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..."