Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Early Years with Sister Dearest

Two memories stand out from when my sister was still in diapers. I am going to relate them to you, not because they are earth-shattering or even particularly interesting, but because they are illustrative of what the years ahead were like between sister and me. These two early memories would be not be worth noting except in retrospect they are the early harbingers of what lay ahead. These two incidents would have long ago faded away if the library of similar memories didn't keep being added to the same shelf. I'm not trying to knock you off your seat with some horror story because they are no such type of story. I am just trying to avoid boring you to death by telling a whole bunch of incidents that may or may not be worth telling. These two memories sum up the majority of what screwed up my relationship with my sibling. That they occurred when my sister was still so young is proof of what the real problem mother. My mother imposed her dysfunctional thinking on us which appears to have been set in stone before my sister was two years old. As I tell you these two incidents I am not in any way faulting my sister. She was not the problem at this time. My mother was the problem.

My sister was not a well-practiced sitter yet, as in, she wasn't accomplished at staying upright on her ass. She was still in diapers (they were cloth way back then) which made her ass all the rounder and harder to sit. on. I can say with all confidence that I never physically abused my little sister. I didn't hit her, push her, pinch her or otherwise torture her. I never even felt like doing such things. But because my mother was operating on the assumption that I was in a perpetual state of sibling rivalry, I got blamed for what happened this particular day. We had some company over and everyone was either in the kitchen or the livingroom. My mother had recently brought home a (hideous) coffee table. It was very large, like a dining table, but on short legs so the top of the table was only about ten inches high. My sister was sitting on her rump somewhere close to this table when she rolled back, bonked her head and started screaming. My mother runs out, looks at me who is somewhere far out of reach of my sister, and immediately and angrily accuses me of pushing my sister over to hurt her. My parents knew my sister was frequently dumping herself over. Only this time she hit her head on that stupid table and started screaming like she was being murdered. There was no way for me to get to where I was from where my sister was in the time my mother zipped out and scooped up the screaming baby. No matter, I was immediately tried and found guilty of nastily knocking my sister over. I remember this incident because of the angry and false accusation. I was shocked that I was being accused of something I had never done. I remember feeling a little embarrassed to be thus accused in front of company. (This became a recurrent theme in my life. Getting accused for various shit I had never even thought of doing. If my mother was judging me by her own childhood self she must have been a real big pain in the ass.)

All I know is I was set up to be the "bad guy" from the beginning because of my mother's superimposing on me the sibling rivalry of her own youth. As for me, if anything, I was found trying to get away from my sister and do my own thing. She was a just boring baby at this point in time. If left alone, I could play quietly for hours. I didn't need to entertain myself by tormenting small children. This memory illustrates that my mother's assumption that I felt sibling rivalry was fully operational still. It began before my sister's birth as I outlined in my previous post. When in doubt she immediately jumped to a negative conclusion rather than what the preponderance of the evidence would have told her i.e. baby can't reliably sit on her ass, older sister has no previous record of pusing baby over, and why would older sister do so when there were more people around than usual? A narcissist mother doesn't need logic for moments like this. Only her negative assumptions.

The next memory happened later...maybe up to a year later. I'm about five years old. I wake up early one morning and sneak out of my bed. Little sister is asleep in her crib. I dare to hope I can tiptoe to the closet and pull out the Lincoln logs. Maybe, just maybe, I can play with them for a little while without having to share with my two year old sister.

The rules were already firmly in place. If your little sister wants to play with you then you let her play with you. There is quite a difference in the motor skills and interests between a five year old and a two year old. I had not been able to enjoy playing with Lincoln logs for awhile because a two year old just doesn't get the concept. At least, this two year old didn't. You don't get to build anything when a two year old is involved.

I dared to think I could pull off a few minutes of play time without having to "share" with my now annoying little sister. I remember trying hard to not make a sound as I pulled the Lincoln logs out of the container. I had barely gotten started when she pulled herself up on the bars of her crib, babbling and pointing, and starting to make a ruckus as she shook her crib. This was her way of demanding she get to join in. Monkey see, monkey wanna do.

I can still "see" her. Clad in a diaper and t-shirt, bright rosy cheeks and mussed blonde hair. Objectively, very cute. At the moment, though, I was annoyed and cranky and she was anything but cute to me. The reason this memory stands out so stark and clear for me these many decades later is because of the strong emotions this moment evoked. My mother was immediately in the room because she could hear my sister's demanding babble. "S, let your sister play with you." All desire to play with those Lincoln logs vanished since the whole point at that moment was to play with them without a two year old. Any demonstration of my displeasure would have ended up with a spanking, so I complied.

These moments define the upcoming years of my life with my sister. From before my sister has any memory of it, she was taught that what was mine was hers. Her sense of entitlement to my time, interest and energy was unmitigated by any thought at all of what I might want because my mother made no effort to teach her that I had a right to say "no". I didn't have the right to say no. My sister's will was my command. I'm guessing it was for the convenience of my mother. I was there to keep the little kid out of my mother's hair.

Here are the facts. I was a smart kid. If academics are any proof, I was always smarter than my sister. Put a three year difference in ages, multiply by the fact that I was a brighter kid and you end up with someone who was mentally more than three years ahead of her sibling. A smart parent would know how to balance, at least to some degree of fairness, the reality that the older kid should have at least a few perks for being older. Mostly, I got saddled with babysitting and responsibility. No perks. This never changed.

The concept of "fair" was defined by everything getting perfectly split down the middle. If that couldn't be achieved then nobody got nothin'. I completely disagree with this kind of parenting because the world isn't fair. If you teach your kids that everything must be perfectly fair and split down the middle then you are raising a spoiled brat unequipped to deal with life's reality. In the real world perfect fairness does not exist primarily because we all have a subjective opinion on what "fair" is. Kids should be introduced to the concept that not everything is "fair" when they are young. Here's the deal. When we are kids, we are naturally coveteous. We want what other people have. I do not think that kid's should be allowed to arbitrate what "fair" is. To kids, fair is that I get what you have. "Fair" is the law of the jungle if you are stronger, or the use of a higher authority to do your stealing for you if you're weaker. In Kid World if I can't grab all of it, then at least half should be mine! An adult has a much larger perspective (or should) and can see that fair isn't necessarily defined by splitting things up evenly. Fair isn't always forcing the eldest kid to live and play on the level of a younger sibling. I do think an older sib should be taught to be kind and to make some allowances for the younger, but to be ruled by the younger isn't fair in any respect.

If I wanted to play with a friend I was told to take my little sister if my mother didn't have other kids around to entertain my sister. My friends hated it. Naturally. We were older and had different interests and didn't like having to accomodate the demands of a whiny and demanding younger kid who was physically and mentally way behind us. My friends from school were often older than me by a year or more. This was because my mother seemed anxious to shove me out the door. I was four years old when I started kindergarten. Five when I started first grade. This means that many of my school friends were at least four years older than my sister. A tag-a-long little sister was not anyone's idea of a good time. I had to share my friends, play time, stuff, whatever, at the whim of my mother and/or sister. None of these things were mine alone to enjoy. Everything was on loan to me. Including my person hood. As the years passed both of these females (mom and sister) became a pox on my life. They both seemed to take special pleasure in making my life theirs to intrude on, mock, judge, shame and otherwise wipe the scum of their characters off onto.

The early years with my sibling were largely defined by these two dynamics:

1) My mother's assumption of a bad attitude on my part toward my younger sibling which she ascribed to sibling rivalry. In reality, I became resentful at some point because I lost my autonomy when sister came on the scene. She was forced on me, and if I expressed displeasure in any way I was only lectured on how I was supposed to love my sister. Loving my sister wasnt't the issue, but this was never understood by my mother. All my lifetime my mother has made it a full-time job to assign to me what my motives and feelings are and then judge me thereby. There is never any appeal of her judgments. When I became a little older, my mother stopped ascribing to me the feeling of sibling rivalry because at some point even she could tell that I wasn't motivated by any kind of rivalry. She later simply judged me for "not liking" my sister. This continued well into adulthood. My sister was never held to account for her behavior toward me that merited me not liking her.

2) Most of the time I was held responsible for my sister. Whether that means me having to make sure she did her chores or whether or not I spent considerable time entertaining sister was a boat anchor around my neck. I had no authority to make my sister do anything she was supposed to do, but I could be spanked along with my sister if she decided she didn't feel like doing what my mother had told her to do. My mother never recognized the potential for resentment on my part for this unequitable system. I was only blamed for having the wrong feelings should I ever let them show. My sister learned to take full advantage of this stupid system.

Spoiled and coddled, my younger sister was probably destined to become the noxious person she evolved into. By the time she hit her teens she was a bitch on wheels. More later.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post. I am still in the place of questioning my own perceptions about my mother. I go back and forth. One of the things that has bothered me for years is something that my mother relates to me and anyone else, if the subject comes anywhere close. She used to tell me when my sister was little (7 years younger than me) that if I didn't quit tormenting my sister, she would pay me back when she got older.

The main thing that has bothered me about this is that I don't remember tormenting my sister. I remember watching her a lot. I remember playing with her. I remember reading to her - all of these things I enjoyed (my sister wasn't and isn't and N, thank God). But I also remember the frustration of her not respecting my boundaries (I didn't know that's what it was then, but that's what it was) and having my mom not enforce my boundaries. I didn't have much in the way of boundaries where my mother was concerned. My sister and I would pick at each other sometimes. It was always my fault. If my sister got into and destroyed my things, no big deal. If I got mad at her for getting into my things, big deal.

This post has some elements in it that are so familiar, they startled me. Again, thank you for posting it. Even for those of us whose siblings didn't become Ns, it is helpful to see the way we were treated by the parent.

Anna Valerious said...

Narcissists make rotten parents. That which is intuitive to a decent person is the opposite of what a malignant narcissist parent will do. I am sure that everyone with a narcissist for a parent would report the non-existence of boundaries as they were growing up. It continues right into adulthood most times. This is because of the Ns refusal to acknowledge the right of another human being to exist unto themselves. This is even more true for their children. They believe they own their children body and soul.

The way a N parent meddles in the sibling relationships of their own offspring is perverse and destructive. I am sure this kind of dynamic is seen in most of the homes of narcissists.

I'm glad you found some things in this post to help clarify your thinking. I'm also glad to hear that your younger sister didn't turn into a N!

istjkl said...

HI Anna,

Thanks for your article - you have confirmed many of those nagging doubts in the back of my early childhood mind.
When I was 4 and sister was 3, she wanted to play game in the bathtub. She tricked me into closing my eyes while she gave me a drink of cold water from the faucet, then a drink of hot water with my eyes closed....led to continual pattern of betrayal throuout childhood and adolescence.
If I defended myself, then we got in a fight and we both got spanked.
If I told mom, she told me not to tattle.
I lost my right to self-defense, just like you wisely pointed out in one of your articles.

Just this past Sunday, I took my mom to her church. She wanted me to meet her friend, as she dug her fingers into my waist - I said, "Mom, you are digging your fingers into my waist and it hurts."
She gave me a dirty look.
Maybe she will see me next year - maybe she won't.

Your website has been such a blessing to me in reaching decision to go no contact with my malignant narcissistic sister.

God bless,