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Thank you in advance for answering my question. When I was a kid, my parents always seemed to favor my two sisters over me. They showered them with attention, gave them lots of love, all the gifts they could want. I love my sisters and don't resent them at all, but now I'm 22 (female) and the behavior of my parents hasn't really changed. My sisters are now 19 and 21. This Christmas they each got vacations to Chile as their gifts; I got a few clothing items. I have never really brought this up to my parents but I do feel some resentment toward them for giving my sisters what feels like special treatment. My sisters are prettier than me, did better in school, have nice boyfriends, and I've never had one. I feel like I need my parents' support more than my sisters do. I am not really sure if my parents just look at me as the "big sis" who doesn't need what the younger sisters get, or if I'm just reading things in here. But I know it bothers me. What, if anything, should I do? -- Snubbed Sis
Thank you so much for writing. Family relationships can be so complicated, and often family members have little idea about how they are impacting others in the family. It is not unusual for oldest children to feel like they get the short end of the stick and that younger siblings get “babied” or spoiled. Sometimes parents see the oldest as more independent and needing less than the younger children. It could be possible that your parents have no idea that their actions have made you feel less special.
It is wonderful that you have not allowed your feelings to turn into resentment of your sisters. It sounds, though, as if you are in danger of letting your feelings of resentment toward your parents impact your relationship with them. You say that you really need their support. Do they know this? Have you told them what you need?
There seems to be a few issues to talk with them about—and you may want to choose which ones to address. You have a perception that your sisters have been favored since childhood. Whether or not that’s what happened in your parents’ eyes, it’s what you experienced. That can be painful, and may be impacting how you relate to your parents. It can be very challenging to address vague feelings, but you have a current example that might help you start a conversation with them.
How do you think your parents would respond to an observation? What would it be like if you told them that this past Christmas, it seemed as if the types of gifts that your sisters received were quite different than the gifts you received, and you wanted to talk about that difference and what it meant to you? Through that conversation, you might be able to share that you are hurting and that you’ve long felt as if your sisters received special treatment.
I would recommend focusing on your feelings and using “I” statements as much as possible. (For example: “I sometimes felt that I wasn’t as special to you as they were, and that really hurt.”) You can’t control how your parents respond, and it is possible that they might get defensive or dismiss what you are trying to say. But if you try to express what you’ve been feeling, without accusing or blaming, you may have the opportunity to have a really important conversation. At the very least, you can express your feelings so that your silent resentment and hurt don’t continue to grow.
If you need more help working through your feelings, or thinking about how to talk with your parents about this, you may want to consider talking with a therapist in your area.
Best of luck!