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Ask Ellie: Parents have duty to tell kids uncomfortable truths

It's a parent's job to help kids face some grim realities with strength and understanding

Dear Ellie: My father’s first wife committed suicide at home on Mother’s Day in the mid-1950s. She left children ages three, four and five, and a young husband. It deeply impacted all of them and created ongoing trauma to the third generation.

My dad met my mom a year after, married her, and I was born nine months later. I always considered my three older siblings as my brother and sisters.

They were too young to understand what happened. My parents decided to not tell the children what happened to their mother, but they learned that news in the schoolyard. My sisters were devastated.

The younger one took it personally and made life difficult for my mom. When I was seven, mom had a son. That changed everything in my life.

Before, mom was the only family member who could spend time with me. So, I soon learned how to be independent. I was still in public school when the three older kids left for post-secondary school. My older brother got a job out west and left, rarely returning over the past 45 years.

My two older sisters also moved west so I felt I never had a chance to get to know them. Being so much younger, the kids never wanted to be with me and I understood that. But I hoped we’d be reunited as adults. I still looked up to my older siblings.

Over years/decades they’d periodically return but I understood they had many friends and family to see.

Recently, I learned that the youngest sister secretly harboured ill will toward my younger brother and me.

She saw us as the “second family,” they were the “first.” It was a shock that took time to sink in, devastating to understand that the childhood and family I always thought I had, was a fairy tale.

Our father died in March and she and I were at his bedside. For the first time, I sensed the dislike from her.

Yet, I still want my family, and my siblings to accept me as one of them. I don’t know why I can’t accept that it’s never going to happen. I need to move on.

Other than seeking help for my own mental comfort, is there any way I can reach out to my sister? She simply denies anything has ever been wrong.

But mom says there’s some form of mental illness and other suicides in that family line. Maybe she’ll never accept us. Any advice?

Lonely Sibling

Your deeply-touching story painted the picture of an innocent youngster longing to be accepted by siblings who rejected you for unknown reasons during all those lonely formative and later years.

Their own experience was also grim — three youngsters experiencing shame and horror when schoolyard bullies revealed that their birth mother had committed suicide, doubtless perceived as her having abandoned them.

All of you were adrift in your two different realities, and all have experienced enduring psychological pain.

You couldn’t have known that what you still saw as one family, was long ago dismissed by the others as two.

Unfortunately, your sister’s unlikely to accept your version of truth. IF you have the inner strength to reach out anyway, and accept that she might brush you off, you may feel it necessary to try one last time.

However, you’ve just acknowledged here that you “need to move on.” Work on that wise choice. And, bolster it with counselling if still needed.

Dear Ellie: My friend is moving in with a man whose family hates her. I know this because my cousin is close friends with his relatives. They think she’s after his money. It’s ridiculous because my friend is openly in love, has a very good job, and has lived at a very comfortable level on her own for years.

How can I help her find a way to dispel the very nasty rumours these relatives of his are spreading?

So Unfair!

You’re a caring friend but need to back off, or you’ll unintentionally widen the gossip circle. It’s her loving partner’s task to convince his family that they’re wrong. If they persist, he should alert them to the legal fact of their spreading “slander,” which can be defined as “making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.” A lawyer’s letter to those people involved in this nastiness should cause them to back off.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Parents have a duty to tell children even uncomfortable truths, helping them face reality with strength and understanding.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.