DEAR CAROLYN: I have an older sister, "Mary," and younger, "Tracy." They don't get along. Mary hasn't done any- thing specific like bullying, but I've never seen her accept Tracy. Tracy has tried to win Mary's acceptance; no success. Tracy can be impulsive and thoughtless; she might offend without realizing it. They have been mean and/ or disrespectful to each other but neither recognizes it.
Now we're adults. Mary has made it clear to my parents and to Tracy that she doesn't consider her a sister and doesn't want her involved in her life. As you can imagine, this is devastating to my parents, especially my mom.
Also, I am the "on call" sister. Mom calls me about what Tracy did to Mary and what Mary did to Tracy, while Mary calls about Tracy and vice versa.
I'm asked by my mom what to do. My answer: We can't do anything; they are adults and this is the situation we're in. Am I right to think this?
Stuck In The Middle
DEAR STUCK:urricane "I've never seen her accept Tracy" for 30-plus years? Sure sounds like bullying. Her own home was not safe for Tracy. Wow.
So while I agree Mary is an adult and it's not in your power to make her do anything, this is not just the situation you all are in. In every situation that involves you, you make choices. In every situation where you make choices, you make different ones.
That you have all parties calling you as a sympathetic ear means you make choices in each conversation. Since every choice is an chance to change the outcome, yes, you are vastly underestimating what you can do.
For example, when Tracy calls to complain about Mary, say, "Mary has been mean to you since before you can remember. Do you think any of us besides Mary can change that?" Or when Mom calls: "I've stopped trying to fix anything. I'll give my opinion if asked. That's it." Or when Mary calls to complain about Tracy: "If you seek ways to get along with Tracy, I'm all yours. If you're here to complain about her, you called the wrong person."
Or just: "In 30-plus years, Mary, I've never seen you be kind to Tracy. If she's not your sister, I'm not, either."
You've gotten a lot from being in the middle a sense of importance "middle child" identity. But it's not working. It's just enabling Mary's cruelty, Tracy's neediness and your mom's unwillingness to accept and let go. So when you start making choices in all these different conversations, keep yourself out of the middle by scratching off all the old goals of mediation and problem-solving. Replace them by telling the truth and keeping responsibilities where they belong.