My youngest sister sat on my sofa a few days after I gave birth to my third child and stared at me, trying to understand what it was like to sit in a puddle of hormonal soup since she’d never experienced it.
It was a few weeks before Christmas, and we’d all planned to get together for our yearly dinner at our mother’s house.
“What are you bringing to Mom’s?” I asked as I struggled to nurse my son while simultaneously teaching his older brother how to blow into a harmonica so it would make a sound, without blowing out one of my crotch-stitches.
“Cider,” she replied.
“What else?” I asked, thinking there surely would be more. After all, my mother had called and left me a lengthy message telling me to bring a salad, appetizer, and dessert to the festivities.
After hearing her on my voicemail, I wanted to snap my phone in half. I’d just had a baby, remember? Who asks a woman who just gave birth to bring three large items to Christmas? How about, “You just gave birth to your third child, you’re off the hook?”
Truth be told, my mother has always favored my younger sister. She did when we were younger, and she still did that Christmas. Even though we were adults, she was still treating her differently and coddling her.
I felt like cancelling Christmas all together after hearing my mother had asked my sister to bring a damn jug of pre-made juice while treating me like a catering company. And I would have too, if it hadn’t been for the fact my kids adore their cousins and my mom’s holiday gathering every year.
Instead, I looked at my sister, handed her the phone, and let her listen to my mom’s voice shouting at me over the phone. We both laughed.
We didn’t always laugh about it, though. When we were younger, it was obvious my mother loved my spoiled sister more than me, and my sister soaked it right up. She got more clothes, and my mother expected less of her. While I was given chores to do, my sister watched cartoons and stuck her tongue out at me.
My mom wanted to spend more time with her, whereas I always got on her nerves and she would say things like, “When you’re here, Kathy, it’s like there are 10 extra people around.” Umm….yeah.
My younger sister was more like my mom — they were both soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and didn’t disagree with anyone or stick up for themselves. My sister was content to sit around all day not doing much while I had the energy of “10 extra kids.”
When I was a teenager, my mom admitted to me that my younger sister was easier during a therapy session. “She was an easy baby, she never cried or fussed, and she was an easy kid — she didn’t ask for much and just went with the flow,” she told me as we sat on a navy blue sofa.
I wanted to run out of the room, but I knew I was wasting my time, and at 16, I just didn’t care if my mom loved my sister more any longer. I cared about getting the hell away from her.
I don’t go with the flow if I don’t like the flow, and I’ve never felt bad about that. Not even when it so obviously bothered my mother and my personality made her love me less and my sister more.
But my mom’s disparate treatment and feelings toward us did make me hate my sister when we were younger. I’d be extra mean to her and make her cry by giving her dirty looks or making fun of her friends or telling her she looked dumb. I’d ruin her prized possessions and eat the special food my mom would buy for her even if I didn’t like it.
As the years passed and my mom continued to give us unequal attention even after we’d addressed it with her, I grew to resent my mom even more. I lost even more respect for her than I already had.
And it did the same for my sister. She’s told my mom that because she has favored her over her sisters, it damaged her relationship with her siblings, and she blames her for it.
I’m thankful my sister and I are able to recognize this annoying-ness and laugh about it now, but it was damaging and is still a trigger for both of us despite having found comedy relief in the toxic situation.
An important lesson it has taught me is I will do everything in my power to make my kids feel loved equally. Of course, we treat our kids different because they are different, but you can do that and give them all the same amount of love. You don’t have to favor one over the other or prefer to spend time with one more all the time. Kids feel the lack of love, and it damages their self-esteem.
We are all going to screw up our kids in various ways. We all have one child who is easier than the other. But blatantly showing one child more love than another does more than just upset the child who feels less love–it’s damaging for their siblings too, and those feeling creep into adulthood and can’t be undone.
Believe me, I’ve tried.