I am a white woman of privilege. I am also the full-time working single mother of an adopted child, and I have led a very successful career. While I have benefited throughout my life from my parents’ financial support, even though I have never married, my parents have worked hard to keep things financially equal between me and my siblings.
My issue is this: my sister-in-law constantly makes snide comments about how I have it so good. She implies that my brother/her husband and my father support my lifestyle. My brother has NEVER given me any money and any money I get from my parents, she and my brother get annually too. I would never accept money from my brother unless I was in dire straits, and even then I would do it transparently with her input/support.
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In fact, my brother inherited my father’s business so, in reality, they have benefited the most financially from my parents. I love my sister-in-law. She is not easy, but we have a good relationship and I know that she loves my daughter unconditionally. That said, this has been going on for years, and I am so angry about it I feel like I am going to snap.
I want to ask her why she thinks this is the case, and point out that my brother inherited my dad’s business (which continues to do quite well). But I don’t know how to do this without sounding angry and defensive. I feel like her perception is her reality, and anything I try to say to defend myself will fall on deaf ears. I also think she and my brother help out her family financially and, therefore, she has a raw nerve.
Regardless, I have worked hard and done well, and her snide comments really p- me off. I am worried that one day I might just lose it. I just want a one-line zinger to shut her up when she says these things (which she only does when we’re alone). Oh, and don’t ask me to talk to my brother, he bows down at her feet and wouldn’t want to get involved. Any suggestions, other than continue to ignore her comments to keep the peace?
Ready to lose it
There’s one thing worse than a family fighting over a will, and that’s a family competing with each other who gets the most financial support from their parents. Actually, they’re both equally bad. No amount of zingers will vanquish your sister-in-law, but I do have some advice for you.
Your sister-in-law has been renting space in your head for free, and I support your effort to put an end to it. People bring their own hang-ups to family gatherings. Happy people don’t feel the need to put other people down in order to make themselves feel or look better. But that’s her concern.
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The philosopher Alain de Botton in his book, “Status Anxiety,” says we usually choose people we consider to be our equals. We cannot appreciate what we have in isolation, nor judge against the lives of our medieval forbearers,” de Botton adds.
“If we learn through ill-advised attendance at a school reunion that some of our old friends are now living in houses larger than our own, bought on the proceeds of more enticing occupations, we are likely to return home nursing a violent sense of misfortune,” he writes.
Only people we deem equal to us incite this. “It is the feeling that we might be something other than what we are that generates anxiety and resentment,” he adds. “If we are small and live among people who are all of own height, we will not be unduly troubled by questions of size.”
Your sister-in-law likely compares herself to you. You can’t prevent that. You can, perhaps, take it as a compliment. It upsets you because you expect something better of her. Don’t. You can’t change her. Maybe you would like her respect. But the only person who truly needs to respect you is you.
Here are my 5 golden rules for dealing with difficult people:
1. No unsolicited advice. Don’t tell them what to do. Don’t give your opinions on their work, personal life or even their hairstyle — not unless you are asked. All we have to do is get through the day without judging others and telling them how to live their lives, or what they do and don’t have.
2. Don’t lie to them. Smiling politely (or sarcastically) when someone makes an unflattering comment can feel like you’re taking the moral high ground, but seldom does it make us feel better afterwards. Ignoring such slings and arrows creates an inauthentic and potentially stressful relationship.
3. Don’t get into the sandbox. If your sister-in-law wants to get a rise out of you by throwing you some shade, responding in kind will feed her habit and you will do yourself a great disservice. If you get into a debate or shouting match with an irrational person, there will be two crazy people, not one.
4. Tell them how you feel, not what they are: “Comments like that hurt my feelings.” If she says you can’t take a joke and/or tries to deflect by saying she meant X or Y, say it again: “It hurt my feelings.” If she does it again, say, “Remember I asked you not to make comments about my life?”
5. A friend who teaches kindergarten children tells them about the importance of having agency over their own bodies. If someone says or does something that makes them uncomfortable, she tells them to say, “Stop. I don’t like that.” If they do it again? Put the emphasis on: “STOP.”
If you tell someone what your needs are and they don’t respect that, it’s a boundary problem they have with the world. Your sister-in-law is telling you how she feels about herself and her life when she throws shade. Enjoy your success. Ultimately, these comments have nothing to do with you.
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