Ask anybody and they will tell you that there are people on the branches of their family tree exactly like my Aunt Gloria. No children, loveless marriage, obsessed with her dog, martini drinker, snobbishly passionate about art, ballet, and orchestra, and unable (or unwilling) to relate to anyone under the age of 16.
Until I reached early adulthood, I never quite knew if my Aunt Gloria realized I existed. Technically my great-aunt, (my grandfather's sister), she and her husband George were a permanent fixture at holiday dinners. After planting the obligatory welcome kiss on my cheek (which I always tried to wipe off without her seeing), she only had eyes for one — just one — of my parent's three children….my older sister Bev.
Something about my sister's personality captivated Aunt Gloria, and as a result, Bev became the lucky recipient of her attention. At the time, I told myself it didn't matter, that my aunt was old and snobby and crabby and that I didn't want to talk to her anyway.
My brother Steven, six years my junior, didn't seem to care. But to me, it really did matter….It mattered a lot.
She liked Bev better than me, and, not understanding why, in the mind of a painfully shy preteen girl….I came to the only rational conclusion I could at the time…..I must not be good enough.
Adults should know better
As an adult, I can now look back and not fault my sister at all for being on the receiving end of my aunt's affection. And in fact, in the waning years of her life, I reconnected with Gloria, and I feel blessed that, before she passed away, she had the chance to meet my 5-year old daughter Melissa (now 15).
Gloria treated my sister different than me because quite simply, she is different from me, just as all siblings have those remarkable, unique characteristics that set them apart. As adults, we develop a deep love for our siblings, and celebrate our differences, as I have certainly done with both my brother and sister. But as children, in most families, sibling rivalries abound, leading to jealousy and hurt only made worse when an adult who should know better showers one sibling with more love than another. Like my Aunt Gloria.
Fortunately, as a mother, I have not had to cope with the pain of witnessing my own daughter suffer this kind of emotional confusion when adults favor one sibling over another. I inherited my beautiful step-daughter Jessica when she was in the throes of her teen years. However, by the time her sister Melissa came along, Jessica had entered young adulthood, living a life of her own. My daughters, though so incredibly close, never lived under the same roof, and the two decade span between them keeps them immune from typical sibling battles.
Not so for my dear friend Angelica's sons Chris, 16 and Brandon, 13. Incredibly close in age and with each other, they could not be more different in personality. Recently, they told me about a negative experience that brought back memories of my own childhood, and my Aunt Gloria.
Don't change who you are
In response, I gave Chris words of support that I wish someone had shared with me. I told him, "Brandon is awesome because he's Brandon. You are awesome because you are you, and don't ever change who you are because the people that come into your life who matter will love you for who you are."
Indeed, I speak from experience. I have long since grown out of my painful shyness, yet the fundamental personality traits that were inherent in that preteen girl who sat ignored by her aunt at family dinners are still very much a part of me. Thankfully, my wonderful husband Bob accepts all of those traits. He loves me for who I am.
So to my beautiful, talented Melissa who I love with all my heart, and to every child who has ever felt less than wonderful about themselves, I shout from the rooftops, "You are wonderful, you are awesome, don't ever change who you are!"
Lisa Weinstein is a South Jersey mom who blogs about parenting a teen, coping with middle age and celebrating nearly two decades of marriage. This post was adapted from her blog, The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein.