Dear Gayle,

My father died when I was three. My brother and sister were older, and she was Daddy’s Little Girl, so she took it harder when Dad suddenly wasn’t there. Three years later, Mom remarried. “Phil” was a good man, at least that I could see. He worked hard, was a good provider, and even though we didn’t have everything we might have wanted, we had all we needed and then some. Nobody looked deprived.

The problem is my relationship with my sister. She hated Phil, and I never knew why. I asked her once, and she said just that she didn’t like the way he treated Mom. I know he expected dinner to be on the table shortly after he got home from work every day, but beyond that, I saw no demands on her. They had different religions, but she was always free to go to her own church, which she did. She was never kept from her family. She worked part time, but she could always spend money any way she wanted. Phil seemed fair with us kids. He took Mom dancing or somewhere every week.

I was just too young to really remember my father, so Phil seemed like one to me. When Mom got sick later in life, Phil took good care of her at home so she didn’t have to go to a nursing home, which she would have hated. I thought a lot of him for that, but I have to watch myself around my sister now because if I mention Phil, she gets all mad at me and doesn’t speak to me for a long time. I really wonder if the reason she gave me is the real one, or if there’s more to know. Both Mom and Phil are dead now. How can I find out?

— Just Curious

Dear Just,

If you really push your sister, you might frustrate her enough that she will tell you, but it won’t likely be worth it. It could be simply that your sister always felt an especially deep loyalty to the memory of your late father, and no matter whom your mother might have married, that person would never have measured up in your sister’s view. It might also be that she is right. While all seemed okay on the surface, your sister may have been aware of more subtle emotional abuses going on that would be hard now for her to describe. No matter what your sister might tell you, it will be from her point of view alone, and she might be too upset with you to ever speak with you again after she told you. You might do better to just remember Phil in your own way, and allow her hers.

Dear Gayle,

My younger sister doesn’t get away with murder here, but she probably could, she is my mother’s favorite. She steals make-up and jewelry from me, wears my clothes without asking me, and when I tell Mom, she just says something like, “She’s your sister. You should share with her.” I don’t do that to her, but if I did I’d be in trouble. I can’t change Mom, but can I get my sister to stop?

— Born First

Dear First,

If your sister is indeed the favorite, something is the reason. I can think of several possibilities, but I would probably just be opening a can of worms to list them. I do not believe that you can do anything to stop your sister’s behavior, so perhaps you should look at changing your own. Consider entrusting your best things to a trustworthy friend willing to store those more precious items for you. Can you leave make-up in your school locker and go in a few minutes early each day? If you used a locked trunk at home, and your sister complained, your mother would eventually insist that you either leave the trunk unlocked, or share its key with your sister. If you do go with boarding out some of your things, ask your friend to agree that nothing will be said of this arrangement to any of your other friends. That story would get back to your house faster than your belongings ever could.

What is more important here is that your mother’s apparent parenting mistake is causing strains on several relationships, including between you and your sister, you and your mother, and your sister and whomever she winds up with in the future. Odd though it may seem to you, it is you who has the best chance of doing well at the end of your time in that household. Best of luck.

[Write to Gayle at: LV MY TAKE ON IT, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242, or send email to where your anonymity will be maintained in keeping with all current HIPAA standards. Not all letters can be answered, but those that might have broader interest among our readers are more likely to be chosen. If you believe that you have something useful to add to a published response, please send it along; it will be considered.]

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