Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m concerned about my younger sister, Tina. She’s a junior in high school and is a quiet, disciplined, studious student, the kind of child any normal parent would want. The problem is that our mother isn’t a normal mother – she’s an outgoing, fun-loving, partying lady! Life with her wasn’t easy for me growing up, but I figured out that if I stayed in my room and read a lot, she’d leave me alone. Occasionally we’d fight, but usually ended up agreeing to disagree and moved past things. Tina doesn’t seem to be managing as well. When she tries to stand up to Mom, she sort of melts and gives in. What concerns me is that Mom thinks Tina is letting life pass her by, so is encouraging her to attend parties where alcohol is served, go out with wild guys, things like that, all in the name of having fun. And even though Mom loves to party, when she is serious, she can be pretty forceful in her demands. Tina was initially uncomfortable with Mom’s suggestions, but lately she seems tempted by the open door of freedom. How can I help Tina not make a terrible mistake? Signed: Worried Sister in Seattle
Dear Worried Sister in Seattle: This is an interesting dilemma that appears to be a dance between you, your mother, and your younger sister. You don’t mention how much older you are than Tina, if you still live at home, or what your current relationship is with you mother, so I’ll make some guesses that I hope will be on target. But let’s start with a few assumptions regarding your primary elemental personalities.
The easy one is your Mother. The way you describe her makes it clear that she’s a primary Fire personality. Partying, fun, attention, things like that are often the hallmarks of the Fire personality. The fact that you’re concerned about Tina and are advocating for her suggests that you probably have a primary Wood personality. Wood people stick up for the underdog every chance they get. They can also quibble with other Wood people and end up agreeing to disagree, as you say. That is a very common way for Wood people to save face and both get to be “right.” This makes me think that while your Mother is clearly a primary Fire personality, she probably has Wood as her secondary personality. That would definitely make her a force to be reckoned with at times.
We usually say that two Woods in a relationship need to establish who gets to be the boss for the relationship to be stable, but in the case of a Wood daughter and a secondary Wood mother, that won’t have been a question: The mom gets to lead. However, your trick of disappearing into your room to read is something a Water personality would do, so it seems likely that you are a secondary Water personality. In the Five Elements model, Fire and Water relate on the Controlling Cycle, with Water putting out Fire. That would certainly have been a successful approach to managing life with your Fire mother. It would have been especially important because Wood and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, with Fire consuming Wood, so her Fire would probably have felt threatening to you at times. But by going into your secondary Water personality, you could control the effect her Fire had on your Wood. Well done!
But you’ve written about Tina, so let’s get back to her. Based on your description of your sister as a “quiet, disciplined, studious student” who was initially uncomfortable with your mother’s various suggestions of ways she could “have fun,” I suspect Tina is a primary Metal personality. Metal people are definitely disciplined, very studious (they usually love history), and often keep to themselves which makes them appear quiet. They are, in truth, the exact elemental personality that Fires most often believe need to “loosen up.” And Fire people are the ones to do it, too, because Fire and Metal relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model with Fire melting (loosening up) Metal.
The fact that Tina has lately become tempted by the ongoing demands that she party indicates to me that your mom’s Fire personality has loosened Tina up, probably so much so that she is losing her Metal structure. And because Fire people usually have weak boundaries (in nature fire isn’t physical, it is really just heat made visible), in the rush of enthusiasm your Fire personality mom has for the fun of life, it’s possible she’s missed the inappropriateness of some of her suggestions to Tina. But luckily, Tina has you for a big sister and there are several ways you will be able to help her.
If you currently have a good relationship with your mom, I suggest you have a quiet and private talk with her, Wood person to Wood person. The quiet and private part will sidestep her Fire energy and ensure you are both on the same page. Also, your mom should know herself well enough to realize that the Fire part of her personality gets out of control now and then. Her secondary Wood personality will hate that (chaos takes Wood down), so should appreciate you helping her see that the situation with Tina could be heading into undesirable territory.
If you can engage your mom’s Wood energy in the discussion, it should all go well. But if she moves into her Fire, either because she is lobbying for fun or panicking about Tina, step into your secondary Water personality to manage her. Staying calm and even a bit playful with your mom will help. However, I’m counting on your mom’s Wood stepping up and realizing the potential danger to Tina in what she has suggested and make the necessary changes.
You can also have a talk with Tina. As a primary Metal personality, she will value control. If you can gently point out how out of control some of the possible situations might become when dating “wild” guys or even going to “wild” parties, Tina will probably think twice. You can also count on Tina’s Metal energy to appreciate what’s “right” and follow the rules, which will help keep her away from parties where alcohol is being served to underage students. Breaking the law isn’t something Metals would ever do lightly.
You are the perfect person to intervene gently on Tina’s behalf, and Tina is very fortunate to have you as her sister. Tread lightly when you discuss the issue with your mother because the Wood part of her personality won’t want to be “wrong.” Then honor your mom’s Fire appreciation of fun by suggesting a few safe and legal ways to interject “fun” into Tina’s life like holiday shopping, ice skating, movies, even historical or architectural tours. While not screaming fun in the eyes of a Fire personality, I promise you these will indeed be fun for Tina as a Metal personality. In truth, too much wild Fire fun really won’t be fun for Tina at all. Blessings to you for being such a great big sister!