I’m always in the middle of family arguments and feel pressured to take my mother or sister’s side. My father died when I was a teenager, and my mom worked two, sometimes three, jobs. My eldest sister became mom for me (the only male) and my younger sister. We’re all adults now, but my mom and oldest sister are still jockeying for power and control. When they fight, one then the other will call me, lay out the case for why she is right and demand my support. I am tired of it, but it’s been going on for so long, I don’t know how to stop it.
Most adults who were middle children complain of being ignored, since parents lavish attention on the baby and the firstborn. But you don’t suffer from Middle Child Syndrome. As the only male, you were and still are, shoehorned into playing The Man of the House. When a father abandons his family, through divorce or death, the eldest son is told by his mother, or a well-meaning relative, that he must take over his father’s role. For many young males, this is the beginning of a secret life. On the surface, they step into character. Beneath that exterior, they engage in unhealthy behaviors that take the edge off the intense and unrelenting pressure they feel to be someone else. That’s right. When a child or teen is told that he must be the man of the house, he is being told that he can no longer have a childhood. Permission to be himself is withdrawn. He must immediately become an adult because his mother is not capable of negotiating life on her own. He is now her life partner. How sick is that?
Given the dynamics at play, it’s effortless to understand why your sister and mother each demand your compliance. Whatever they are arguing about is not the real issue: You are. Your mother unconsciously sees you as her partner, and your sister still considers you her charge. They believe, at some level, if you side with one it proves your loyalty, and loyalty is evidence of your love. In the process, your sister exercises her resentment at the loss of her own childhood. One way out of this mashed-up Greek myth is to stop participating. When your mother or sister launches into a story, stop her. Don’t listen to any of it. Instead, say this: “I trust that you are capable of handling this and don’t need my help.” If one or the other complains that she does, indeed, need your intervention, say, “I am helping you by trusting you both to work this out on your own.” Repeat these same sentences in response to any further questions from either woman. Don’t add any other explanation. The less you say, the better.
I read your column about jaywalkers. I live near a community-college campus where we have the same problem, plus one that is far worse: parking. The college built a multimillion-dollar parking lot for the 23,000 cars that drive through my neighborhood, but my neighborhood is still a parking lot for the college. I can’t get the city to help, and the college won’t help, either. Any ideas?
You can put that frustration to good use by getting your neighborhood annexed into a residential permit area so that students who park on your street are ticketed. That kind of news travels through the cash-strapped college population pretty quickly, so it’s unlikely they will continue. But I feel your pain. In my ’hood, neighbors park in front of other people’s homes, instead of their own, regularly and feel righteous about it. Where is the love?