The relationship between my father and my sister has seriously deteriorated. No physical altercations, but all their interactions, even the ones that should be straightforward and mundane, just leave them both feeling hurt and angry and misunderstood. To the extent that blame matters, I think it’s more his fault than hers because a) he’s the parent and he therefore has the larger responsibility to control his emotions and think of his daughter’s wellbeing over his own and b) he is just naturally overall inattentive to and unappreciative of the basic emotional labor required to make relationships work. E.g., she knows (we both know) what he’s struggling with, what he’s worried about, quirks and favorite things, whereas he has barely any idea of what interests her and consistently fails to pay her the simple courtesy of listening at least 60% of the time when she’s talking.
He’s probably not going to change. He’s definitely not going to change enough. But my sister is hurting, and since I left for college, I feel like the only thing I can do for her is give her a hug and maybe a place to stay for a few days if she wants to get away from it all. Is there anything else I can do for her? Some word of wisdom that will help her not to feel so attacked and alone in her own home?
If there’s anything I’m not doing, please tell me. I just want her not to have to cry every time he talks to her.
It sucks to leave a younger sibling behind when you know things are dysfunctional at home. I’m sorry for both you and your sister.
The good news is that you’re close to the truth. You say your father is probably not going to change, and that he’s definitely not going to change enough. That means you’re only one step away from what you and your sister will both eventually have to accept: Your father is never going to be the kind of parent that you need him to be. Ever.
You’ve got some distance and a little perspective. That truth will be easier for you to process than it will be for your sister. The best thing you can do for her is help her understand that truth, because the closer she can come to accepting your father’s limitations, the better off she’ll be.
Right now, she’s in a cycle where if she can’t get your father’s love and approval, she’ll provoke his anger instead, because that means at least she still gets his attention. It’s incredibly painful, and it’s causing her serious emotional damage, but his rage still hurts her less than his indifference, so she’ll take it. She probably doesn’t even realize that’s what she’s doing.
Help her see that. Help her come to terms with his indifference. Help her accept the fact that he is never going to be the kind of father that she needs him to be, and perhaps most importantly, help her know that none of it is her fault.