Someone decided that the first Sunday of August is National Sisters Day, which means that in a few days social media will be filled with nostalgic and emotional portraits of the unique and special relationship that exists between sisters. But it’s not all love and hearts in the sister—or even sibling—world.
What about all of those women out there whose sisters drive them crazy? As near as I can tell, there are more sisters who drive each other crazy—at least some of the time—than there are sisters who share the unconditional love portrayed in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
You know the drill. My younger sister is so spoiled…she’s always been the baby and gotten special treatment…my older sister is so bossy…she’s always late…why do I always have to plan our family events?…her kids are undisciplined…her kids are spoiled brats. Every family holiday and every family discussion becomes fodder to prove how horrible “she” is and how Mom and Dad always treated her better.
I am a sibling on one of those points of a three-sibling triangle of diversity, and it isn’t easy. Having spent years playing the simmering-resentment game, I believe there definitely is a better way—learning to truly love your differences.
Since I and my siblings are all involved in the family business, we have been fortunate to have been through a whole lot of coaching about family dynamics. My two siblings and I (one sister, one brother) are as far apart on the three points of a triangle as anyone could imagine. And through the years, there certainly have been tense times among us as we relied on one another not just for family functions but business ones, too. Under that microscope, the differences in our skill-sets are magnified.
For example, my brother is a super-smart analyst, but his attention to detail can sometimes get in the way of efficient project management. My sister is a brilliant, thoughtful editor but also somewhat conservative when it comes to change. I am the operational woman of action, and I don’t always have the patience to dig deeply into all details. It took a whole bunch of years and a whole bunch of consultants to teach us two very important things…
- Know Who We Are…And Who We Are Not: Most people are unaware or in denial of their true strengths and weaknesses. Either way, they go merrily along stepping on toes, hurting people and “breaking” things, totally oblivious to the carnage left in their wake. After personality-profile tests and a great deal of feedback, my siblings and I came to understand all aspects of our abilities. That meant we had to either overcome our identified weaknesses or take feedback when we drifted into them and accidentally stepped on another sibling. A simple example: If one of us habitually disrespects time and is consistently late, then he/she has to change the behavior or accept the consequences of being late. Those consequences might be that dinner starts on time without him/her or that others leave for appointments without waiting for him/her.
(Bottom Line actually published an article about this lack of self-awareness recently with Dr. Roger Flax.)
- Be Grateful for the Complement: I also learned that there are aspects about my siblings that are amazing and are actually perfect complements to my own talents. I am decisive, but my sister’s thoughtfulness often protects me from making rash decisions. My brother’s deep-dive into the details often counters my desire for action, but his research may unmask a hidden opportunity or even a threat. I have learned to stop getting angry about their traits that don’t perfectly sync with mine. Examples: I used to say that I couldn’t trust my sister to be on time, but the fact is that I can totally trust her…to generally be late. No need to be angry. Just don’t expect promptness from her. It’s not her thing, as well-intentioned as she is. (Of course, there are many things that she is amazing at, but this blog is about dealing with the annoying aspects of sisters…so sorry, Margie.)
My own daughters are their own versions of polar opposites—one is intense and competitive…the other one is intense and more free-spirited. Growing up, they constantly battled about which of them got special treatment and who was not treated fairly. However, with one out of college and the other halfway through, they are finally learning to learn from each other’s strengths. My older daughter, Callie, recently admitted that she really enjoyed being with her sister, Jackie, who was the easiest and most relaxed houseguest ever. Woo hoo!!
With nonfamily relationships, there always is the easy option of separating from someone who does not fit into your life anymore—perhaps because you have different interests, different lifestyles or different values. But unlike friends, you don’t have a choice of unfriending a sister. Sure, there are extreme cases, but overall, there really is no other relationship in the world like that of sisters (and brothers), and in the end, you are a vital part of one another’s cycle of life.
If you’re one of those rare lucky people who gets along perfectly with your sister, cherish it. If you’re like most of the world, it is an amazing gift to realize that the differences between you and your sister are simply differences. No need to be angry or “judge-y” about them. Your siblings round out your world.
I count my blessings each day for the freedom of knowing that my sister (and brother) are there to help where I fall short. Thank goodness.