My sister lives across the country. When she comes to visit, she stays with my parents. This is not an unusual family situation- out of town relatives often stay with one another.

But…

My sister and my parents have diametrically opposite views on just about everything. I mean really, everything…

And when my sister comes to town, they verbally spar. They verbally spar about 90% of the time. When my sister came to town a few months ago, her plane landed about 6pm. By 9am the next day she was already texting me about the arguments…

I understand my sister’s point of view. She is just trying to be herself. She loves our parents, wants to see them, yet…

My parents are not always easy to get along with…

And some of my sister’s ideas on life are a bit out there…

I clearly understand both sides in this situation.

I understand the cross words and raised tempers.

I just wish that all of them could be quiet sometimes.

I understand the need to get one’s point across. I understand wanting to be heard and not wanting to be marginalized. I understand that we are all allowed to have our own opinions. I get that opinions can never be wrong.

But…at the end of the day…my sister visiting is a lot of grief for everyone. I don’t know if my sister or my parents are actually happy during the visits. I receive calls from both sides…complaining…

I am very stressed out when my sister visits because I hate to be in the middle. I hate trying to broker peace.

So my question is thus:

If a visit to family causes angst, should you visit?

Do you continue the visits out of a sense of obligation? Out of trying to assuage guilt?

Is there a time when you shouldn’t visit your family?

Which regret is worse: not seeing your family because you drive one another crazy or feeling bad that you don’t see your family?

Discuss:

97 thoughts on “Obligation

    1. Money is an issue. (Money-spending and earning is a hot bed topic) hotel and car rental would be prohibitive. And honestly? It would be another thing they fought about

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  1. Was it this way growing up? ie. this pattern between your sister and parents..was it their “normal”? and have you been in this role for the past 30 years, or only the last short while?

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    1. It’s gotten worse as everyone has gotten older. My parents went more extreme to one side, my sister more extreme to the other. (FYI….I blocked them both on Facebook last year)

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  2. Make it about you. Tell them both they make YOUR life stressful when they both call you complaining about the other. And tell them that their arguments are so constant when your sister visits that “did it ever occur to you to not visit if everyone has such a horrible time together?!” I find that confronting people (even in my own family) about their behavior that they may be blind to, can sometimes have an effect on that behavior. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. My own mom complains about my brother and their lack of a relationship and she has said through the years that it’s his fault. When I mentioned to her that there are TWO people in the situation (she and my brother) and it can’t all be his fault, she stopped her complaints. And now when she starts again, I remind her of that.

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    1. Your family is clearly more evolved. Before my sister came to town I asked her if she really wanted to…and as my parents age, I understand why she wants to come out…in theory….and I tell both of them to just not get into arguments and to let things slide…trust me…I keep my mouth shut with both of them 85% of the time. The problem is they are both trying to “enlighten” the other….I often just put the phone on speaker and add some “uh hu” and “um hm” along the way

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  3. I think the answer is staying in a hotel. There’s no rule that says visiting relatives must stay with relatives. Giving everyone space can keep the arguments to a minimum. Taking that step is the hard part, but it can be done! IMO 🙂

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  4. As a general rule, my wife and I subscribe to “no politics, no religion” (for example) in all discussions with friends, family, or strangers – everyone has an opinion, everyone is passionate and everyone is correct. As you mention the “I won’t be marginalized” movement has made it ok for those who feel marginalized to be passionate to the point of being rude, having poor behavior. While the receiving side of the marginalized has differing opinions is often “offended” that someone has a different opinion. Intolerance has a grip on society now. There is no room for discussion, everything has become “us vs them.” My solution is become an introvert and walk away, it’s just not healthy.

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    1. I have become much more “to myself” because I can’t stand the us vs them attitude. Spoiler alert: while this continues we all lose. I don’t talk aboit politics or religion either, and try to avoid it in my blog, but some people can’t talk about anything else.

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  5. I definitely have relatives that I “love from a distance”. I also refuse to discuss religion or politics…at all, with certain members of my family. If discourse cannot be amicable about a subject, the subject is off the table. Many of my family members enjoy a friendly verbal sparring match, as do I. BUT as soon as it devolves into an argument, my participation is over.

    I too, am often called upon to mediate arguments between family members…I don’t know why they still ask, lol. My standard response to this request, for the last two plus decades, has been “not my circus, and definitely not my monkeys”. They are grown a** people, it isn’t my job to get in the middle. I refuse to jeopardize my hard won peace to broker theirs.

    On a semi-related note “not my circus…not my monkeys” has been typed so many times on my phone all I have to do is type “n” and hit the space bar six times, lol.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. First off…I love your phone auto answer! I think there are opinions and there are beliefs. I can talk to anyone with an opinion. I can’t discuss something that is someone’s belief. I may blog about that….

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  6. I could be snarky and say you should plan your vacations to coincide with family visits, but somehow I suspect you would still be placed in the middle with texts/calls unless you choose Siberia as a destination… which brings up the point: why are you being placed in the middle? If you don’t take sides normally what is the motivation to continue to drag you into their issues? Does one side just hope by chance that you will take up their cause… You can’t stop them from visiting but I feel like this is a tough love situation. You get a call/text with the beginning of a complaint and you politely hang up. If at any moment things turn into a rant about the other side, you hang up. Just like young children, you have to teach them you won’t play their games.

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    1. I’m a safe space for both sides to vent. Now that being said, I do yell at my mom when she goes on a tirade and I do something like…”not listening. Fingers in my ears. Going to hang up because I don’t want to talk about this topic because I think you’ve lost it” mature.I know. And I do try to tell my sister when she’s being ridiculous. In this particular situation I am the calm and rational one. And…oddly….I try to remind people that neither of them is right or wrong just different

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  7. What a cluster f! I can see why you get stressed. I’m visiting my stepson and his family. My step daughter is their nanny. They are fighting right now. Yesterday while they were arguing about where to take us for the day I told them I’d be out on the porch. This is between the two of you and your dad. Keep me out of it. Come and get me when you are done. I dated on the porch for a half hour. Ahhh. Silence. I’m too old for crap like this. It’s like they are both.10 again! Me and my calmness come first. I like how you put them on speaker phone. Good for you!

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  8. I understand guilt and families who don’t have a relationship where they can be honest. But it sounds like they don’t have a relationship? If they are arguing, then they should be able to be honest with each other. So why does your sister want to visit her parents? Out of a sense of obligation? Duh Kari, that’s the title of the post.

    I like Ally’s comment. 🙂

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  9. Tough one. We often feel obligated when it comes to family, even if the person or persons in question are toxic. Still, I think there is always an opportunity for personal growth – to practise cultivating greater emotional resilience – when others in the family are squabbling about trivial matters. Of course we don’t get to choose our family. This is true when we are young. But as independent adults we actually do have a choice. What do they say? “Easy choices = difficult life. Difficult choices = easy life.”

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  10. Years ago, a visit to my boyfriend’s family was like a visit to the Roman Coliseum – all sparring gladiators and roaring lions and bloodshed.

    To them it was normal, the way they had learned to engage, to show off their debating skills, to demonstrate their superior intellects.

    To me, it was sheer hell.

    Soon enough, I declined to join the BF on his trip back home. It was not fun being home alone, missing out on a road trip and family gathering. But then, the alternative was much worse.

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  11. So, the general gist of this post’s subsequent comments suggest that even intramural kith and kin discussions about religion and politics are verboten. A mean and self defeating meme that only serves to move collective understandings of faith and governance into a public square occupied only by those that holler blood and soil, or cancel this and that or him or her.

    Last week we had a post(?) pandemic family get together. Brooklyn, inner city Chicago, suburban North Shore, and Key West. There were logistical cross currents, and some what’s on the menu chop logic; so yes, there were bumps but minimal bruises, as we wine and dined and minimally discussed politics. In fact I brought up that we are now increasingly teaching our children it’s wrong to discuss politics. And many were in agreement.

    Sure, no politics or religion talk , precedes by generations the Internets carpet bombing of the old bromide, but the sentiment has increasingly been made viral, irrespective of how important a base understand of the subject matters may be.

    Lay down family rules, enforce them, go at, and only play for table stakes.

    Nice Post LA. And I getting caught in the middle and having to broker the cluster ain’t kind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would talk politics if people didn’t take it personally. As I told someone else…there’s beliefs and then there’s opinions….you can discuss opinions…you can’t challenge beliefs….I’m going to think about this and blog eventually…FYI I talked out your thought last week about writing for readers vs writing for writers…answers were all over the place

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  12. I chose not to visit some family members because my visit cause sadness at some point, somehow. They don’t visit me either but we are on good terms, we see each other on big family occasions and we’re fine.

    I’m aware that it’s not a nice thing to only see your relatives during big family occasions like funerals and so on, but hey, what can we do….

    Personally, I feel like I’m mostly not the cause of any despair or argument, others see it too, and I’m okay with that. I think if you don’t see eye to eye with just anyone, it’s best you stay away from them.

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  13. Even worse if the members live in the same household — such is my life. The hubs is on his way to his mom’s for five weeks because she had a slight stroke and deadbeat brother who lives with her is incapable. I am both looking forward to the alone time and dreading the phone calls that will most certainly occur once the action starts up there. Please pray for me. In answer to your question, no. Don’t visit. Phone call with “I love you” should suffice.

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  14. Whew, another loaded question there LA! Ok, well here’s my tidbit. People often visit parents because they feel that sense of obligation to see them, especially now with the pandemic and uncertainty. In my opinion, like fish, visiting family need to leave the house after 3 days otherwise it all goes badly. Also, that pattern of behavior between your parents and sister is something that they perpetuate and it fuels both sides otherwise someone would change their tune so as not to argue. Being put in the middle as you are is a difficult spot and I feel for you.

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  15. Not your problem – walk away from it. You can only be responsible for your own relationships. These are all Adults. Let them behave like adults. If they can’t that’s their problem, not yours. Life is too short for any additional drama. Don’t accept it, don’t get involved, put up a wall.

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  16. Ignore her texts? She should not visit if she is causing them stress. Or maybe she should stay in a hotel. I assume she is a liberal who is pushing her views on your parents? My oldest does that to us. Visits and starts arguments. We are trying to get to a better place where we can all enjoy each other’s company. It’s not easy.

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  17. My brother and dad love to argue politics with me. It gets quite heated and then we stop communicating for a while. I’ll no longer stay at my brother’s house because at 8,000 square feet it can’t hold the two of us!

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  18. I understand how this is stressful. We have two family members (one sibling on each side) we simply cannot have a civil discussion with because of polar opposite political and cultural views. So we don’t. Unfortunately that means we don’t see them much. There needs to be boundaries set when they get together….for you. They can bicker and fight all they want, but have to understand it is detrimental to your mental health and you don’t want to get in the middle or take sides. If you sister cannot stay in a hotel or with other friends, the only answer is to not allow them to drag you into their drama when she is here. Or…..she could stay with you?! 🤪

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  19. When I visit my parents I have a whole lot of topics that I refuse to discuss with my father because I love him too much to argue. When Dad starts on one of his rants, I smile, give him a kiss on the cheek and say, “I love you, Dad so I am not discussing this with you.” He keeps going (of course) so I just keep saying, “I love you, Dad.” And either change the subject or go do something else. My mother’s filter has gone with dementia coming, so again, when she tells me how old I look, “I love you, Mum.” And I change the subject. My teenage daughters also use the technique and it’s surprisingly effective. My dad has the good grace to look embarrassed now and my mother can’t remember what she said but we find if we laugh about it, it lessens the sting. I understand not all families can be like this, but as the younger (less crazy) members of the family, my girls and I decided that it was up to us to set the tone. Not telling your sister to do this, just offering a solution of what works for us. Oh, my eldest daughter’s catch-cry with them is, “Isn’t it nice that we are all different; how boring would life be if everyone was the same?” Good luck.

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  20. my dad was toxic, I always felt obligated to visit, never liked his second wife or family. My visits were slightly better after I got married but I totally cut ties with “her and her family” when my Dad died. My brother is toxic when he drinks too much..no arguments just bullying, but as my brother ages we seem to get along better these days.

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  21. You know at some point in life people need to just let things go. Forgive the comment I’m going to make as I’m going to say some things that you might not like. (One of the advantages of being in cancer treatment is seeing how ridiculous people act and how they waste time arguing rather than appreciating one another.)
    Your parents are getting older and if your sister stays with them then she should just visit and stop trying to be childish. She’s no longer a rebellious teenager. Isn’t it time for her to get over herself?

    The reality is that as people age they either get more free and open minded, or more set in their ways. The bigger person just accepts this about aging people . If she’s visiting for a short time she should be asked or told to lighten up. Nobody cares what anybody’s opinions are. Just have a nice visit while your folks are still alive. Obviously your parents should reign in being critical. But that’s unlikely. So it’s up to her to keep her opinions to herself. What is she solving by trying to change the minds of people who won’t change? She should avoid fighting at all costs and stop and smell the roses. We ALL could spend all day criticizing our parents, our children, our friends etc. but why? She’s never going to get the approval or attention she’s craving. She’s never going to change their minds. At some point she needs to either accept them or not visit. But trying to still prove yourself to your parents when you are grown? Better she spend the money on therapy.

    And You shouldn’t take sides. In fact I’d tell them if they can’t get along together then you’ll see your sister without them. You shouldn’t be drawn into their drama. It’s a viscous cycle. And that’s not healthy for anyone. Each side wants you to validate their opinions. Don’t get involved. Be Switzerland.

    A while back ( before I got sick) my oldest son got on my case for being over protective with his kids. So, I told him. “Look, this is as good as it gets. Im only going to get worse as I age so you better just accept me for who I am right now.” That stopped him. I think he was looking for an argument but I told him “I like to worry about my grandkids. That’s what I do. So get over it” He looked at me and said, “ Fair enough! “

    I’d talk to your sister privately and tell her how uncomfortable she makes things for you. If she won’t change then perhaps you should make your gatherings infrequent stating you don’t like the fighting.

    I don’t envy your situation. Family is never easy. But your sounds particularly challenging. Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be fair, both sides are bad, and literally anything can start an argument. Neither side will let anything go. I try to tell both of them to back off, but my family has this thing with being right…..😆imagine me….but about a billion times more righteous….when we are all together I come prepared with a list of topics that I think are “easy” but something manages to spark something somewhere….luckily, they don’t visit very often…

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  22. I know exactly what this is like due to in-laws. Often, I’ve decided to sit back and remove myself from those situations. I think in your sister’s case it’s a little different because that’s her mom. I don’t get along with mom either and it’s so hard having her in my house all summer. Usually I just try very hard to agree to disagree. It’s honestly the best way to fix things if both parties are willing. Hopefully the visit smooths out for you all. ❤️ Hugs

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  23. Part of every family dynamic is what you describe. There are also boundaries that can be created, which may feel awkward, and even create more angst at first, such as your sister’s family staying in a hotel, yet will, in the long run, provide respite, as a possibility. When I visited LA recently, I stayed in a hotel, which was a first for me. Usually, I also stay with my family. I made that choice, to provide myself with time, privacy, and the ability to just be. Important.

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    1. Hotels are just not financially viable for my sister, nor renting a car. And to even say that to my mom brings up a whole other thing….it’s a case of I wish both sides would just shut up…which I’ve sort of said…but no one listens

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  24. Supposedly, I’m just to let things not get to me. 😀 I think the real problem is what you said: you’re the middle of it. They either need to deal with it themselves or find a different arrangement.

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  25. I don’t think you should visit anyone who causes you a lot of stress. Here’s a brief story. My brother-in-law has never liked me. I know this because he’s told everyone but me. Once he married, it became worse (in my opinion…long story why). Always a lot of arguing and tension in the air when we visited them. Anywho, now there were two people who seemingly didn’t like me.

    Well, one year, my husband’s aunt, who lives in FL, like 3 hours away was having Thanksgiving at her home. She wanted the whole family there. I was like I’m not going. I’m not spending my Thanksgiving somewhere where people clearly don’t like me. My husband didn’t go either, and of course, that meant the girls didn’t. Our entire family unit sat that one out.

    It did cause some stress, in terms of the fallout (cousins texting, his dad trying to figure out what happened, etc.), but I had peace that holiday.

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    1. I get it completely. To be where you don’t feel comfortable or welcome is a horrible feeling…it’s difficult because there’s this concept that family is important, yet, there’s no “guidelines” as to how family should treat one another….and for some reason we are supposed to smile and shut up when family is involved…it’s a bas dynamic

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  26. People have shared a lot of valuable insights here. I’ve witnessed families where parents and adult children have cut each other out of their lives totally. It is a painful way to live also.

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  27. When I figure that one out, I’ll let you know! But honestly, I think the way to go is to simply enjoy being with family without feeling the need to bring up topics you know you don’t agree on. Lordy, when did agreeing become mandatory for people to get along? I have some very dear friends who hold vastly different view on just about everything than I do. But they are a gift to me, and I am so happy they are my friends!

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    1. The thing for me is I have a very clear rule that I won’t discuss politics. The problem now is that everything is political….i mean…in some company you can’t even talk about the weather

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  28. It’s a tough one when families act like you described. Can one step up and let peace prevail? Can one step up to show maturity and not need to be right? Failing which none should visit until one or both realizes that the other is important to them and is/are willing to let go. Anything can happen during heated arguments especially with aged (or aging) parent (like heart attack, God forbid but it does happen). How would the other person feel if that happens and the person doesn’t survive it? Ponder on that … my advice will be to not visit until peace can reign or one can promise to keep quiet on dividing issues. Sorry you’re in the middle. Taking yourself out of it might also help. My 2 cents

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  29. Families can be complicated. Accepting each as unique is part of the puzzle. I have also tried to broker peace and support and try to make things right. It was downright frustrating and exhausting. In the end I have chosen to let them all just be. There will be conflict but it no longer causes me anxiety as I just let them all be themselves and love them as they are.

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