Dear Family Whisperer,
I'm 13, and during the recent search for colleges, my sister has become very stressed. She has breakdowns on a weekly basis, crying about how she'll never get in anywhere. Because of this, my parents haven't paid any attention to me for over a month. At dinner, they just talk to my sister. They sometimes forget to pick me up from school, even though I'm half a block away. They apologize for forgetting, but I really feel like I don't matter anymore. Any suggestions?
Welcome to family life, Neglected Son! I love your question, because many children feel this way at one time or another. That's because a family is a group of "I's -- individuals -- who are very different from one another and need different things at different times. Everyone should get equal attention -- not just the kids; the adults, too. But sometimes, the balance tips in one person's direction.
Think of it as your family "play." Your sister has the "lead" role and it seems as if all eyes are on her. It's probably not just your parents. Your grandparents, other extended family members and close friends are part of the "audience," too. I wouldn't be surprised if they even ask you, "Has Sis heard anything about college yet?"
You can't change what's happening "on stage" right now, but you can change your role in this drama by admitting how you feel. Sharing emotions is hard -- at any age. Try to be honest. It's unlikely that your parents "haven't paid any attention" to you for the last month. Still, they're probably not as tuned in as they should be.
Parents make mistakes. And then, they say "I'm sorry" by listening. Tell them how you felt the day no one showed up -- scared or angry or hurt, or all of the above, or... annoyed because you feel you're capable of walking home alone. Maybe it's time to reevaluate.
Also try to see the situation from their point of view. Applying for college is very stressful -- not just for your sister, but also for your mom and dad. If they're like most parents I've met, who spend a lot of time and energy helping their kids, it might feel as if they are being judged.
To see through your sister's eyes, imagine how hard it is to try out for something (say, a spot on the debate team) and then have to wait six months for an answer! If she seems overly dramatic, it's because she feels like her future is at stake.
Forgive them. Your sister is not purposely hogging the spotlight; she's just needier now. Your parents didn't "forget" you; they're on overload.
Be part of the solution. Bring a calming presence to the dinner table. You might not know what it's like to apply to college, but you've had disappointments. Even more important, you know your sister. Join in the conversation. If she insists you "don't understand," remind her that she often obsesses about tests and usually gets a good grade because she works hard, not because she worries. If she never studied and now is afraid that she messed up her life, anxiety won't fix that, either.
Want to feel better about your role? Improve your performance. You're more capable than you admit and you'll feel better if you take action, instead of feeling like a victim. Offer to walk to and from school on your own so your parents have one less thing to remember. Help out more without being asked. Suggest a fun "escape" -- a movie or a family outing. Share a silly video you find on the Internet. When your family is under stress, laughter is the best medicine.
Finally, remember that this situation is temporary. Soon enough, the admission letters will start pouring in. Take pictures to capture those family moments. And know that sometime soon, it will be your turn again to take center stage.
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email us at DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured here and on the Huffington Post! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You'll find more in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.