Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: Should I keep my unexpected pregnancy?

In this week’s podcast, Viv discusses a spoilt sister, a family divided by the EU referendum, and an unexpected pregnancy

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

I have a younger sister and I love her dearly. She's been spoilt (partly my fault) so she has many qualities of a spoilt child. However recently I feel like she's always trying to get one up on me. Making me feel stupid or undermine me in front of others and it's really getting me down.

Personally I'd like to just stop talking to her but I've been advised that isn't a mature approach, especially since we’re both in our 30s.

Any advice?

Ah dearest undermined sister! I hope my sister is listening to this. Only joking, I love my sister. But I think anyone with a sister will identify with what you are saying. These things happen. They’re awkward and they’re infuriating.

I’m going to suggest you read a book -- They F*** You Up by the psychotherapist Oliver James. It’s all about family dynamics and the roles that we play in our families. In short, I think that in adulthood you’ve become trapped in the roles that you were cast in as part of your family drama. Every family as its own narrative: the victim, the bully, the one who undermines everyone else, the clever one, the sporty one, the greedy one, the one who always talks back, the one who does as their told, the one who does everything just to be different from everyone else... Anyone who has kids will see this clearly. And anyone with self-awareness will be able to see it in their own childhood.

The fact is, you’re allowing yourself to continue in this role when the curtain went down on the play a long time ago. If your sister wants to continue to mouth the lines in the script, that’s fine. But that’s her choice. You do not have to play long. Your sister cannot make you feel stupid. Only you can allow her to make you feel stupid. Stop allowing it. She may not change her behaviour but you can change yours simply by thinking: “My sister always says these things. But they don’t make me feel stupid anymore because I know I am not stupid.”

This is why families are weird at Christmas. Having not seen each other for months on end and lived lives as perfectly normal adults, they get together at Christmas and revert into the tragic roles of their childhood: the one who always argues, the one who always sleeps in late, the one who has to have the last word. But we don’t ever have to be any of those people. The next time you turn up in a family gathering and your sister is there, resolve to choose your behaviour and resolve to behave like a stranger in your own family, just as an experiment. Don’t rise to any of the bait. Shrug off any undermining comments. Change the subject. Do something you wouldn’t usually do -- like, cook the meal if you wouldn’t usually cook the meal. Or refuse to cook the meal if you’re always the one who does it.

We don’t have much choice in childhood who we get cast as in our family drama. But as adults we get to play whatever role we like. We just have to remember who the scriptwriter is. Good luck.

Dear Viv,

I want to know about what you do when half your family is divided over Brexit. I'm a remainer and I really can't look at the leavers in the eye. I can't bear their smug "calm down dear" posts on Facebook and have had to hide their profiles. Thing is, I will see them soon at a family event. How do I stop myself from bringing it up (I feel so strongly I won't be able to stop myself).

Ah, this is coming up a lot on Dear Viv at the moment and quite right as it is the topic du jour. Whilst we are still allowed to say the words “du jour”, I will say them. I’m glad you’ve written in because you raise a question that will be helpful to others. But I also don’t think you need my advice: you’re already doing the right thing. Hide their profiles, ignore, rise above it and practise what you will talk about instead at the family event. Life is too short to argue with your own family about things that you will never agree on. Prepare yourself for every eventuality. If you really feel utterly riled about it, write your responses on cue cards and keep them in your pocket to read in the toilet. “I’d love to talk to you about this but I know we’ll disagree so let’s go and attack the vol-au-vent tray instead.” The point in these situations is to get what you want out of it and it sounds to me as if you want peace of mind. You know you will not persuade your Leaver family members so it is best to leave them to their views and let them leave you to yours. On the other hand, you could learn the Marseillaise and declaim it whilst removing all your clothes. The choice is yours.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Hi Viv,

Apologies if this is fairly confused - I'm not entirely in the right frame of mind for anything right now. Thought you, or one of your readers (listeners?), may be able to help.

Despite apparently being a responsible adult, I've managed to get pregnant at 23. I've only been with my (slightly older) boyfriend for just over a year and we definitely wouldn't have planned this any time soon! He actually said he didn't think he wanted children about a week before I found out I was already pregnant, despite being great with friends’ children. Great timing, I know. We're both terrified but he is now absolutely certain that he wants an abortion and says he'd be off if I keep the baby. He's in the Army, so transfers to Scotland have been raised. After the fights we've had over this, I think he probably will be off either way, whether he wants to be or not. I, however, have somehow managed to get quite attached to this little pea sized alien blob. Think it's probably hormones that are creating the ideas about using maternity leave to learn coding then going and getting a job in a flexible, work from home, type of start-up as in my head this currently seems realistic. To be fair, it's not far off what I wanted to do anyway, with the addition of a tiny tyrant.

So, the situation as I see it is:

If I keep this baby I'm almost certainly raising it alone. That will be very difficult. Probably more difficult than I even imagine.

I'm only 3 years into my career. This is very unlikely to be good for that (although I'm not expecting it to go anywhere in the next two years anyway after a discussion on progression with my manager).

I own my own home (mortgaged) and could definitely afford this baby with boyfriend, and just about afford it without. I don't want to force him to pay child support if he doesn't want the baby. Or me. I also have a good degree in engineering and a job that is in high demand.

My parents can afford to support me if I needed it. I really really do not want to rely on them for that, especially as they're already going to be disappointed in me for getting in to this situation. Fair enough - I'm disappointed in me too.

Put simply, I haven't got a clue what to do.

Sorry to offload on you - I am trying to get counselling on this decision but unfortunately live in the Midlands where you'd find a unicorn more easily than pregnancy counselling! One of my best friends is in a different country this year and the other said several months ago she'd phase me out if I had a baby after I said if I got pregnant I thought I'd keep it, so I can't ask them.

Any advice for someone considering whether to screw up their entire life for a blob with a heartbeat?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

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