Sister-in-Law Trying To Take My Place in the Family?

Reader’s Question

My brother was dating a girl for about a year whom we all liked. At the one year mark, when it wasn’t certain where their relationship was going, or if he was being deployed to Iraq — he ended up being discharged and not going — she announced she was pregnant. My family immediately jumped to offer everything they could, as her family is very poor and she has little to no contact with her parents. They offered a wedding at an all-inclusive resort, all sorts of plans. Unfortunately, she lost the baby. My brother still had almost a year of graduate school left and told her while he intended on marrying her anyway, he would like to push it back so he could finish school, start his career, and do things the right way. Two months later, at Christmas, he gave her a lovely watch, but no ring, which I think she was expecting. Fast forward to April of that year, and she tells my brother she’s pregnant again (no, they were not trying and he had NO IDEA), and when they go to the doctor for the first check up it turns out she’s 4 1/2 months pregnant and “had no idea.” They have since recently married.

My problem is, now that she is obviously carrying to term, and managed to get a wedding out of my parents, she is totally trying to control my family and their plans. (This time around, my parents suggested they get married at the court house and they would throw a “party” celebrating after the fact, because it was quite obvious this was deliberate and they weren’t thrilled. But through her manipulations, it then turned into a full on, all day, wedding/reception complete with rented tables and chairs — the whole shebang.) It’s always just been my brother, parents, and me, and we’re all extremely close. She now spends practically every weekend at my parents’ place with my brother (which I think is weird too: they are newlyweds and expecting a baby!) and has started to make plans and suggestions for our family at Christmas. Everything is about her and has to go through her.

As the admittedly much-spoiled only daughter, I’m a little put out. My mother has bitten hook, line, and sinker, but my dad is not so smitten. I know I have to let the jealous feelings go, but I feel like she’s trying to push me out of my family! She never calls me, emails me, or asks about me, yet at christmas or birthdays sends totally extravagant gifts, so when I say something to my mom about how I’m feeling she points out the cost of the gifts and how the SIS “must care.” I think she wants to take my place and wants me gone ASAP. I have tried with her, but she has zero personality and is admittedly self conscious because I am in much better shape and am always called the beauty of the family. I’ve tried but she’s pushing me over the edge with her passive aggressive manipulation and I don’t know what to do. Should I politely drop back and let her take my family away from me, or try something else? I can’t stand being around her!!!!

Psychologist’s Reply

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I don’t have the sense that she wants to take your place in the family. Rather, she is trying to make a place for her in your family. Your place in your family is permanent — she can’t take your family away from you. Yes, she can orchestrate and manipulate to receive attention from your family.

Here’s a theory (psychologists have a lot of these!). Every social group (family, workplace, friends, etc.) has a table of organization (TO). In your close, loving family you have been the princess. When a member of the family adds another family member — through marriage, childbirth, etc. — the table of organization is threatened and must change. Everyone in your family is experiencing the transition into a larger family, including a baby on the way. As your sister-in-law has little or no family support with a child on the way, she is organizing her support through your family — a very common and actually healthy thing to do. While you haven’t lost your position as the princess, you run the risk of losing attention from the family if you become withdrawn or overly jealous.

I think you might also be missing an important aspect of this transition. Your parents are not paying attention to her because she’s replacing you, is better than you, or has a better personality. They are accepting her because she is their son’s wife! Mothers especially try to make a new daughter-in-law welcome. As good parents, they would extend this same welcome to your partner, only as a son-in-law, your father might feel the need to engage in some male-bonding rituals such as handyman jobs, fishing/hunting, etc. If your partner had personality quirks, your parents would still try to make them feel at home, especially if you supported the effort. The fact that your brother brings her to the family home almost each weekend will ensure that your parents will treat her with acceptance. Again, they are doing this for your brother more than for the new sister-in-law.

Is she using the proper approach to gain a position on the family TO? Probably not. She’s overdoing it and is excessive. She may not have the social skills and sophistication, making her efforts appear clumsy, immature, manipulative, and even intrusive. Your parents have accepted this, although it probably irritates your father, and they have rolled out the red carpet for her. This is what parents do.

She hasn’t taken your job…she’s just a new member of the staff. You’ll need to lower your jealousy and accept your new positions as a sister-in-law and future aunt. Her participation in your family is a wonderful adventure for her and she could use your guidance rather than resistance. She may evolve into a great, emotionally close sister-in-law. Like your parents, I would encourage you to accept her presence in the family and find humor in her efforts to get involved. Your position has not changed, they are just trying to accept the new daughter-in-law and prepare for additional changes in the family TO. Your parents could actually use your help in controlling and managing all the changes that will be taking place. If you don’t provide some input, you may find that the Christmas holiday will be directed by the sister-in-law. Remember, it’s a larger family now. That marital promise “for better or worse” applies to the entire family as well as the bridal couple.

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