My Sister Is Sabotaging My Relationship with My Daughter


Please help me. I have one sibling, my sister, who has been my closest friend for most of my life. She is two years older than me and newly divorced, with no children. I am married and have one child, my daughter, who means all the world to me and more. We also have always had a very close relationship, but my daughter is 12 and just barely at the age when she ceases to believe her mother walks on water … if you get my drift. She doesn’t hate me, but she does look for any reason to say I’m being “unfair” with rules or to push my buttons. Unfortunately, her aunt (my sister) only seems to egg her on.

At some point, when my daughter was maybe 6 or 7, it started feeling like my sister and daughter were ganging up on me. They’d giggle together when I dropped something in the kitchen or tease me when I misspoke by accident—little stuff like that. But the teasing started to get more vicious, and my daughter started initiating it after a while. My husband and I were completely shocked, because this behavior was completely at odds with everything we have tried to teach her over her entire life! I started noticing it got worse when she came back from staying with my sister, which happens at least once every couple weeks. Sometimes we were able to sit her down and ask her about it, and she would realize why her comments were rude and disrespectful. But it’s gotten more and more difficult to have those conversations with her.

Meanwhile, my sister has gotten worse about staying in touch and being there for my parents. She’s still one of my best friends, but I am very suspicious of her behavior with my daughter and her lack of communication. All she seems to contact me for these days is asking to see my daughter, and my daughter is just as enthusiastic about spending time with her. I’ve been sympathetic and accommodating, especially since my sister’s divorce. I know she is lonely and has always wanted a child of her own. Plus, I know it can be important for kids to develop relationships with adults in the family—even if it means there’s a “fun aunt” and I am resigned to being the maternal rule enforcer.

But this situation is way more than that. My daughter seems far more invested in her friendship with my sister than being a respectful child. Sometimes she even talks about living with her aunt full-time and says the only thing keeping her at home is her dad. It’s breaking my heart to see her so poorly influenced by my sister, but I know the worst thing would be to separate them completely, because then they’d both hate me. I have no idea what to do! Can you help me understand why my sister might be taking her jealousy (or whatever this is) out on me so cruelly? I hate the feeling they’re teaming up against me, and worried about the future of my family and my daughter’s wrath. What can I do to salvage the solid foundation I thought I’d built in my family and deal with whatever is going on with my sister? —Alienated Parent

Dear Alienated Parent,

This must be so painful on many levels. Feeling like you are losing both your sister and your daughter just hurts. Some of what is happening is developmentally expected, but the specific concerns with your sister seem to be complicating matters.

First, I’d like to address what often happens with a 12-year-old child. Part of the pre-adolescent/adolescent developmental task is about exploring identity. For most, this means a separation-individuation process that often defines the self in opposition to the parent(s). Many times, this is more intense with the parent of the same gender. As your daughter figures out what kind of woman she wants to become, it may begin with defining herself in opposition to the woman you are. Knowing this is natural doesn’t make it less hurtful, but hopefully makes it feel a little less personal.

During this time, having a caring adult—like an aunt—can be a hugely important way for a child to continue to receive love and guidance from a responsible adult (hopefully one with good boundaries who is in communication with you). That can help a pre-teen/teen navigate the confusing period of adolescence in healthy ways. One tremendously frustrating experience most parents share is having their child ignore the advice and wisdom offered by parents (who clearly don’t know ANYTHING) only to listen with rapt attention to the very same words of wisdom when presented from another source. That’s where aunts, uncles, coaches, or mentors can be invaluable. What is not helpful is having an adult who feeds into the rejection of the parent, triangulates, or attempts to be a “best friend” rather than a caring, responsible adult.

If your sister were simply being a safe sounding board for your daughter to express frustration, she could be a great support. If, however, she hears your daughter’s complaints about you and encourages or adds to the negative talk, it can be damaging all around. It’s one thing to hear your daughter’s complaints and reply with “That must be so frustrating!” It is another to reply with “Oh, I know, you should have seen her when …”

If your sister were simply being a safe sounding board for your daughter to express frustration, she could be a great support. If, however, she hears your daughter’s complaints about you and encourages or adds to the negative talk, it can be damaging all around. It’s one thing to hear your daughter’s complaints and reply with “That must be so frustrating!” It is another to reply with “Oh, I know, you should have seen her when …” The first is an empathetic response that creates a place of safety for your child. The second, while it might feel good for a moment for your daughter (and sister), may actually make her feel less safe talking with your sister in the long run. Many adults fall into this trap of thinking the best way to connect to adolescents is as a friend, which simply isn’t so. Kids need boundaries to push against. They need adults to be adults. They rarely recognize it consciously, but they often feel safest with adults who hold those boundaries (like maternal rule enforcers).

You are right that simply forbidding your daughter and sister from having a relationship could be damaging to all your relationships; however, you are well within your rights as a mom to set out some clear guidelines for your sister. You might begin by letting her know how glad you are that she loves your daughter and wants to be a support to her. You then may want to explore with her what you each hope that relationship would look like. This is the time to be open and honest about your fears and concerns for your daughter and set some boundaries. It is okay to listen to her frustrations with you. It is not okay to add to them. You can limit or curtail the time they spend together if she is unwilling to respect those boundaries, much like you would with anyone whose interactions with your child could be harmful.

You ask why your sister is “taking her jealousy out … on (you) so cruelly.” I’m not sure that’s what is happening. It may not have anything to do with you and everything to do with her. Trying to get on the same page about what is best for your daughter—without making your hurt feelings the focus of this conversation—is likely to be more productive. It sounds, however, like having a future conversation about the relationship the two of you have and hope to have would be fruitful; I recommend keeping it separate from the conversation about your daughter.

If your sister is willing, you might consider meeting with a counselor to talk about the various issues you mention in your relationship, including your feelings about how she is showing up for you and for your parents. It may also be helpful to work with someone on how each of you can support your daughter, and each other, in the coming years.

Best of luck,


Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Dixie

    March 24th, 2017 at 2:21 PM

    Why is it that the people whom we love and care for the most are the ones who in the end try to hurt us the most? You give and give so much but then nothing is ever good enough or they use something from the past to work against you instead of to continue to grow the relationship. I wouldn’t stand by and let the one relationship harm what you have with your daughter. I wouldn’t want that one to become something that is not salvageable.

  • Patty H.

    May 13th, 2019 at 6:11 PM

    It’s true in my case, too. I think it has to be just pure evil.

  • Carla

    March 27th, 2017 at 8:53 AM

    I hate it when there is divisiveness among family members. It puts a real strain on the entire dynamic of any family relationship that you are attempting to maintain. I think that she is at fault for trying to knowingly turn your daughter against you, but I also think that there will come a point where your daughter will have to be made to be held accountable as well. I am never sure what someone thinks that they will get out of putting up a wall between family members other than the satisfaction of knowing that they were able to do it.

  • Patty H.

    May 13th, 2019 at 6:22 PM

    You are 100% correct. This dynamic exists in my family and it is very destructive. There is no excuse for it and the child’s age has nothing to do with it. Happened to my daughter. My ex and his second wife (he was having an affair with her when we were married) turned my daughter against me when she was young and she has treated me like dirt ever since, hasn’t even spoken to me for no apparent reason for the past 10 years. But will wish my mother “Happy Mother’s Day” on Facebook to hurt me. I did nothing to deserve this and did everything I could to make a good life for her. This is pure evil and it will destroy your life if you allow it to continue. My strong suggestion, learned from life experience, is to divorce yourself from the evildoers in your family. If you don’t they will infect your relationships with your children and one day you will look back and wish you hadn’t been so kind to undeserving “family.”

  • SarahJane

    May 10th, 2020 at 2:32 PM

    You make a great point.

  • Teddy

    March 28th, 2017 at 3:22 PM

    I don’t know anything about this relationship other than what you have stated here but it does make me wonder if there are some other things between the two of you that you don’t feel like you can share here?
    That’s fine but if there is then maybe this could answer some of these questions not only about why she is doing this but if you are making too much out of it?
    Again I am not judging at all, but it can be hard to get the full picture when you only hear one side of the story.
    But I do hope that you can salvage the relationship with your child before it goes too far, this is something that become irreparable so quickly if it is allowed to fester and brew.

  • milly

    January 31st, 2020 at 12:50 PM

    I would keep your daughter as far away from your sister as possible. My sister destroyed my relationship with my now 36 year old son. Unbeknownst to me she had been telling my son degrading stories about me for years. She would tell him everything I said in confidence to her and make him feel like I was putting his sister ahead of him. Telling him when ever I spent money on my daughter. My daughter suffers from anxiety and depression and needed financial help while my son was always financially solvent. It took me 15 years to realize she was undermining my relationship and making him feel resentful and angry. Now at this point he hasn’t even acknowledged mothers day or my birthday in over a decade. She always pretended to be a peacemaker but it was a lie. i was the black sheep and scapegoat in my family but also turned out to be the most successful. I cut ties with all family members over 25 years ago with the exception of her. I can’t tell you how much I regret keeping her in my life. Now I have grandchildren and have never met them although she is in their life and acts as a grandmother. Like your sister she has no children of her own. My advice to you is not to allow your daughter to be alone with her ever!!! I can guarantee you she is undermining you and working on alienating you from your daughter. Minimize your contact with your sister and never allow disrespect to you or your husband. If I had it to do all over again I would have cut her out of mine and their lives when they were young.

  • Goodmom

    January 18th, 2021 at 12:34 PM

    Our adult daughter has been brainwashed by my husbands sister. She told her that her father is a liar and troublemaker- the two apt descriptions of herself. She buys our daughter groceries- as in cases of snacks, drinks. She buys her household items like two expensive enamel Dutch ovens. She recently bought her a digital piano! The woman takes over every conversation, every event and even wrote two demanding emails when we bought airline tickets to visit our daughter, not having seen her in over a year. The woman insisted we were obligated to spend time with her! Of course, she brainwashed our daughter. We ended up having to have dinner with the woman and go bowling with her. All the things that mothers and daughters do, this woman has stolen from me. I do not get texts or calls, we no longer share any kind of meaningful conversation. The woman has two daughter and a granddaughter. She goes out drinking with her youngest and encourages our daughter to do the same. Our son was killed in a car accident. This woman never even sent a card of condolence. She has never done anything to show caring toward us. Her relationship with our daughter, we are convinced, is designed to hurt me. She is the black sheep in her family. Pure evil.

  • candas

    May 23rd, 2021 at 3:53 PM

    I believe my relationship is dead with my daughter and sister, out of the blue my daughter began to hate me and my sister condones everything she says and do, she talks right along with her, my family is not on board with them but they don’t say anything to avoid confrontation especially with my sister she will go ballistic. I raised my daughter by working two at times three jobs along, yes I have made some mistakes but I always apologize we don’t get a manual on how to raise a child, we do our best with God’s help, .both has not been an angle on raising their children, my sister’s son tells her what to do ( she is too busy gossiping about others not paying attention to hers). I have prayed and asked God what to do I believe I got my answer for my health peace and sanity I have just put them both out of my life my child is 45years old my sister is 62. thanks

  • Niqui

    June 11th, 2021 at 3:30 AM

    My ex Sister in law is like that, she was the one who encouraged her brother to divorce me, and in the years following while he hasn’t always stayed in touch with his daughters , she has, my Grandson sees her and her husband as Grandparents, all official photos are with them and even though it was me that took 3 months unpaid leave to look after my daughter and to help with my Grandson when he was born there are no “official” photos of me with him. only rare snapshots. She is wealthier than I am and is always in their lives, I am the optional extra. I cant apologise for the things I have gotten wrong in my life that caused my kids grief but I have ALWAYS been there for them not with millions but financially and I am the reason that they have access to living in the UK and that is where the need for me ends and so on. Today I am exhausted and I am so done with all the sh*t that happens. My heart hurts and all I want to do is leave, run away and not be found anymore.

  • Adrienne

    February 11th, 2022 at 2:10 PM

    I love my sister dearly.
    I am younger by two years and have always felt she dominated in personality and her opinions of me. I am raising my granddaughter and am so glad that my sister has been a great aunt and supportive and loving to my granddaughter. Just recently, I found out that my sister and granddaughter are talking in confidence about my husband and I and how my granddaughter feels we discipline
    her unfairly . We gang up on her and argue too much with her. My sister is making recommendations to us how to get along better as a family and listen more to my granddaughters concerns…it may come from love but it really feels like I have been betrayed and judged. My sister has no children, my husband and I do take a stand together when disciplining and thought that was healthy….we use very appropriate methods of discipline. I think it is a matter of my granddaughter not always liking the rules…(she is 10). I am hurt that my sister has stepped over a boundary into my family’s private life….I do not go to her home and interfere with her husbands relatives, why does she feel comfortable doing this to me? I don’t want to change the relationship but I will be much more guarded in future, at home with my granddaughter and also with my sister….the trust is gone. That really upsets me and pains me deeply.

  • Fuzzy The Bear

    February 21st, 2022 at 1:33 AM

    My parents allowed my older sister, as a child, to go to my dad’s sister and husband house for vacations. They were an older couple who had no children. They slowly persuaded my sister to go against her parents and family and join the cult of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I say they will burn in Hell for doing this and the Scripture bears me out. Listen…If you have children they are YOURS and don’t assume that relatives won’t be jealous or controlling and assume they can influence your children behind your back!!! My parents were naive and should have listened to their gut feeling but they were afraid of offending this illiterate, ignorant aunt and her husband. They were sneaky and dishonest. Never assume your relatives can’t be traitors just because you wouldn’t be!!

  • Fuzzy The Bear

    February 21st, 2022 at 1:40 AM

    Oh…By the way….One way they did this was by buying us kids really nice gifts….They knew that by so doing they would inculcate a sense of gratitude in our parents and that would make it harder for them(my.parents) and us(the kids) to discover their treachery and manipulation. Some of the commenters herein are mentioning gifting to their children by relatives. Beware because this can be a prime strategy of a deceitful relative with an alterior motive!

  • Janice

    May 25th, 2022 at 9:00 AM

    After years of trying to have a relationship with my daughter with much heartache, I finally realized that my adult daughter loves my sister, enjoys her company and my sister has become her mother, not me. I cannot continue to insert myself where I am clearly not wanted. The pain of rejection again and again is just too much for me, I admit defeat by my daughter/sister, and wish them well as daughter/mother. Breaks my heart!!!

  • Patty

    July 10th, 2022 at 5:50 PM

    Hello. It has been 3 years since I posted the comments above. My mother has passed away and now my daughter and sister are triangulating at my expense. I realize that being honest with narcissistic and evil people can be a very dangerous position. These people are sadistic and will kill you if you let them.

  • Karen

    July 18th, 2022 at 3:41 PM

    My ex & I were together for 30 years & have 2 beautiful children & Grandbabies. Ever since we got together my ex’s sister would try to break us up & even physically attacked me…When she wasn’t in the picture we were happy. She would take all the holidays…Now we aren’t together & I still love him she has successfully broke us up & he has a new girlfriend…

  • Ariel

    August 14th, 2022 at 3:14 PM

    Dear Alienated Parent,
    Have you considered that your sister might be trying to seduce your daughter into romance?

  • Karla

    August 30th, 2022 at 9:44 PM

    My daughters all ignore me or seem to have no respect for me when we are on family vacations. My sister is their favorite, and she can do no wrong. Although she is my friend too, I feel
    there is an underlying control factor, and a much accepted side to this dysfunction. She will tell me that one daughter called her, knowing zi wasn’t called or invited. I have de used to go about life, and find interests and relationships with others including those who love me and I don’t feel like walking on eggshells around, or feel as if I’m an intruder when zi come into the room where they all are. If I mention my feelings, I am bombarded with what are you talking g about? Constructive criticism, requests for a talk about where we may work on our relationships are shoved to the ground. I actually become nauseated thinking of doing so. I realize that therapy is in order.

  • Rose

    April 14th, 2023 at 5:13 PM

    OMG KEEP YOUR SISTER AWAY FROM YOUR DAUGHTER NOW! I too was close with a sister, and made a horrible decision to share my children’s contact information. Like your sister, she never had any children. I opened the door to a nut. She began turning my children against me – I hadn’t known just how jealous she was of my having children and her not. I worked HARD doing dirty chores, wiping noses, changing diapers, dealing with bullies, going to parent-teacher meetings. All thankless chores. My sister bragged about her fancy life running here and there. Then all of a sudden she decides she wanted a family and she wanted mine. Let me tell you it was a fight to the death to get her hooks out of my children. I am thankful that my son recognized what she was doing and stood up for me. Some children won’t because auntie is the fun aunt and mom the disciplinarian. I STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU GET YOUR SISTER’S CLAWS OUT OF YOUR KIDS NOW.

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