner) to be included at family events from now on.” Then you listen and see what they say.
Because unless your partner abuses you or has been caught red-handed stealing the family silver, there is no good reason not to invite her to family occasions, and your parents don’t even have the dubious smokescreen of “religious reasons” to hide behind. Also, even if they did exclude your partner for “religious reasons,” that would also be total bullshit. They would be saying “My prejudices are more important to me than the happiness of people I love.” How convenient when”conscience” lines up so neatly with bigotry!
Best case scenario, they say “Of course.” You hug them and say “I’m glad you’ve changed your mind, that means a lot to me” and you carry on.
Worst case scenario, they say “No” or “We just aren’t comfortable” and you say “Well, that hurts my feelings. Especially since (sister’s partner) is always invited to everything. It sends the message to me that her love life is important and mine is not, and it tells me that you think some very ugly things about my sexual orientation and relationship.”
And then you see what they say. It would be good to have your sister there for the conversation if you know she will back you up, but it’s not necessary.
And I need to ask this – Are you comfortable going where your partner is not invited? How have the two of you been handling holidays, etc.? Does it shred her feelings and your feelings every time there is a family thing and she is excluded? What reasons have they given you in the past for not including her?
The reason I ask is that maybe you’ve all been managing your parents’ feelings about this and accepting their status quo, but if you raise the issue directly with them you’re opening a can of worms you might not be able to close. They might not give you what you want. You might have to make some terrible decisions about whether and on what terms you spend time with them, which will only deepen the divide between you. And put you in a position where you must decide if you want to raise the question again and again. Maybe once a year, you give your parents the “Are you human beings who love your child?” test. And maybe once a year they fail it and break your heart again.
I still think you have to raise the question, but I want you to be prepared for all contingencies.
Not everyone gets unwavering support, love, and comfort from their parents. If you’re one of the people who didn’t get that, a tough part of growing up is realizing that your parents may not be able to give you these things that you need from them, and sometimes the answer is to teach yourself not to need those things anymore so that you won’t be (as) heartbroken when you don’t get them. You end up rewriting your relationship around the things you do have in common and the things you can relate about, and kissing the rest up to the universe. Lieutenant Trans writes about it very beautifully here.
I hope they pass the test.