Dear Coleen: 'My chaotic mum is making life hell for my little sister - she's the problem'

-Credit: (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Dear Coleen

My mum’s life has always been chaotic. My dad left when I was two, then she remarried and had my sister, who’s 15, which is 10 years younger than me.

My sister’s father also walked out on us, but I had to cope with his and my mother’s awful toxic relationship for years.

Recently, my sister has been acting up a bit, as all teens do, coming home late, not answering her phone, talking back, hanging around places and people that are bad for her.

My mum keeps screaming at her about how awful she is and saying: “Why can’t you be more like your sister? She never gave me any trouble and was a perfect teenager.”

I have a problem with this on several fronts – firstly, it’s not fair on my sister to be compared to me, and I wasn’t perfect anyway. I was only sensible because my mum was acting like a teenager, so I had to be the grown-up in the family, otherwise things would have totally disintegrated. Why can’t my mum accept that she’s the problem?

She’s the one who keeps choosing hopeless men, who keep leaving. She’s the one who spent years screaming and throwing teapots and whatever else was to hand at her partner. I want to have it out with her, but is it even worth it? Thank God I’ve left home and don’t have to deal with her every day.

Coleen says

I think you should back your sister up with your mum – she’s a different person and it’s a different situation to when you were young. The difference between the two of you is that you didn’t act up or say how you felt most of the time.

Explain to your mum she’ll end up pushing your sister away and, as soon as she’s old enough, she’ll leave home without resolving any of these issues. Tell your mum what you’ve told me – be clear you weren’t perfect, but were in a situation where you had to be the sensible one in the house, which is a lot of pressure to put on a kid.

If you think it’s possible, it might also be a good idea for the three of you to sit down together and talk it through. Also, remind your mum what it’s like to be 15. OK, your sister might need picking up on certain things, but she’s not stealing, taking drugs or getting into trouble with the police.

With my kids, who are all in their 20s and 30s now, I had to keep reminding myself what I was like as a teenager and how I felt. It’s a difficult age and you’re often expected to behave like an adult when you’re not. It’s so confusing and hard.

This is a good opportunity to open up a wider conversation about the dynamics in the family and how you could improve your relationships.

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