love your sibling, love yourself
A sister can be seen as someone
Who is both ourselves
And very much not ourselves
A special kind of double
Today my little sister turns twenty-four years old. I wanted to write a post about all of the reasons I love her and all of the reasons I think she is an amazing person, but (1) I don't think that would hold many people's attention (other than hers and my parents') and (2) I think I might have to give a few more details of her (and, therefore, my) life than I'd like to and, as you know, I'm still taking tiny steps with this whole "being open" thing. So, today, on this (unfortunately) rainy and gloomy day that is my baby sister's inauguration into her twenty-fifth year of life, I'm going to take a different approach.
Like a lot of people, I both l despise and adore my sister. She can be my best friend (like she was this morning when she was opening her birthday gift and fawning over the art I made her) or my worst enemy (like last night when she knocked on my bedroom door demanding to know why I was slamming doors around the apartment we share). Sometimes, I'll admit, I hate her more than anyone. But, at the same time, no matter what, I love her more than anyone. To quote Pam Brown, "Sisters annoy, interfere, criticize, indulge in monumental sulks, in huffs, in snide remarks. They borrow, break, monopolize the bathroom. They are always underfoot. But if catastrophes should strike, sisters are there, defending you against all." My little sis might drive me nuts, but I know she would be there for me if I needed her.
Like many sisters, we have a very tumultuous relationship. Amid all of the novels in my books-to-read pile are relationship self-help books like My Sister, Myself, Why Can't We Get Along?, and The Sister Knot. If the fact that I've purchased these books is any indication, my sister and I have a very interesting, and sometimes difficult, relationship. And the fact that we live together makes it even more interesting (and challenging). Though I've yet to crack the books on my shelf, I constantly desire to have a closer connection with my sister. I've talked about this in therapy. I've chatted about it with friends. I've spent time writing about it and thinking about it, but I'm not sure how much effort I've really made to change anything. Because she is my sister, because I know she will be there, I think I am content to leave things as they are, even if they are not the way I want them to be. So today I'm giving some serious thought to how I can better my relationship with my sister (and for those of you who don't have sisters, these ideas can work for brothers too...and for those of you who don't have siblings, well...you may have to rework this advice a little to suite a friend or significant other.).
I really believe what Toni Morrison says in the quote above. My sister is a part of me, both very much like me and very much unlike me. Whatever part she is, she is a part of me. And if I cannot get along with that part of me, I am not truly loving my whole self, am I? Okay, that may not necessarily be true. Some people are very separate from their siblings. Some people don't see them or feel emotionally removed from them. Not so with me and my sister. Whether it's out of hate or out of love, we are strongly, emotionally connected. We always will be, which is why we should work to be positively, rather than negatively, connected. Maya Angelou writes: "I don't believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at." I completely agree with that statement. Sisterhood and brotherhood takes work. It is something that comes easily to some, an instant camaraderie that appears the instant the second sibling is born. This was not the case with me and my sister.
Let me give you a little background before I launch into my blind-leading-the-blind advice about sisterly bonding. As a young nearly two-year-old, I'm pretty sure I was envious of my newborn sister. I'm the type of person, even now, that adores the center of attention. I don't strive to put myself in it the way some do, but when I find myself there, I am quite content. Therefore, I was probably not so pleased when I received a little sister, her adorable chubby cheeks and little tiny toes stealing all of my attention.
Growing up, I was not the nicest big sister. I didn't want her to do anything I did. I didn't want her to have anything I had. I was selfish. I would tease her endlessly, mercilessly, until she cried. I would physically attack her, though she had quite a few inches on me. I was, in all honesty, mean. Though we had some great moments, we could have had a lot more if I hadn't been such a little pint-sized little bitch. If I'd been able to share. If I'd been happier with myself and didn't feel the need to put her down. (My therapist insists this wasn't my fault, but, I'm still feeling guilty about it if you couldn't tell...) If I were my sister, I would hate me for the way I treated her in the past. I mean, let's be serious, I hate me when I think about the way I acted back then.
But, as we all know, this blog isn't about the past. It's about the PRESENT. And being positive in this moment, right now. So while I can't go back to the days when I was torturing my sister, I can do this: I can work on being a better sister right now. I can work on strengthening the bond between us and undoing whatever pain I may have caused her. Here are my ideas for building a better relationship with my sister.
5 Ways to Strengthen Sibling Relationships
- Let the past go.
This is a LOT easier said than done (especially if you were the one that was hurt more often in the past), but, as I've said before: the past is over. It's not coming back. That doesn't mean it doesn't affect us or hurt us or cause pain, but it's over. Dwelling on it really doesn't help anything move forward. If you can't let it go, talk it out. Talking about it, getting it out on the table and into the open, might really help the relationship (even if it's painful). Pam Brown says, "Sisters never quite forgive each other for what happened when they were five." That may be true, but siblings can work on forgiveness. Forgiveness, like most worthwhile things, takes work.
- Acknowledge the now.
You are not the person you were when you were a kid. You have changed. She or he has changed. Be aware of that. Last night, post-argument, I wrote in my journal, "If we weren't sisters, would we be better friends? Sadly, I think we would." Try to think about what you are now and try, if you can, to think of your sibling as a friend, not as as a sister or brother. According to Marion Garetty, "A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost." This can be a wonderful thing -- don't lose site of your childhood -- but it can also hinder your current relationship.
- Be open to communication.
Listen to each other and really try to understand what the other wants from you. Maybe one of you wants to be BFF. Maybe the other would rather have very limited contact. Try to find a compromise and, to do this, you have to communicate. Communication is KEY. Last night I was so annoyed when my sister banged on my door because I'd been slamming doors to tell her I was angry without actually having to confront the situation, but I was so proud of her for coming to me, for making the effort to communicate with me. Avoidance is never the answer. Never.
- Leave your parents out.
Your relationship with your sibling should be separate from your relationship with your parents. It is very passive aggressive to tell your mother something about your sister, knowing that your mother will tell your sister so you don't have to. This is not good behavior. Keep your parents out of your relationship with your sibling. This doesn't mean you can't have a relationship with all of them, and you can't function as a unit. It just means this: if you have something to say to your sibling, say it to him or her. Be direct. Don't avoid. And don't use your parents as shields.
- Look for the positive.
I bet you could see this one coming a mile away, but it really is important so I couldn't leave it out. If you've read this far, you obviously want to have a good relationship with your sibling so stop looking at the negative. Stop thinking on and focusing on the things that bother you. Think, instead, of the things you love about them. I'm going to start right now on this one. Here are some things I really love about my sister: she gets so excited about silly things (like Snorks and neon), she calls my little pup "Sweeeeetie," she has the BEST laugh in the whole world, she embraces her title as our apartment's resident Pig Pen, she is fiercely loyal and loving, she calls me out on things that no one else has the nerve to do, she always supports my art and writing, she is the only one in the world who knows where our names are secretly written in our old house.
My sister really is a wonderful person. As many times as I may have wished (or said) I wanted to be an only child when I was growing up, I cannot imagine my life without her. For those of you who don't have a sister or a sibling and can't completely relate to this post, I feel sad. There is something about that bond that is almost indescribable. It is fierce and loyal and honest and secretive all at once. When I think about my life without her, I can be instantly moved to tears. As horrid as I was to her when we were children, I am, and have really always been, so grateful to have my sister. I only hope that as the years go on we are able to mend whatever bonds have been broken. I hope we are able to grow closer and more conscious of each other as people, as the people who we are now. I love you, little sis. Happy birthday.
I want to end this post with my favorite of all the sister quotes I came across as I was scouring the web over the past few days. For those of you who have a sibling, you will know that this quote (by Clara Ortega) truly speaks to the unique relationship formed between siblings: "To the outside world we grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time..."
That was beautifully and honestly written! I also loved the quote at the end. Too bad that the rest of the world doesn't see us as our siblings do...the way we really are. Thanks for sharing that story and happy birthday to your sister! :)
Posted by: Debra Wier | The Metamorphosis Cafe | May 01, 2009 at 10:13 AM
Debra - Thank you! I'm glad that I could share the story and be more open about my relationship with my sister. I wanted to just write a post about all of the reasons that I love her, but then I realized that I could be more open than that. I could share more of myself. And I'm happy I did!
Posted by: positively present | May 01, 2009 at 10:30 AM
OMG...I could write a dissertation on this subject! LOL There are so many things to respond to, so I'll try to keep it brief.
1. My sister and I get along fabulously, and we always have. Same with my younger brother. I love them do death, and if anyone crosses them, I will "eff you up!" ; )
2. My relationship with my older brother is totally different. We have had a very hard time getting along. To put it bluntly, we rub each other the wrong way.
With my brother and I, it has been this way since I can remember. I think he would have been happier being an only child...
The fact that you ACKNOWLEDGE that you were a "pint-sized little bitch" is big. HUGE. I don't think my brother will ever acknowledge how he terrorized all of us, growing up. I'm not sure he will ever take responsibility for why he isn't as close to the rest of us, as we are to each other.
Not bringing your parents into it is so important. However, it's difficult when your parents *cough* mother! *cough* can't help herself and always tries to be a mediator. And it's even more difficult when the 37-year old brother continues to tell his mommy everything -- it's difficult to be the bigger person and refuse to feed into it, and reciprocate the "tattle-taling." (Personally, I think tattle-taling at 37-years old is very, very sad.)
We have come a long way. Right now, there is a truce. I won't say who extended the olive branch (because I want to try to be the bigger person) but for now, we're okay. We can be in the same room and not kill the ambiance. (Not always possible in the past.)
Sorry to go on like this. Not really "brief", was it?
Happy Birthday to your little sister.
Posted by: kirwin | May 01, 2009 at 10:56 AM
This is a beautiful post. I don't have a sister...but I have 2 daughters. My oldest could have wrote this! She is so mean to her little sister...it makes me so sad sometimes. I just don't understand the dynamics of sisterhood. They are still pretty young (9 and 7) but I hope they will bond more someday...they have good moments, but I would love to see more.
Posted by: Caroline | May 01, 2009 at 11:53 AM
Awesome post! I don't have any siblings, but looking at my parent's generation I can see these apply. I think it's so easy to get stuck in the past, especially when it comes to unresolved family drama.
Thanks so much for sharing this. :)
Posted by: Nathalie Lussier | May 01, 2009 at 12:56 PM
Great post, beautifully written, as usual. I have an older sister and brother and yes...I am the "baby" of the family, which I believe is the best of all positions to have. My sister and I are particularly close because she lives nearby and I would have to say she is no doubt by "bestest" friend. Last year I made her a birthday card and enclosed this quote: I smile because you are my sister, I laugh because there is nothing you can do about it!
-- Author Unknown
Happy Weekend, and Happy Birthday to Sis!
P.S. Oh wow, she's a Taurus...lucky girl! :)
Posted by: Lo | May 01, 2009 at 12:56 PM
This is beautiful. I have two sisters and a couple of great girlfriends who might as well be my sisters. I don't know what I would do without them. Even when they are a tremendous headache (which is often) I'm still blessed to have them in my life.
I also remember being WAY too mean to my little sister, in that way that only siblings can be (would anyone else be THAT cruel?) Now she's 32 and has long since forgiven me, and I'm so glad about that.
Happy birthday to your sis!!!
Posted by: Lisis | May 01, 2009 at 02:50 PM
Kirwin - THANK YOU for your comment. That was awesome to read. It's so interesting to see how different families can be. I think there is a totally different dynamic depending on how many siblings there are and what the genders are. Two girls close in age leads to a lot of competition (at least, in my family). I agree that adult tattle-taling is not cool and should be avoided at all costs. It's difficult in my situation because both my sister and I are close with (and live near) our parents and it's hard to separate our relationship from the whole family situation. I hope that someday you can closer with your older brother someday. As I mentioned in my post, these things take work. It would be great if we could all just be close with our siblings but it's never that easy... Thanks for the b-day wishes for my sister! :)
Caroline - I bet my mother can relate a lot to your comment. She had to deal with us constantly fighting all of the time which probably both very annoying and difficult to comprehend. No one really understood why my sister and I just couldn't be friends. (Now I think I understand that I was putting up all of these walls and barriers which were completely unnecessary.) Perhaps when you're daughters are a little older, you can show them this and maybe it will help them to see that they would gain so much more if they tried to get along with one another...
Nathalie - You're welcome! I'm glad that you were able to relate to the post on some level even though you don't have siblings of your own.
Lo - I've heard that quote before. It's a great one. I've always thought being the youngest was the best because your parents had already been broken in by the older sibling(s), which, in my case, was me. That's so wonderful that you and your sister are close! That makes me happy to hear that.
Lisis - Thank you for your comment! It's great to know there's someone out there who was also really mean to her little sister. It's also great to know she has forgiven you for the pain you may have caused her. There is hope for the mean, older sister! :)
Posted by: positively present | May 01, 2009 at 03:31 PM
Hi Dani... A really good post. My problem "was" being far from openness. Well, I was in a University far from them, but it could be better. For the last 3 years, I'm now with them, and better in being open to them all! - yes I have more than one, infinite thanks to God.
Happy birthday to your sister! And I wish both of you achieve ever lasting health, peace and success!
Posted by: Bigrecovery | May 01, 2009 at 07:45 PM
Hello Dani, I saw you featured on The Wisdom Place...kudos!
I have 4 sisters, each unique, each wonderful, so up with sisters!
Posted by: Karen | May 01, 2009 at 09:05 PM
Big Recovery - Thank you for sharing your insights. And thank you for your kind wishes!
Karen - Thank you! :) I was honored to be mentioned on The Wisdom Journal's site. I cannot even imagine having four sisters...sometimes ONE is too much for me to handle. Hahaha.
Posted by: positively present | May 02, 2009 at 01:29 PM
Love the post. Siblings seem to either get along or nurture sibling rivalries. Your thoughtful post reminds people they have a choice and can learn to find joy in every relationship.
Posted by: Liara Covert | May 02, 2009 at 09:29 PM
My sister and I drifted apart for a few years, but now we seem to get closer every year. She is my best friend.
Posted by: Janet Barclay | May 03, 2009 at 06:52 AM
Janet - That's so nice to hear and it gives me hope for my relationship (which is sometimes not so great) with my own sister. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Liara - Thank you for your comments. You're right -- people can choose to find joy in every relationship. It's not always easy, but it IS possible.
Posted by: positively present | May 03, 2009 at 09:15 AM
Oh, I used to HATE my brother. (And we were ATROCIOUS to each other.) Once, I moved away to college though - it was weird - I discovered that I actually liked my brother. Like, as a person having nothing to do with me.
A little space and distance goes a LOOOONG way!
Posted by: Hayden Tompkins | May 03, 2009 at 10:47 PM
Hayden - Yes, I often wonder how my relationship with my sister will be when we no longer live together (which will probably happen this fall). Sometimes space is just the thing to improve a relationship. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Posted by: positively present | May 04, 2009 at 08:09 AM