“We are love
We are one
We are how we treat each other when the day is done
We are peace
We are war
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
-Alternate Routes, Nothing More
I received a call from my eleven-year-old daughter while I was on an anniversary trip with my husband recently. She was upset. Someone was telling her all the things she couldn’t do … bossing her around … restricting her interactions with her little cousins. As a result, my daughter had withdrawn from the fun she was having with her extended family.
In my mind’s eye, I could see her forlorn face. I knew this funk could potentially last awhile if she continued to think of herself as helpless.
“This must feel really frustrating and hurtful,” I acknowledged. “You are not being treated with kindness and respect, and I will deal with that in a moment. But first, there is something you need to know. You are the one who decides whether or not this person will ruin your time with your cousins. You are the one who decides if this person gets to steal your joy. You are the one who decides what you’ll remember about this trip when you reflect back in the future. You can choose to let this person make it a sad time or you can choose to make it a good time.”
A few minutes later, her grandma texted me a picture of a smiling girl. She’d decided no one was going to steal her joy and sabotage her time with her cousins.
I immediately called the person who had caused my younger daughter’s turmoil.
It was my other daughter.
As a first-born, Type-A, ultra-efficient human being, my older daughter tends to mother and take charge of her younger sister.
I could tell by the tone of her voice that she knew she’d overstepped her responsibilities and needed to make amends.
“I would like you to let Grammy be in charge of your sister,” I said specifically. “I would like you to stop using words like ‘you shouldn’t’ and ‘you can’t.’ I would like you to treat your sister as you would treat one of your friends.”
We both knew how kind and thoughtful she is to her friends, so that provided a clear picture and expectation.
When I asked if she had anything she wanted to tell me about the situation, my daughter said no. She said she would apologize to her sister and let Grammy be in charge. When we were reunited a few days later, my mother-in-law reported the rest of the visit went beautifully and everyone had fun.
This news was positive, but I felt it was a good time to revisit the importance of sibling kindness and respect. Although I can rarely get through this story without crying, I reminded my daughters of the profound impact my sister Rebecca had on my life. This is what I said:
“I gained a lot of weight the summer before middle school and got stretch marks. I was ashamed. While my mom and dad worked, Rebecca took me to the neighborhood pool. She never said a word about my body. She only said, ‘I love your bathing suit.’ I remember. It meant everything that she chose to look beyond the unsightly marks.
In high school, Rebecca would wave me over as I walked down the halls. She would introduce her awkward freshman sister to her senior high friends. She was proud of who I was. She believed in me. My sister never told me I was not capable even if she thought there was no way I could make the volleyball team or move up a chair in orchestra.
As an adult, my sister showed me the same support. Knowing how much I loved to write, she was adamant that I should start a blog. I said I didn’t know how. She sent me a book telling me how. She said she would help. My sister kept saying I should and I could until I finally tried. I would not be a published author today had it not been for the unconditional love and encouragement I received from my sister. My life would have turned out differently if my sister had routinely torn me down rather than continually build me up.”
Although our end story is a happy one, my sister and I had to navigate ups and downs in our relationship, like most all siblings do. My sister and I had disagreements. I often took her clothes without asking and she often chose to read books over playing with me. I accidentally made her forehead bleed when we played hide and seek. She conveniently disappeared every time we had to carry wood from Dad’s truck to the backyard. My sister was scholarly. I was athletic. We had different styles, interests, demeanors, personalities, opinions, and dreams.
But despite the discrepancies, there was unity.
Despite the contrasts, there was closeness.
Despite the clashes, there was connection.
Despite the gaps, was an unbreakable bond.
I believe my sister and I have our parents to thank for that. Before positive parenting was even a term, my parents celebrated the differences between my sister and me. My parents did not label us the “smart one” or the “sporty one.” My parents gave us ample space and time to use our voices while encouraging respectful communication. More importantly, my parents modeled respectful communication and treatment to us, each other, and everyone they knew. Hurtful behavior between my sister and me was never okay. We often spent time as a family and had Friday night meetings where we could talk freely about our grievances. My sister and I grew up knowing we had the ability and tools to manage conflict and work through issues.
I learned as much about navigating life from my sibling relationship as I did from the way my parents fostered a loving bond between us.
My sister and I are all grown-up now. Although we still have a great many differences in our lives and hundreds of miles between us, one thing remains consistent: My sister and I share a close bond based on trust, kindness, and unconditional love. While most of our visits produce laughter and memory making, my sister show ups in times of challenge too – when I brought my babies home from the hospital, when my family had to move to a new state while we were sick, when I had two surgeries in a month, when I had to finish a book while juggling another interstate move. I can be short-tempered and impatient during those visits, but my sister doesn’t withdraw or get defensive. Like someone who knows me better than I know myself, Rebecca detects fear, anxiety, and stress beneath the surface. She builds me up with can and could messages like, “You can do this, Rachel. I believe in you.” Or she simply says, “How can I help?”
With teary eyes, I tell her to take the kids to the mall or clean the kitchen or just hug me. And she does. She always does.
I’ve always thought I’ve gained more from this sibling relationship than my sister has, but recently I had a change of heart. During a visit to my house, she asked my opinion on a topic that was incredibly important to her. When I affirmed her belief with my opinion, she cried with relief. My opinion mattered more than anyone else’s.
It was my turn to hold my sister up.
And when I held her, I silently promised to continue advocating for my daughters’ unity. I promised to continue advocating for homes to be safe havens—places free from hurtful attacks on appearance, intelligence, and abilities. Now more than ever, I believe we need boundaries that build up rather than tear down. We need tolerance and acceptance to thrive within the walls of our homes so they can be distributed each time we go out into the world.
We can begin by asking ourselves this: When is the last time I gave a COULD message to someone I love? When is the last time I looked into someone’s eyes and said, “I believe you can.” When we give a COULD message instead of a SHOULD message, we give someone wings.
That’s what my sister gave me … that’s what I gave her. And our lives are better for it.
Just imagine how our world might be elevated if we gave the gift of wings to all our brothers and sisters?
Despite the discrepancies, there could be unity.
Despite the contrasts, there could be compassion.
Despite the clashes, there could be connection.
Despite the gaps, there could be bridges – bridges that lead us over troubled waters and into a unified future.
Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, please join me with parenting author Susan Stiffelman for a FREE online series happening October 17-19: RAISING SIBLINGS: Less Drama, More Joy. Other speakers include Gretchen Rubin, Amy McCready, Harville Hendrix, Dr. Laura Markham, Christine Carter, Michael Gurian, Janet Lansbury, Elizabeth Lesser and a host of experts in the field. Interviews will be sent to your inbox and you can watch at your convenience. Just click here to sign up.
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I have several speaking events coming up that I am very excited about! I'm looking forward to seeing my Ohio friends this Saturday (10/14), my Pennslyania friends on Thursday, 10/19, and my Michigan friends on Saturday, 11/14. Birmingham, Alabama was just added to my speaking schedule for Friday evening, 2/2! You can register here for Cincinnati … here for Pennslyvania … and here for Ann Arbor Michigan. If you would like to bring me to your area for an event, you can direct local organizations, businesses, schools, churches, and fundraisers to my new speaking page with more information and a sample video. I am currently booking for Spring 2018. Thank you for all your love and support!
I leave you with a short preview of my talk with Susan Stiffelman from the Sibling Summit that may provide enlightenment to you today …
My sister is very supportive of me, and I’m always cheering her on, but it came about over years. She’s much older, so I basically grew up as an only child. It seems I got to know her when I was in my 20-30s, and we keep getting closer over the decades. I am happy for you that you have such a supportive relationship with your sister, because I know what that feels like.:-)
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing this, Priscilla. This offers hope to others! Grateful for your love & support.
I really enjoyed your post. I like reading and observing when relationships thrive and are founded on love, respect, and support. Even though these were foreign concepts in my family when I was a child, for some reason I find it reassuring and uplifting when I see families such as yours. Blessings to you.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Sal. What a beautiful thing to say. Wishing you much peace and love.
I just have to say, THANK YOU! for sharing this right now. This specific topic has been a MAJOR issue lately at our house. I will not give up and will not just accept that siblings fight! Although there is truth, that siblings do fight, I don’t think it should just be accepted or acceptable! Thank you for the info on the summit coming up. I can hardly wait to learn more!
Maria cambell says
Hahaha, it’s an amazing writing Rachel. It’s really nice to see the bonding and relationship between mother children and family like that. Wish you long life to be happy like that. 🙂 You are truly blessed.