Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the siblings’ memories.
Nicole: This is so hard! If there is one thing I have learned as an advice columnist, it’s that different siblings can have incredibly different experiences of the same childhood.
Which are often equally valid.
I think you need to give her space to work through this a bit.
Danny: this feels so much like…EXACTLY our shared half of a very particular venn diagram!
Danny: and I have absolutely been the seething sibling
who is like “I AM NAMING MY EXPERIENCE, EVERYONE SHUT UP, I’M BEING VALID”
Nicole: Right! And you may feel differently, but I think that the LW desire to manage this for her parents is an understandable one, but also an overstep.
If your sibling needs to withdraw for a time, let her
Danny: I also DEFINITELY can feel the LW’s middle-child-ness leaping off the page
Danny: “I can understand where everyone is coming from! I know that if I just used my specific knowledge of everyone’s individual emotional context, this fight would be over!”
as both the middle child AND the trans child
I feel where both of you are coming from !
but yes, it may just be for a while that your older sister is mad at your parents for reasons that you kind of understand and kind of disagree with
and even if you think the tension would be resolved by her coming out
you can’t really do more than gently encourage her, once, to consider doing it, then letting her make that decision
It’s not your news.
Danny: EVEN IF that means, in your opinion, letting a fight/tension/disagreement/weird vibes go on longer than it needs to
Nicole: I can feel so strongly the LW’s feeling that their parents will actually respond well and supportively. Which they may very well. But your sibling has not had this experience of your parents or that accompanying belief in their reasonability.
Danny: yes! I think that the key there is you say they’ve “often surprised” you
which means that you, at least at first, didn’t expect a positive reaction
so I think the real move forward is saying that you might very well have an accurate read on your childhood, AND that your older sibling had a different internal experience of some of those events
Danny: basically I think your next move needs to be to work on letting go of some of the ways you intensely absorb both your parents’ and your sibling’s emotions
Nicole: Yes! Focus on your own stuff a bit.
Danny: like, when they seem a little hurt or confused, you feel it deeply with them and want to fix it; when your sibling seems alienated or isolated you feel it deeply and want to fix that too
and I think you should step a little back from that, encourage your sibling to consider having — if not a coming-out conversation, at least a more in-depth emotional conversation about what she’s thus far only hinted at
Nicole: “Let it lie” is hard advice to get when your personality is fixing it.
Danny: I relate to that very strongly!!
Nicole: Especially in close families.
Danny: but this is a conversation your sister really needs to have with your parents, and even if you felt relatively free and open around gender roles based on how your parents raised you, it’s entirely possible that she felt invisible or pressured in the same environment
Danny: and good luck! you sound thoughtful and like you really love everyone in your family, and I hope you can relieve some of the internal pressure you’re putting on yourself to put that insight/thoughtfulness to use fixing this conflict right away
it will take time! but they’ll have to talk about it themselves, and you can only gently (and occasionally) encourage that