We often hear how much our parents shape us, but the ways our siblings relate to and influence us can be just as profound.
For years, I’d felt guilt, sadness, and a longing to be close to my older sister, but our relationship was shadowed by deep, unresolved dynamics from our childhood. She kept me at arms’ length, only talking to me when necessary, and I felt badly every time I thought about reaching out to her.
I knew the first step was to examine and take responsibility for my part in the rift. I didn’t need to relive each painful episode, but I needed to understand the general dynamic and recognize my contributions to it.
So, I wrote my sister a letter describing my lifelong desire for acceptance, inclusion, and closeness with her. I apologized for being a competitive brat, always trying to best her and push my way into her circle of friends. I used to shoot her disapproving looks and say sharp, mean things when I felt excluded or when I couldn’t keep up with her and her friends. In many ways, I was the favored child when we were young. I hurt her feelings then, and I think the legacy of that old favoritism lingers today.
Whether or not she actually meant it, growing up, I “heard” from my sister: “You are not worth including and no one wants to be around you.” Also, though it’s not true, she “heard” from me: “You are not as good or as smart as I am.”
We each also got cast by our mom’s shadow. Our mother said that my sister was the “social” one and I was the “intelligent” one. We learned not to compete in the other’s “realm” so much that my sister grew up thinking she was stupid, and I grew up thinking I had no social skills. As adults, we looked deeper and recognized that our mom’s labels were more about her issues than any lack or gift of ours.
Now as I think of my sister, I celebrate her intelligence, sense of humor, strength, and generous spirit. She is the best joke teller, and no one else sings the April Fool’s Song with me on April 1st, or shares with me our early family memories. She will always be the only one I went through mumps with and the only other one who got bad haircuts from our mom. She’s so dear to me, and I’m proud to be her little sister!
I think of my younger self, who used every trick in the book not to be left behind, and who had plenty of social skills, but didn’t use them in the nicest way. I see that now in my adult life and being a parent myself, I learned better ways to behave and love. Whether or not my sister is ready to shift from her conditioning, I have the power to shift my attitude, now.
Focusing on how much I love my sister now feels much better than focusing on the rift or what anyone did to cause it! As I bask in appreciation and love, I feel much closer to my sister and to my own essence. My heart is full of love for myself and for her – and I wouldn’t be surprised if she feels it too. My goal is to live more in that attitude of appreciation. That feels like healing and I can deepen that groove!
So, here’s to my sister and to sisters and brothers, and parents everywhere! We are each other’s touchstones and healers, mirrors and accelerators of growth.
Image Credit: Paul Bacon Jr.