Dear Patti, 

My name is Anna Rose. I’m 15 and live with my mom and my older sister Gina Rae, who’s 17. I think maybe I have post-Christmas blues or something. My sister is always saying that our mom cares more about me than she does her and whenever she says that I feel truly bad for her. I don’t believe it’s really true, I just think I’m the baby and our mother is sometimes more affectionate with me. I like it when mom is loving toward me, but I wish she was more like that with my sister as well.

A week before Christmas my sister said that she wanted to get our mom this really beautiful necklace but she didn’t have enough money and wanted to know if I wanted to go in on it with her. Then, on Christmas Eve, Gina Rae asked if she could have my money as a loan so she could give mom the necklace on her own. I understood that Gina Rae wanted to give something that was just from her, and since she wants to please mom so much, I said OK. I made mom her favorite cookies as my present.

I thought it was OK with me, but now I’m not so sure. I didn’t like it. When mom opened the present, she loved it. The necklace was truly beautiful and looked perfect on her. She wore it the whole day.  All I had to give her was the cookies and they seemed lame. I didn’t say anything but I was angry at my sister even though it really wasn’t her fault. I didn’t have to agree, but ever since Christmas day I’ve been down. 

  — Anna Rose

Dear Anna Rose,   

Holidays often heighten sensitivity of feelings, both positive and negative, but it’s not uncommon to experience a low mood for a period of time after any difficult experience. It was obviously painful to watch your mother feel so joyful over the receiving of her gift, only for you to be left out, especially since you were without any money to buy something else. Normally such a mood will gradually fade away. If it doesn’t, it may signify that there are other issues besides the Christmas incident that are occurring in your family’s dynamics and are truly bothering you such as a type of sibling rivalry, a competition or animosity among siblings — a jealousy or  competitiveness for your mother’s love.

A new study from Purdue University in Indiana suggests those who believe they are their mother’s “favorite child” pay a high price for their preferred status and are consequently at an increased risk of depression. Psychologists recognize this dynamic, dubbing it the Hero syndrome. The Hero child works hard to make the family succeed. The people-pleasing child that always follows through regardless of the personal consequences and what is asked of them.

If these low feelings persist and similar experiences keep happening to you, I recommend talking to a professional family counselor to better understand your own feelings and to obtain a safe place to discuss strategies to help improve your relationships with your family.

Part of growing up is learning how to stay open, loving and compassionate toward others and learn how to still think of and protect yourself. You’re correct; you did not have to say yes to your sister’s request and maybe you could’ve modified the agreement. If a pattern develops and you repeatedly look back on your behavior and wish you hadn’t been so giving, to the detriment of you and your feelings, then you may need to learn to create stronger and more self-protective boundaries.

Having said that, it was truly a sweet and loving gesture you did. You were perceptive and very caring to try to  understand your sister’s need to do what she could to express her love and get closer to her mom. You supported their relationship and helped both your sister and your mom experience being closer. I think it was you after all, who gave the best Christmas present.  


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.