Posted by fxckfeelings on July 16, 2015Share This Post
Deciding whether or not to accept the challenge to fight an Asshole™ shouldn’t be difficult—whether you’re facing an Asshole™ or an actual asshole, every instinct should tell you to get the hell out of there. Of course, sometimes the Asshole™ seems like the only thing standing between you and justice, so before you go “mano a anus,” consider the validity of your anger, the likelihood of ancillary damage and cost, and the value of whatever it is you hope to win. Then, whether you’re the one who must do the fighting or just counseling someone else, you’ll come up with a strategy for either fighting or fleeing that will have the least-shitty results.
My father died recently and my unmarried younger sister still lives in the family house with our elderly mother who is now struggling with memory loss. Over the years we have been a dysfunctional family with a lot of sibling rivalry, and my brother and I find our sister argumentative and difficult. Being around her for any length of time involves walking on eggshells and she and our mother have a turbulent relationship although she is her favorite child. My parents’ will states we will all benefit equally upon our mother’s death but now our sister is trying to emotionally blackmail us into pledging the house to her. She feels that she deserves it as she is the main caregiver. However, she has been supported by her for years and has always been hesitant to find work. We find it distasteful to be arguing about money with our mother still living and our father deceased just weeks ago. My brother and I are both happy to inherit our fair share when the time comes but worry that our sister will syphon off the funds my mother has and expect to keep the house as well. We feel like vultures in wait and do not wish for bitterness or conflict but our sister is often unreasonable and bombastic and we have problems of our own. My goal is to find a way to withstand manipulation and protect our interests without causing our mother’s remaining time to be made unhappy and stressful.
The feeling of unfairness is like the emotional salt in the psychic wound left by loss. After all, it never feels fair when you lose someone you love, but having that pain exacerbated by an Asshole™ sibling adds extra sting to the agony.
It’s hard to avoid becoming paralyzed by that pain, as well as guilt over the anguish you could cause your mother by arguing with your sister. Before you go to war with your sister, however, give thought to whether winning a victory would be meaningful, or even possible, given her Asshole™ tendencies.
Your sister is being totally unfair and unreasonable, but as with mortality itself, there’s a point when you have to lay down arms and give in to the inevitable.
Instead of letting the unfairness of her desire to inherit the family house control your response, get a lawyer’s help to determine whether you’re likely to win in court, what you could win, and at what cost. Ask yourself whether that money represents meaningful choices for you and your children, and whether it’s what your father once wanted and what your mother would want before she became demented and vulnerable to your sister’s bullying.
And remember that if your sister is truly an Asshole™, she will go into debt (or allow your mother to do so) fighting you and what she believes is the greater injustice of not giving her what she believes she deserves. As careful as you’re being about considering the fallout, she’ll be twice as careless and destructive, so if you make this at all personal, she will make it her personal mission to destroy you, sibling or no.
The good news, if there is such a thing in this situation, is that, if there’s not much to win and no point in fighting, you don’t have to worry about your mother’s feelings, or about taking on a fight, period. You simply have to swallow your anger, give yourself credit for doing so, and submit to your sister’s demands. They’re unreasonable, but she’s not worth trying to reason with.
On the other hand, if you decide war is necessary, meaningful, and winnable, don’t focus on what’s unfair about your sister’s demands, but rather on what’s worthwhile in carrying out your parents’ original intentions and providing support to all their children, rather than just one. Accept the fact of your mother’s dementia-related dependence on your sister and the pain she is likely to experience if your sister is angry. Then ask yourself what you would like to happen to the distribution from your will if you were, someday, in your mother’s position.
Once you believe you’re doing the right thing, whatever that thing is, there’s no reason to share negative emotions with your sister. You can tell her you appreciate the support she’s provided for your mother without arguing over whether it prevented her from getting a job. You can respect her request for exclusive rights to inheriting the family house while expressing regret that you can’t give her a decision on that issue because of the complexity of the needs of those who stand to inherit. Meanwhile, of course, you take legal steps to ensure that your rights are protected.
Once you’re sure the conflict is or isn’t necessary and meaningful, do what’s required, and chalk up your mother’s pain to the medical afflictions of aging. Then respect yourself for making a tough decision and putting up with the extra, salty pain.
And of course, while your sister may inherit all of your mother’s assets, she also inherited all of the family’s Asshole™ genes, and that’s one inheritance you can enjoy being cut out of.
“I can just imagine the awful things my sister is going to say about me to our mother, who will certainly believe them and feel distressed by our conflict. I won’t take responsibility for my mother’s painful reaction, I won’t add to it by becoming negative myself, and I will challenge my sister’s demands only when necessary and never in a personal way.”
My first wife was always angry at me and threatening to leave, but when I called her bluff and agreed we should divorce, she swore she’d ruin my life. Sadly, she came pretty close, nearly draining me financially and destroying my reputation, and, worst of all, lying to get full custody of our daughter and then poisoning her against me. It took me years to recover and resign myself to the fact that my daughter may be lost to me for good. That’s why I was shocked and overjoyed when my kid, now in college, reached out to me recently—as I’d always hoped might happen, she came to see her mother’s crazy side and doubt I’m as bad as her mother’s always claimed. The problem, of course, is that if my ex finds out that we’re talking, she’s going to put our daughter through hell. As such, my kid is understandably nervous, and, as eager as I am to get back into her life, I’m not sure I have any advice that will help her avoid her mother’s sizable wrath. My goal is to nurture a positive relationship without getting my daughter in trouble with her mother.
By worrying about your daughter’s welfare more than your own need to have some kind of contact with her, you’re not letting the unfairness of the situation, or your anger at your Asshole ex, interfere with more important priorities. As such, you’re being a good parent, even if you never got to be one until now.
Don’t assume, however, that your contact with your daughter is not without value to her development. The more control and/or guilt her mother imposes on their relationship, the more your daughter could benefit from having a parent who is less reactive and difficult. In addition, ask yourself what other qualities you might bring to parenting, including thoughtfulness, love, and availability.
Don’t take responsibility for protecting your daughter from her decisions. Now that she’s in college, she’s old enough to make her own choices, and this one will be unavoidably painful, no matter what she decides. Instead of protecting her from having to decide in the first place, help her to make the decision that’s right for her.
Tell her you believe she has a right to make the choice that is best for her, even if it causes pain to one or both of her parents. It’s not fair that her mother is sensitive and likely to react badly, but her mother can’t help being that way, so that’s the way it is. It’s up to your daughter to figure out what’s best for her at this time in her life.
Assure your daughter that you love her and want a relationship if at all possible. As much as you want it, however, and believe that she will benefit from having a father as well as a mother, you respect her right to make a decision that works best for her. There’s no better way you could demonstrate your love and strengthen those boundaries your ex-wife tried to tear down.
“I’ve always felt like my daughter was stolen from me, but I know she has to negotiate a difficult relationship with her mother and trying to intrude in her life as a young adult would backfire. I will show her I’m available, support her in making a good decision, and trust that time will give us a second chance.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname