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What to Do When Older Sister Is Mean to Younger Sister

Question

Our older daughter continues to be a source of hurt to her younger sister. They are three years apart and both teens. They are both well liked in the community, praised by teachers, active in church and civic organizations and taught responsibility with chores and part time jobs.The older one will do things like promise to watch a movie on a weekend and the younger one lets her choose the movie and time and sits expectantly all evening. The big sis will sit in her room and say she's coming, but never show up or procrastinate until it really is too late to start the evening. She promises to make it up the next weekend and the younger sister is always optimistic but then sits alone once again fighting back tears when she never shows up. This situation or one similar has played out dozens of times each year but now has expanded to what we see as a new level of supreme selfishness to the point of causing intentional pain. The now college student will show up at church and take both her friends and her sister's friends to dinner and leave her behind. They will even all be at the same church event and big sis will pile everyone in the car and tell her sister she can't come. Other times the young one won't know about the event until it's posted on social media: a double in-your-face slam. The lowest point was when they were all posing for a spontaneous photo and she told her sister to stand aside and not be in it. To all outwardly appearances, the older sister talks and walks with the values we taught her, but at home she is the most narcissistic individual we've encountered. How someone could be that intentionally hurtful is beyond us. Since calling her out each time she does this seems to do no good, and she is in college, pays for her own phone, on scholarship with a part time job, we really don't know how else to influence her that the Golden Rule applies in the home as well.

Answer

Oh, this is hard and I know your heart is breaking for your younger daughter—and for her older sister who is being a very mean girl. You describe someone who is being intentionally cruel and not seeming to care about that. I’m assuming College Daughter is living at home while attending school and paying for her own necessities b/c of her part-time job. That means your options are limited in making an impression on her.

Here’s my advice: Take College Daughter out for coffee or ice cream or something, just the two of you. Then approach the topic in a non-threatening way—this is an information gathering “meeting,” not another “You need to change your ways” meeting. Something like…
• I know you love your sister—you two used to be close. Did something happen to change that?
• I’ve noticed that your sister seems a little hurt that you want to do things separate from her. Do you have any suggestions?

Then listen. Don’t accuse, don’t lambast, just listen and see if there’s something underlying the behavior. There might not be, but you should do your due diligence to make sure. And leave it at that. Don’t ask her to change but don’t expect her to either.

Then take the Younger Daughter out for coffee or ice cream, again just the two of you. And ask her what she wants to do about College Daughter’s treatment of her--does she want things to continue the way they’ve been or does she want to change the way SHE reacts to College Daughter? Hopefully, it’s the latter, then you could suggest that she can approach things like this:

For the movies, Younger Daughter can say, “College Daughter, I’m watching X movie at 8 p.m. I’d love to have you join me.” That’s it, one ask, but Younger Daughter’s not dependent on the reply. She watches X movie at 8 p.m. whether College Daughter joins her or not.

For the friends, Younger Daughter can ask her friends to help thwart College Daughter. When CD starts to say YD can’t come, her friends can say, “Oh, we can’t come without her.” You can also help YD come up with responses through role playing.

Overall, YD needs to realize that she has to lower her expectations for CD. When she can come to the understanding that CD isn’t going to change, YD will hopefully be able to manage her response to CD. Maybe YD starts to make plans without consulting CD with her friends. CD will likely try to sabotage those plans, so make sure YD is prepared for that mentally.

And have YD pray for CD on a daily basis. Perhaps reading about other girls who have struggled, such as “Stepping Heavenward” by Elizabeth Prentiss, will help guide her internal thoughts and motivations. Above all, YD should try to view CD with compassion and as much love as she can (heaping coals of fire upon the head of her “sisenemy”).

Let me know how it goes, and hang in there!

Sarah Hamaker, Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
parentcoachnova@gmail.com
www.parentcoachnova.com

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