A parent trap

Joey Garcia

Whenever my sister-in-law and I are together with our kids, she complains that she is a bad parent. She does this after watching whatever I’m doing with my kids. I’m not uncomfortable about our different parenting styles. But if I do something with my kids that she doesn’t do, she starts slamming things around, and complaining about being a bad parent. I have never given her advice. The situations where she gets upset are as simple as the time I put my kids to bed or what I feed them for dinner. Being around her is emotionally exhausting. How do I improve our relationship?

Let her be who she is: scared but unwilling to change. Each time she says she is a bad parent, she affirms her fear. Most parents fail occasionally. It’s the price of being human. But your sister-in-law turned her fear into mantra. So when you put your kids to bed early, and she doesn’t, she splits those parenting choices into good versus bad. Maybe she makes parenting decisions based on cues from her kids, rather than common sense. Or perhaps her parenting decisions are driven by a need to prove that she is never good enough, and never will be, at least not in her own mind.

Of course, you’re hard on yourself, too. When your sister-in-law engages in harsh self-judgment, you take it personally. Stop. You’re not doing anything wrong. Let her be a hot mess while you be you. The next time she says she’s a bad parent, respond: “That’s a difficult thought. Have you considered getting support from a psychotherapist?” Or say nothing. Give her space to have her tantrum. Responding empathetically to someone who has an addiction to drama motivates that person to create more drama in order to receive more empathic attention. Sometimes love means stepping back and trusting a person to find her way home to herself.

I’m 13 years old and need help because my friend steals my other friends. She never seems interested in the person I’m trying to be friends with until we start hanging out. Then my friend jumps into our conversations and compliments them a lot. The other person gets totally flattered and they hang out without me. Once I find someone new and start being friends, she ditches that person and does the same thing with my new friend. It’s happened like three times already. Is it me or is it weird?

It’s adolescence, actually. Teens often try on different personality traits, including competitiveness. Your friend wants to be you. Don’t worry, she can’t succeed. Only you can fill your shoes. Be grateful you see through her. If she is truly a friend, talk to her. Tell her what you have experienced, but don’t call it stealing. Don’t blame or shame her, either. Ask if she’s aware of the experience you’re talking about. If she insists that you’re the problem, she’s not a friend. Neither are the people who ditched you to hang with her. Brainstorm a list of the qualities you want in a friend and write a new definition of friendship for the school year.

Meditation of the week
“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love,” said U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. What kind of friend are you to you?

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