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Sibling Rivalry: Why My Husband Is Jan Brady
Okay, so my husband (Hubby, to those of you familiar with my hubs) is not the middle daughter of a blended family. He does not wear miniskirts. Heck, he's not even blonde. But recent events have caused me to see some disturbing parallels with that misunderstood, undervalued, and chronicallly frustrated member of the Brady Bunch: Jan.
If Jan Brady is too much of a stretch for you, go with Linus, the bossed around but worldly wise younger brother of Lucy in the Peanuts cartoons.
Or, for you Bible enthusiasts, please reference Luke 15:13-32 (see sidebar, below).
Basically, the phenomenon I'm describing here is sibling rivalry. It's the tale of a son who's dutiful and a daughter who's beautiful. Well, not so much beautiful as narcissistic.
Why does SHE get all the credit???
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
Now we all know Jan Brady's no saint. She's just an ordinary girl living in the shadow of her self-absorbed older sister, Marcia. Jan does come up with some good ideas from time to time. Usually she is not given credit for them. On a daily basis, she gets beaten down by comparisons (most real, some imagined) to Marcia. All poor Jan wants is some attention. To be acknowledged for who she is and her contribution to the Brady family.
Here's where Jan's story differs from Hubby's. Jan is one of 6 Brady kids. Hubby is "competing" with only one sibling, his older sister. For the sake of argument, we will call her Marcia.
[Side Note: The middle sister, whose name really was Jan, died in 2000. I hear time and time again that "If Jan were here she wouldn't tolerate this crap for one minute."]
Parable of the Prodigal Son
You don't have to be Christian to be familiar with this classic story of seeming parental favoritism.
Luke 15:11-32 (New International Version)
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son" But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found"
So they began to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
"'My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"
Do the right thing vs. do your own thing
Now, we're talking about siblings who are grown adults. Siblings who have been through marriage, divorce, the death of their sister, dating, job loss, heartbreak, and in Hubby's case, remarriage. We're talking about two siblings who a year ago set themselves up, together, as legally in charge of their parents' decision-making and finances.
And here's where it gets [fill in appropriate adjective here]. Here's where the older sister and her "baby brother" (as she is still wont to call him, much to his chagrin) do not see eye to eye.
If I were writing this as a series of Brady Bunch episodes I might use descriptions like these:
Episode # 10: An elderly Mike Brady has surgery. He is confused and agitated. Frantic to gain control of the situation, Marcia manages to alienate the entire medical staff with her barked orders and general hysteria. Jan goes to the hospital later and smooth things out with the doctor and nurses. She heads home to report the latest news to Marcia and Mom Carol. Marcia first refuses to let Jan in, then physically attacks Jan with her hairbrush and Lee Press-on Nails, then claims Jan started the fight. Carol, naturally, takes Marcia's side.
Episode #34: Mike Brady is now seriously ill but wants to die in the beautiful Brady Bunch house he designed. (Who wouldn't?) Marcia goes on a class trip but promises to come home within 24 hours if she is needed. Jan and Carol try repeatedly to convince Marcia, "This is it, honey. Dad needs you here NOW." Alas, Marcia is having such a great time she forgets about her promise. She arrives home several hours after Mike's body is removed from the house. Carol is too distraught to think, so has entrusted all the details of Mike's hospice care, cremation and funeral to Jan. Without Marcia telling her what to do or how to do it, Jan does a beautiful job.
Episode #48: Carol, now a widow, wants nothing more than to sit in her house and watch the SF Giants, a little PGA golf and Wheel of Fortune. She is adament she does NOT want to go into a retirement home of any sort. But Marcia knows best. Marcia tells Jan her plan to convince Carol she's better off in a local place called Marvin Gardens. Jan, meanwhile, wants to uphold Carol's wishes. Marcia enlists the support of Little Cindy -- who of course sides with her. But Carol and Jan stand strong.
Episode #49: In a freak turn of events, it turns out the Brady house is actually owned by a church. And the church needs it back to house their new minister! Marcia tries once again to sell Carol on Marvin Gardens. Carol refuses. Jan (actually, Jan's wife, MM) goes to work finding Carol a new house. Miraculously, a beautiful California ranch with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances and fruit trees in the yard comes open right around the corner. True, it lacks the steep pitched roof, cool open staircase or groovy '70s orange and brown kitchen. It's still a find. Carol beats out the other candidates and gets the house! Goooo Carol!!!
Episode #50: Jan and MM handle all the details, from signing the lease to getting the house cleaned to Carol's standards before move-in. They transfer all the utilities. They arrange for the movers and even negotiate with the church to buy Carol's refrigerator. Now one might expect Marcia to pout or sulk because she didn't get her way. But that is not Marcia's MO. Marcia is insidious. She wages a campaign of doubt and fear. She plants seeds of worry in Carol's head about the new house. Right before the big move, Carol has a meltdown and wails, "Maybe I should just go into a home after all."Then she says, "I'm afraid to be there alone." Needless to say, Marcia has flip-flopped from wanting to put Carol in a retirement home to worming her way in to live with Carol in the new house. Hmmm. How convenient.
Episode #51: Carol's big move is set. It's two days prior. Marcia, who has been living with Carol for several months (rent free, of course), is supposed to be in charge of packing. Jan and MM go over and find the house is maybe 1/4 packed. Since Jan supplied dozens of boxes 2 weeks ago, she is obviously concerned at the lack of progress. She calls Marcia and asks to know her plan to get the rest of the house finished packing. Jan suggests it would be easier to hire the movers to put things in boxes. But Marcia flat out refuses. "That is NOT how I want it done!" She hangs up on Jan for the first of three times that day.
Episode #52: In the midst of the moving madness, Jan discovers an envelope on the dining room table. It is payment for the cleaning lady, Natasha. Why is Marcia having the cleaning lady come in the middle of the packing/moving instead of after the move is complete? Apparently today is Natasha's regular cleaning day, and if they don't let her come, they will "lose her." So Carol is spending $100 to have a maid come and "do what she can" around the packing boxes and dust. Yet Marcia has made no plan to have a post-move-out cleaning done. Why? Because Natasha is not available any day next week! Oh well. It's only money. Carol's money. Certainly an old lady like Carol can afford an extra $100 to semi-clean a residence she is vacating!
Backstory to Episodes 51 and 52: Since Marcia moved in with Carol, Jan gets the same call every day. "She's bossing me around." "She's moving my things." "She says she's going to be here at 3 but doesn't come till 5." Since Marcia moved in Carol's mood has gone from gray to black. Jan has a hard time understanding why her mother puts up with it. Why doesn't she tell Marcia she doesn't want her living there? It's not like Marcia doesn't have other options.
Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
- Siblings Without Rivalry
If Sibling Rivalry is Making You a NERVOUS WRECK, You Really Can Stop The Endless Bickering, Battling and Fighting Between Your Siblings Once And For All - And I'll Show You Exactly How To Do It!
- SIBLING RIVALRY
The causes, consequences, and solutions to the multiple social, psychological and family problems caused by sibling rivalry.
What about MEEEE???
Any of these situations in and of themselves would be no big deal. It's not even the cumulative effect that makes them so egregious. It's the accompanying attitudes -- both Marcia's and Carol's.
You see, Miss Marcia is a delegator. The consummate delegator. She is used to ordering a staff around. But this is a family, not a department. Jan might even be willing to execute Marcia's plans -- if only they made sense or were rationale or positive. Instead, Jan sees a series of poor judgments being made. She sees a daughter acting like a martyr, demanding full credit for doing only the smallest amount of work. She sees a daughter who conveniently disappears on vacation when any hard work needs to be done. And she tries, in vain, to point this out to Carol.
As for Carol, all she wants is peace in the family. She is like that father in the Bible story. She loves both her children. No doubt she sees that Jan is going above and beyond for her. No doubt she appreciates it. But the reality is that Jan/Hubby is that son who stayed behind and did all the right things. He does not demand sympathy for every minor ache and pain. He does not live in a fantasyland. He does not operate with a "Look at me, I'm such a long-suffering martyr" attitude. Nope. He methodically gets the job done -- while Marcia basks in the glory.
This looks about right
Moral of the Story
Writing this has taken a lot of the anger out of it. I know intellectually and emotionally that "it is what it is." I can't change how people are or how they react to things. I can only change how I react to them.
Hubby often says his sister has no "honor." I get that. But because he does, he can't simply throw his hands up and walk away. He is honor-bound to his dad to take care of his mom. He is honor-bound to his mom to fight for what she tells us she wants. Which, unfortunately, means he ends up fighting with his sister.
Now Mom has her own reasons for not being able to stand up to Marcia. She has her own reasons for defending Marcia's indefensible behavior. Maybe it's denial or self-protection on her part. It must feel awful to have a child who is that selfish.
I've come to realize that the father in the Bible story is right. Parents are hard-wired to love their children. No matter what a child does -- or doesn't do -- a parent's love is unconditional. This much I know from my own experience.
Still, I can't help but wonder if things really would be different if the real "Jan" of the family was here with us. I do know this: Wherever her spirit is, Big Jan is extremely proud of her not-so-baby brother and namesake, Jan Brady.
As am I.
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