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Dear Carolyn • I have an older sister, "Mary," and younger, "Tracy," who simply do not get along. Mary hasn't done anything specific like bullying, but I've never seen her openly accept Tracy or be nice to her. Tracy has tried really hard to gain Mary's acceptance, without success. Tracy can be impulsive and thoughtless; she might offend someone without realizing it. So to sum up 30-plus years of sibling discord, they both have been mean and/or disrespectful to the other but neither recognizes it. Now that we are adults with our separate lives, Mary has made it clear to my parents and to Tracy that she doesn't consider her a sister and doesn't want her involved in her life. As you can imagine, this is devastating to my parents, especially my mom, who blames herself. Add to this, I am the "on call" sister for every person in this family. Mom calls me about what Tracy did to Mary and what Mary said to Tracy, while Mary will call me about Tracy and vice versa. I'm asked by my mom what to do about this, and my answer is, we cannot do anything, they are adults and this is the situation they have put us in. Am I right to think that, or am I giving up too easily?
Stuck in the Middle
Dear Middle • "I've never seen her openly accept Tracy or be nice to her," for 30-plus years? Sure sounds like bullying to me. Her own home was not safe for Tracy. Wow. So while I agree that Mary is an adult and it's not in your power to make her do anything, this is not just "the situation they have put us in." In every situation that involves you, you make choices. Since every choice is an opportunity to change the outcome, yes, you are vastly underestimating what you can do. You've gotten a lot from being in the middle a sense of importance, "middle child" identity. But it's not working. It's just enabling Mary's cruelty, Tracy's neediness and your mom's unwillingness to accept and let go. So when you start making different choices in all these different conversations, keep yourself out of the middle by scratching off all the old goals of mediation and problem-solving. Replace them with these two goals for everything you say: (1) Tell the truth; (2) Keep responsibilities where they belong.
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