Saturday, October 07, 2006

Does This Stroller Make Me Look Rich?

Posted by Tania (Urban_Mommy)

If you'd like to use this space to tell stories/secrets/confessions of your dangerous maternal mind, anonymously or otherwise, send me an e-mail and you too can enjoy the refuge of the Basement...


I’m here in the basement because I have a bone to pick with my sister and she, of course, knows of my blog. Thank God for The Basement.

I love my sister. She is one of few family members I can say that about, so I really do cherish our relationship. However. Over the years, she has become very judgmental of how I live my life. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that when it comes to how we live our lives she has become very competitive.

When we were young, this was never an issue, we were very different so there wasn’t much to compare. But as adults, we both strive for success in love, in our careers, our lifestyle, our station.

As it turns out, I have done well in these pursuits. I have a great marriage, a fulfilling career, an interesting lifestyle and, well, as for what I am calling ‘station’, I really mean money. And yeah, I have plenty of that too. Which all seems to make my sister very pissy and disapproving.

It is, of course, her prerogative to dislike my choices. I haven’t a problem with that. What gets my goat is that she is always implying that my husband and I have somehow sold ourselves out in making certain choices, attaining certain things. She implies that one cannot possibly enjoy any job that comes with a hefty pay cheque and that having a good-paying job means that one must compromise one’s morals. It is total bullshit. By her reasoning, only low paying jobs can be rewarding, and that all low paying jobs are, because of their low pay, noble pursuits. I’ll say it again, total bullshit. Working at McDonald’s is not the same as working for Greenpeace. Low pay does not equal virtue.

Another favorite detail of my circumstance that my sister likes to judge is that my husband is really the one that makes the big cheque. (I, on the other hand, make a lucrative living, which is to say, when I work I get paid very well, but with the baby I don’t work that often.) Husband brings home the bacon, I am a SAHM/WAHM. She goes crazy with this. “When did you become so traditional?”, she asks. By which she means a backwards, anti-feminist, focus-on-the-family, twin-set-wearing dullard.

This all drives me crazy. Crazy, I tell you. Crazy! Because none of it is true. She knows perfectly well that my husband grew up in extreme poverty and for him to make a very good living doing something he absolutely loves is the best example of karma that she or I will ever witness. She also knows that he and I have ‘risked it all’ a number of times in order to stand by what we believe. As for me turning my back on my independence, she also knows, deep down, that it is not true; that I am a hard-core kind of feminist in many respects. But I have a 6-month-old baby and, call me crazy, I want to raise him for a while.

As I said, at the heart of all of this is competitiveness. I believe that she sees my happiness and success only in relation to her own. She is keeping score and any time she feels I’m pulling ahead by a large margin, she issues me demerits, herself some moral bonus points, and presto, she is back in the game.

It makes it very difficult to share my life experiences with her.

But I refuse to not talk honestly about my life. To me, if I downplay the good things then I really AM comparing myself to her. And being condescending. (Should I downplay because, you know, what I’ve got is so much better and how could she not feel bad hearing about all my fabulousness? How is this reasoning not insulting?) I refuse to do it. I don’t see why I should have to apologize or hide or dumb-down my life in order to make other people feel better about their life. I work hard for what I have. It is not a competition.

I believe that women in general feel too uncomfortable celebrating their successes. Too often we speak only about negatives – or worse, turn positives into negatives in order to talk about things openly. It is as if we feel like saying anything good about ourselves would be boasting. That is just wrong. But I think we feel this way because, really, this is how some other women - like my sister -often make us feel. And it is all because they are being competitive. And petty.

A good marriage is no small feat. Establishing yourself professionally is hard won as well. A great body, higher education, money, good kids – none of these things come easily. They should be celebrated if you can achieve them. Good on you! (For the record, I do not have a great body, I have a Bachelor of Fine Art aka Bachelor of Fuck All, some money, and the kid is in development. I’m hardly picture perfect; that is not my point.)

This topic is fresh for me right now not only because of a recent call with my sister but because I’ve seen some evidence of this attitude in recent posts and comments in the blogosphere. And I think we should call it out.

If you have a good marriage, feel free to celebrate it.

If you have great skill, training, education, go on and flex your brawn or brain.

If you’ve worked hard for your possessions and get comfort and joy from them, tell me about it.

I love to hear about rewarding love, insightful ideas and opinions, great travel, new gadgets, killer shoes, awesome strollers that glide over any surface and fold down into toothpicks. Tell me! It’s OK. I will not assume that with every sentence you utter that you are really saying that you are happier, smarter, more successful, or more beautiful than I am. Because I will realize that you are talking about you, not about me.

I wish people would just get over themselves. My sister especially.

Phew. Turned into a bit of a ranty-rant there at the end. But I feel better. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

It must be hard to take that from your sister. Jealousy rears its ugly head and no one is the same. I have a friend (friend?) like that. When things are bad she is all over me, like white on rice. When things are good she stays away. Like she always wants things to be worse for me than for her. When she does acknowledge my triumphs (which are many) she always does so with a caveat.

You speak for many. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So many aspects of your post rang true with me. Thank you.

moplans said...

I totallty agree. Like you it is easy for me to be happy for other people. The successes of my friends bring me as much joy as my own. Some people are not like this. I knew it was over with an ex after we met a friend for lunch who told us how he had just been promoted and the ex was bitterly jealous and crabby for the rest of the afternoon.
It must be hard to have this relationship with your sister but I think you are right not to try to hide your own success and happiness.

Bea said...

I've been on both sides of this equation. When I was in my early twenties, I didn't have a lot of money by any means, but I had enough to pay the rent and stay out of debt, when everyone else I knew (for various reasons) had to live at home and/or struggle with paying back student loans. And that was uncomfortable for me in various ways. I certainly went out of my way to avoid talking about things that would draw attention to the disparity of income or make my friends feel worse about their financial situation. That didn't feel false to me - it just felt considerate.

Now many of those same friends are in a much better financial position than I am, and it's sometimes hard to deal with. So if my friend who lived at home throughout her twenties because she couldn't afford to pay rent complains now about how it's been SO LONG since she's been on vacation (i.e. almost six months since her last trip to Europe), I'm not entirely sure how I'm expected to respond to that. It's been six years since I went on vacation anywhere, and it'll be another three or four years at a minimum before I can afford to do so again. The fact is that my money worries are a lot easier for me to handle when I'm not spending time in my friends' beautiful homes and looking at photos of their beautiful vacations. Luckily for me, most of my friends who live in the same city are in roughly the same boat as I am.

I think everybody does the kind of self-talk that your sister is doing - the old "Sure she has so many things I don't, but there must be some kind of price to that, something that makes my choices - or failures - worthwhile." It's probably even a healthy kind of self-talk, especially when it comes to the things we can't do much about. The secret is to HIDE THOSE THOUGHTS from the people we're jealous of. It's probably only family members who dare to utter those judgments aloud.

I know exactly what you mean about the viciousness with which success is often punished (both here in the blogosphere and elsewhere). It's not right or fair. You shouldn't have to apologize or conceal or be attacked for your successes and good fortune. My sister-in-law was openly hostile to me for a very long time because I had all the things she felt bad about not having: education, thinness, whatever. It was hard for me to deal with, but I could understand where she was coming from: being around me made her feel worse about herself. Realistically, it made sense for her to avoid me. Sure, she SHOULD have been totally secure and happy iin her own identity and unthreatened by others, but unfortunately she's human.

I would never have worn giant tent-dresses in order to make my SIL feel better about her body, but I would go out of my way, I think, to watch what I say, to ensure that I don't make it seem like I equate thinness with beauty, or education with intelligence, or money with success.

I'm not saying you've been inconsiderate (and it's clear that your sister has said plenty of inconsiderate things!) - just that this issue brings up lots of food for thought. This issue probably applies to lots of areas - like how much we talk about our children to someone going through infertility. I guess I would always prefer to assign greater responsibility to the person who is doing "well" (however that is defined) than to the one who is struggling.

Annie, The Evil Queen said...

I also have a sister whom I love who I often feel judges me wanting. I've simply decided that she is entitled to her opinion and that I have no control over it. It isn't always easy, but it's easier than being angry all of the time. I wish we all spent more time celebrating the successes of one another.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the wrong in celebrating your success, so long as you realize the fine line between celebration and lording it over someone else. Not that I'm suggesting you're doing that. But financial situations don't impress me, too much. More than a few people I've met who are "fabulously" wealthy aren't terribly interesting when all they discuss is designer duds and do-dads. To me there's more to life than what money buys in it.

Melissa said...

I'm going to tell you, I feel like I could have written this. I down play what we have (and yes this includes a great marriage) to the majority of my family. They just can't accept it and truly are jealous, so they feel the need to put me down for the petty buying a bugaboo when I had my second child. Money is money, and I don't feel i should have to apoligize for it, since I do work hard to earn it. But the real thing that I hate downplaying is my marriage and choices. I want to celebrate the fact that I have a great one, without feeling judged. We should all be able to celebrate or lives without being judged. It really isn't anyones business if you choose to stay at home with your infant. And it isn't anyones business that I don't stay home with mine. I think it sucks that your sister is so jealous. I would think that she'd be happy for you. Maybe one day she will.

crazymumma said...

Glad you got it off your chest.
We all need a venue like this from time to time.
I think you know that she is jealous. And it sounds like you have worked hard for what you have.
So, I hope that she finds a way to celebrate your good fortune.

crazymumma said...

Oh, and we were poor poor poor for years. The first 3 years of Big Girl we lived on NOTHING. Won't get into specifics, but lets just say there was a mason jar full of change for every bill and for groceries.
Luckily, things have changed, and we are more comfortable than I ever thought I would be.
And you know what? At first I was embarassed, I am not anymore, we have worked VERY hard for what we have, and we still work very hard. I am proud of what we have gained.
And it sounds like you are too.

Sandra said...

I grew up blue collar. We ended up lower middle class by the time I was in high school. Not before then. I remember my dad on his hands and knees sewing up a tear in the wall to wall carpet because we couldn't afford to replace it. It never was replaced - he just kept on fixing it.

Fast forward to now. A few university degrees, four cities, two countries and two marriages later. Many years of hard work and sacrifice. And now we are doing well financially. Quite well. I have a marriage to a wonderful man. Never knew it could be like this. And a lovely little girl.

I am not a trust fund baby. Nothing was handed to me. I do appreciate the privilege that allowed me to get to the table and that opened doors. Once in, the hard work began.

I too have a sister whom I wish would get over it. Who could see that me making different choices than her is no criticism of her and her life. A sister who could see that me reaching my dreams in no way diminishes her dreams.

Jaelithe said...

Does your sister not have children yet?

I think a lot of women have a hard time understanding why an educated, progressive, feminist woman would choose make herself dependent on a man so that she could stay home with a child-- until they have their own children. Despite the media hype over the Mommy Wars, most (though unfortunately, not all) of the working mothers I've met completely understand my decision to stay home, just as I completely understand most working mothers' decisions not to.

I also think having a child, or even really just embarking on a definite plan to have a child, really changes your perspective on finances. It is a lot easier as a childless person to, say, quit a job you don't like for one you love that pays less, or spend a year in the Peace Corps, or take six weeks off working to hitchhike across the country taking photographs of historic small towns, or something. When you only have your own financial future to worry about-- when you don't have to worry about feeding, housing, clothing, educating, and paying medical bills for another human being for the next 18-22 years, you worry less about finances.

(Of course if she does have a child then what I just said is totally useless, but, oh well).

I myself have had problems with my sister since I got married and had a kid. Not because I'm rich (I'm definitely not; I barely qualify for the middle class), but because I live my whole life differently now; I don't do things on a whim nearly as often as I used to; I am much more cautious about my health and my finances than I used to be, and I have become more discerning about the type of people I am willing to spend my time with. She just doesn't get my new way of thinking, and lately I often find I've offended her completely accidentally just by being practical about something-- as though simply by making different choices, I am judging hers. I'm not. I just have different priorities than she does, now; that doesn't mean hers aren't valid. I wish that were easier for her to see.

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Anonymous said...

The "sister" part is the root of this issue.

I have two sisters. I adore them and they are my best friends. The three of us all have good husbands and marriages and kids.

We have all been through periods when we had more or less money than the others. As much as we are happy for the one who is doing well, there is a teeny little piece of each us that is still 8 yrs old again and wants to scream in our "Outside voice", "Wait not fair! How come she gets a new car and I am still stuck with this smelly 10 yr old Honda!"

But we cant, because we are adults now and we know life is not about a utopian splitting of everything into three equal shares. We all work hard and we all do the very best we can but sometimes shit happens. Its just easier to dump on a sister when you feel like you got the shortest end of the stick. Its not fair. But its the consequence of being family. And your sister hides her 8 yr old self under a pile of self-righteousness. I play the "I will never let my kids watch as much television as yours do" card when my 8 yr old works her way out.

I have been on both sides of this issue, and its far better to be you. This is one of those times when I would just suck it up and change the subject. or do what my sister did when we were 8, and smile devlishly and ask "Jealous?" It shut me up every time.

Sandra said...

I have never been comfortable celebrating my successes and am absolutely one of those women who are guilty of "downplaying" or focusing on the negative so I won't make someone feel bad. I know intellectualy that how happy I am is not related whatsoever to how someone else is doing but I have had more than one friend who is like your sister and so I started to tread carefully. I hear your point loud and clear and wish more people were like you. Unfortunately I don't know that many people who are truely, authentically like you. If I were to talk about our financial success or that I won an award or fit into a certain size dress finally then that would not be well received with many people in my life. I do have some friends that are more mature than that, of course, I am just saying that they are more the exception to the rule.

Unknown said...

um, if she reads your other blog, than she can read this one as well...

metro mama said...

Great post. I've finally stopped downplaying how fab my hubby is.

As for finances--I grew up blue collar. I was poor in my twenties. Now my hubby and I are doing well and I hate it when someone says I'm lucky, when it's all about hard work and good choices.

Love your honesty.

Anonymous said...

rae - I think that we can assume that the sister does not know about *this* blog...

Anonymous said...

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willowtree said...

It doesn't matter if she reads this blog or not, the story is so universal she'd never be able to prove it was about her.

I have exactly the same story with my brother (I'm male) and all the while reading this I kept shaking my head saying "that's us". Downplaying your success won't work, I've tried.

The only choices regarding this type of bullshit are to live with it or live without it. Sadly, after many years of putting up with it, I chose to live without it.