I Need My Sister To Keep Her Parenting Opinions To Herself
Don’t cross this boundary.
My sister and I were really close growing up. That friendship spilled into adulthood, and I was so excited when she got pregnant with her first child right after I had my second. I wanted to share the motherhood experience with her, and I thought our kids would be as close as siblings, since they were so close in age.
That was over fifteen years ago, and things haven’t turned out exactly how I thought they would.
First, my sister and I have very different ways of raising our kids. I was more of a hoverer, she was free range. I vaccinated, and she didn’t want to. We’d get the cousins together for play dates when they were young and hers would run around naked, going to the bathroom wherever they wanted, where I was more comfortable with my kids being in diapers and clothes.
Now, it didn’t phase me that we had different approaches, exactly — everybody gets to raise their kids how they see fit, within reason. But then her comments started. Just a few, here and there: She asked why I used a particular sunscreen on my kids; she turned her nose up if I told her we were going out for a Happy Meal. It bothered me a bit at first, and I’ll admit, there were times it made me wonder if I was a terrible mom. But I got over it really quickly; I had my hands full with three little kids and knew I had to do what was best for me.
And then, our kids entered the difficult tween and teen years, all while I was going through a divorce. It affected my kids, and there were some rocky times. I was struggling with my oldest, especially, and was doing everything I could to pull him out of his rebellious behavior. But it was clear to me what was going on: He was struggling since his parents were breaking up, and he was coping (poorly, I might add) by fighting at school and not doing homework. I wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t a mystery.
But my sister — someone I was hoping I could lean on for support — told me I should just let my kids do whatever they wanted to, and that’s why he was acting out. It led to a blow-out fight, and we didn’t talk for months. That’s when I should have spoken up and set a boundary with her, but I didn’t.
To be clear, when her kids are struggling, I keep my opinions and advice to myself. I have total confidence that she and her husband can handle their kids. And unless they are in danger, or they are completely disrespectful to me or someone (and thankfully we’ve never been in that situation), I strongly feel it’s not my place to say anything to my nieces and nephews.
But unfortunately, my sister doesn’t feel the same. A few months ago, after a family get-together, she told me she didn’t like the way my kids were talking to me. I had to tell her I had things under control and she needed to worry about her own kids, not mine. I explained her comments weren’t helpful and asked her to please give me the same respect I give her and her husband: to keep her mouth closed when it comes to my kids.
I wish I could tell you that we neatly resolved the conflict, but we didn’t. It’s created tension that’s totally changed our relationship. I don't go to my sister for advice or to vent about my kids because I know she’s going to make me feel worse. And honestly, it sucks. I hate that I’m not comfortable talking to my sister about certain things, and I really hate how she feels the need to constantly poke at trivial things that don’t concern her.
In the end, we all need to do what’s best for our kids. And sometimes that means setting strong boundaries, even if it’s with someone we love. It’s never fun, but it’s necessary.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.