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home : columns : dear harriette May 24, 2016

2/26/2014 10:11:00 AM
Sibling dynamics remain into adulthood

DEAR HARRIETTE: Every time I talk to my sister, she lectures me. Yes, she is my big sister, but we are adults. I moved out about 10 years ago when I went away to college. She still lives at home with my parents. She helps them out, so it has turned out to be good for them. I think she lives there because she hasn't been able to keep a job. None of that really matters except that she constantly badgers me about my life choices. She says I am not living up to my potential. I have been promoted three times in my company since I have worked there. I don't know what she's talking about, and I am sick of her. How can I get her to stop? -- Stuck in the Middle, Shreveport, La.

DEAR STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: It can be extremely difficult to break out of childhood patterns of communication. Often, the eldest child feels responsibility for guiding the younger children. Why? That was their role when they were children. It can be difficult to shed that sense of responsibility as they grow up. In your sister's case, it could be that she is overly concerned about your career success because it has been elusive to her. Rather than jealousy, she may be expressing genuine concern for your future.

Does that make it easier for you? Only in the sense that you may be able to have compassion for her. If you can imagine that she is attempting to look out for you rather than judge you, it may be easier for you to shift your relationship with her. Instead of fighting back, you can thank her for her concern and assure her that you are doing just fine. You can also check in with her from time to time about how she is managing the care for your parents. You can change the dynamic of your relationship by becoming the adult that you are, even when you are communicating with her. As you change, she may have the space to change as well.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I had an intern two years ago who asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her. I agreed and then got busy and forgot. She wrote back to me to remind me at the last minute. Thank goodness she did! I was able to get it to her just before the deadline, but I felt so bad. I meant to write her a glowing recommendation and deliver it early. My schedule got in the way. She is grateful that she got it at all, but I feel like a schmuck. How can I do a better job of following up with people? -- Over-stretched, Chicago

DEAR OVER-STRETCHED: Give yourself credit for getting that recommendation in on time. You would feel much worse if you had missed the deadline. In the future, write down the deadlines that you agree to fulfill. You may also want to set reminder alarms on your smartphone, if you have one, to remind you to complete upcoming tasks.

(Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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