Care and Feeding

One of My Daughters Is Incredibly Successful. The Other Blows Up Every Time I Mention It.

Why can’t I just be proud?

A man talking to a young woman who is disappointed in what she's hearing.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I handle disparities between my two daughters? For the record, Everleigh is 24 and graduated from MIT; she currently holds an extremely well-paying job in computer engineering at a large company, and enjoys the rich lifestyle. Her girlfriend, Rooney, comes from family money, and is pretty much paying Everleigh’s way through her master’s degree, as well as the first house they bought together. The two of them resemble the perfect Instagram couple and act as such—vacations, each has a really nice car, designer clothing and jewelry, newest tech, stuff like that. I am not against this at all, and I like Rooney. The only thing that I dislike is the fact that they both live in California, which is a minute away from Illinois! Everleigh calls me whenever she can manage, which is usually around five times a week. I feel like I am a part of their lives, which I am very grateful for.

My 22-year-old daughter, Veronica, has CP and lives with me. Because of health complications that disrupted her graduation schedule, she is still completing high school at home with me at a slower pace. I do not think that she will ever attend college in person, but online college is looking like a possibility. The problem is, I will mention how proud I am of Everleigh, or how much she’s accomplished, and Veronica will blow up and say that she knows that I think she’s a burden. I don’t, but I also feel that I should be allowed to say I’m proud of Everleigh without saying something bad about Veronica. I feel bad that she thinks that way, and I feel horrible that she sees her sister’s success and knows that Everleigh has a lot of things she will never be able to have. Thoughts?

— Success Comes in Different Forms

Dear Different Forms,

It’s really not possible, nor is it your role, to “handle the disparities between your daughters”—the disparities simply are. I also don’t think it’s especially helpful to think about this in terms of what you are “allowed” to feel and express. No one’s saying you can’t be proud of Everleigh’s success, but Veronica has let you know that it can be hard for her to hear you talk about it. Consider how Veronica might feel as she overhears your five phone calls per week with Everleigh, who is living her best gram-worthy California dream life with everything she could possibly want. Of course, Veronica is also going to take note of your excitement for and pride in Everleigh, and notice if there happens to be a marked difference in how you talk with and about her. She is clearly dealing with some feelings of her own, and it in no way harms you or Everleigh or your parental pride to try to be as sensitive as possible, and perhaps talk to someone else—literally, anyone else in the entire world—about your elder daughter’s success.

You might be tempted to believe that Veronica is just being oversensitive or blowing off steam when she says that she is a “burden” to you. But it’s worth honestly asking yourself whether you are saying or doing anything that could possibly be feeding that fear. Is she encouraged to make goals and decisions for herself, to the utmost of her ability? Is she supported in considering whether there are any areas in her life in which she’d like to work toward a goal, or toward more independence? You mentioned that she’s completing high school and may pursue online college. Along the same lines, make sure that she has a chance to voice additional or alternative goals she might have for herself—maybe she wants to try something new, maybe she wants to focus on forming or deepening social connections, maybe there are other tasks she feels she could gain more confidence in doing, maybe she wants to move out after finishing high school.

You could also consider the community and other friends and advisors she has around her: Could anyone else, someone outside the family, perhaps listen to and help her process some of these perfectly normal feelings around sibling comparison and feeling like a burden? Would a disability-competent therapist possibly be helpful to either or both of you so you can acknowledge your feelings, make changes in your communication or relationship if needed, and better support Veronica in living a life she can feel good about. Regardless of what her sister has, after all, pursuing what she wants for herself is important.

The problem is not being proud of Everleigh. If you are proud of Veronica, too, there are things you can do to try to make sure she knows that. Let her know that you notice and are glad when she accomplishes something. Praise things you genuinely appreciate about her—her love, determination, compassion, sense of humor, whatever it may be. Hopefully she can come to feel pride in herself and love for who she is—both things we all deserve independent of our worldly “achievements.”


More Advice From Slate

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