One Satellite Sisters’ Guide to Staying Friends with your Sister

by Lian on September 22, 2011

I am lucky to have four big sisters that I adore. We live in 5 different cities in three different states. We cover a lot of different demos in our personal and professional lives: married, single, divorced; kids; no kids; apartment-dwellers; homeowners; dog lovers; allergic to dogs; teachers; nurses; executives; grandmothers; aunts, conservatives; moderates; liberal; politically uninvolved.  On paper, other than our last names, we don’t appear to have that much in common.  But over the last five decades of sisterhood, we’ve made it work for us.   We grew up together, went off to lead our own lives, and then rediscovered each other as adults.

We even made work out of being sisters.

For the last twelve years, we’ve worked together on Satellite Sisters, a multi-media property that includes radio show, website and blog. We started Satellite Sisters to celebrate the concept that women could have very different lives but still share a powerful bond built from humor and respect.  We had seen the bonds of sisterhood in my mother and her three sisters and we felt the same bond in our generation.  Since creating Satellite Sisters, I’ve spent more time with my sisters than I ever would have imagined as a child, from the usual laughing and crying to building a business and writing a book.  It’s been unique experience, both satisfying and eye-opening.

When you are a “professional” sister, you get a lot of emails about how we manage to work together, vacation together, deal with family issues together—and still stay friends.  It’s tempting just to write down “denial” and “white wine” and leave it at that, because the sister relationship is so complex.  But I took a look at the last several decades of my relationships with my sisters to see what really made a difference.

Forgive and Forget

Let’s be clear, I am not a psychologist or an officer of the law.  So if you and your sisters have some issues in the past that require therapy or jail time, then you need to seek the correct help for those situations. But for most of us with sisters, the issues that may be keeping our relationships from moving forward are small and decades old. They’re the tiny little injustices that occurred in the mid-80’s that you can’t get over even in 2011. Here’s what I advise: Forgive, Forget, then Move On.  Make a conscious effort not to dwell in the past. Chances are that there were mistakes made on both sides—when you were seventeen, for goodness sake! So resolve to start fresh, even if it means giving up some moral high ground.

Stay Connected

Modern technology is making staying connected easier than ever, so take advantage of it to be a part of your sister’s life, even if she lives 3,000 miles away.  Don’t let actual distance create an emotional distance.  Say, you’re the Big City Gal and she’s the Suburban Mom; you can both find common ground using technology.  It’s only takes a minute to comment on her Facebook photos of Junior’s science project.  Or Skype in while she’s making dinner to see what’s cooking.  My sisters and I use technology all the time for a “quick hit’ of togetherness. I count on my big sister Liz to text me from the Red Carpet Room at JFK about celebrity sightings while I’m standing on the sidelines of soccer practice.  Small but frequent connections can sustain a relationship even when you can’t see each other as often as you would like.

Be Grown-Up Sisters, not the Sisters you were growing up

Ah, the family as time capsule. It’s a classic situation.  You walk up the front steps of your childhood home as a confident, grown women; you walk through the door and you’re an awkward pre- teen in headgear being taunted by your beautiful older sister.  Sound familiar?  One of the most surprising benefits of working with my four sisters is discovering that they had learned quite a few skills since they were, say, fifteen. Seeing my sisters in action as grown-up professionals has been a wonderful surprise and I think they would say the same of me.  My sisters are smart, talented accomplished women who have won the admiration of others (outside their family!).  Accept that your sisters have matured and grown-up, even your little sister.  You may not work with your sisters, so open your eyes to how they manage their family or career or community involvement. Your sisters rock! Treat them with the same respect afford them by peers and friends.

Laugh as much as Possible

Life is too short to spend a lot of time discussing politics, religion and/or other explosive issues with your sisters, particularly if these topics fall under the “divisive differences” category. Save the controversial conversations for your college roommates, your walking partner or talk radio personalities.  Maybe this sounds gutless if you and your family routinely debate around the dinner table. But, I’ve found that preserving a sibling relationship often means focusing on the similarities or, at the very least, approaching serious topics with a equal doses of humor, respect and humility. Sisters are there for good-natured ribbing, serving up classic family stories, and making fun of Oscar fashions.  Let the laughter flow. Then, when you need support and advice during a difficult life transition, you and your sisters will have built a strong foundation.  Can you have differences of opinion? Of course.  My sisters and I disagree on air all the time.  But we always fall back on humor to get us through any disagreement.  That and the fact that we have to spend Thanksgiving together.

Speaking of Thanksgiving

According to the mail we get at Satellite Sisters, a lot of sisterly relationships go down in flames because of Christmas. Or Fourth of July. Or  Grandma’s birthday.  One sister wants to have it at her house and another digs in her heels for the privilege to host the event.  Then, they don’t speak for ten years. Find a compromise—or let it go. So what if you never host Thanksgiving, there are 364 other days of the year to get the family together to celebrate. Anytime, I feel a power struggle coming on with a family member over a holiday plans, I remember what one expert said on our radio show about my mother’s need to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, even at my house: “It’s just a turkey. And it makes her happy. Let her cook the turkey.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brushed off a potential family brush-up by saying to myself, “It’s just a turkey.”


What’s your secret to Sibling Harmony?

Embracing my chaos, Lian

Related posts:

The Thanksgiving Un To Do List

My Annual Holiday Letter about My Fantastic Life






Cyndi September 25, 2011 at 6:03 PM

I have (I’m not going to preface it by saying “only”) one sister, but she is all I could ask for in a sister – we are 6 years apart in age so I guess I was an only child for the first 6 years of my life. We have a lot of common ground as adults as our children are similar ages and we live near one another. While I miss the fun of big group gatherings, I also avoid the drama and complications of sibling dynamics, so it all evens out somehow! I enjoy hearing about other people’s sibling experiences and perspectives.

chris d. September 25, 2011 at 5:22 PM

I am the oldest of 9 children…6 of us are girls…we have grown closer the older we get, and age is not really a factor of much importance now.
One sister is deceased, 3 of us were there to hold her at the end. We were all she had, and the ones who loved her as she was….a victim of brain trauma, many yrs ago. Her strength was grace filled.
I just finished reading Uncommon Senses…. loved it…so much of it could have been from our home too…and some of the parental wisdom you were graced with, we sort of wished for …but we had the best my parents knew and I cherish them for that. Dad is no longer here but we talk about him everyday; its keeping him and his “funny sayings” around for comfort.
I think its very valuable to discuss our sibling relationships…when you lose one, its part of your past, the present and certainly the future.
I cannot fathom growing up without the life I had.
My 3 are close and happy and I feel a great satisfaction with how it turned out for my 2 girls and 1 son… I believe I possessed some of your mom’s philosophy on child raising. so now, I can watch as mine become parents and feel the pride in soon to be 7 grandchildren…

pat in o.c. September 25, 2011 at 6:02 AM

A lot of sisters, and one brother, and yes, he too knew that wasn’t easy Anthony! We could, and did, bug & annoy him endlessly growing up….and Mom & Pop would say, you can’t punch your sister, you can never hit a girl, you have to walk away… we tweaked him over & over out of their view.
Honestly, we did torture the poor guy.

However, big brother always got us back with the line that stuck with us all of our lives………my Mother’s famous words, that even after her passing, we still echo in mock jest when we see brother. Never fails to find us moaning, groaning, & laughing……

‘It got warmer in here didn’t it?’
‘Yes, I think the room just got brighter’
‘THE SONshine just walked in.’

He ate that up, then & now, & we all get a good laugh out of it, remembering a Mother’s love for her one & only mijo.

William J. September 24, 2011 at 1:20 PM

I love my sister dearly. We’ve become best friends. I’ve been caring for a ‘sparent for ten years. Without my sister’s support I never would have made it. When they were living in Salt Lake once every three months they would come to Portland for a week to ten days to give me a break. Those breaks kept me sane. It will be two years this November that they moved up here to take the caring load off of me. We have a caregiver four days a week. My sister and I split the other three days. I do every Wednesday, She does every Monday, and we alternate Tuesdays. A lot different than seven days a week. Sister and I do have different ideas of how to care for Mom. Sis doesn’t want Mom to do anything because she is afraid Mom will fall. I don’t want to see Mom atrophy so I think she should do everything she is able to do. When sis is there mom uses the mobile wheelchair. When I am there Mom uses the walker and the mobile only for long distances. When sis is there she does every thing for mom, laundry etc. When I am there I let Mom do everything. I stay close by but let mom do as much as she wants. If Mom wants to cook, mom is the brains I am the hands. Sister and I just love & appreciate each other. We have come to an agreement with Mom’s care. When sister is at Mom’s sister’s way rules. When I am at Mom’s my way rules. If we end up there at the same time I just shut up and do what sister says. What is more important to me than whether or not my way is better is that sister is here and helping.

Anthony, my dad had five sisters and he was the best man I’ve known. His dad died young so he raised his sisters. I think that responsibility made him the least sexist man there was during a time that sexism was they way. He raised with boys and girls being treated the same. We didn’t have boy chores and girl chores we had a job jar. In the jar there were tasks with values on them. If we wanted money we picked a task, once picked it was ours and we couldn’t put it back. Many weekends had my brother and I cooking and cleaning house and sister mowing the lawn.

Let’s hear it for sisters!!

Anthony September 24, 2011 at 5:08 AM

Just a note from the brother’s perspective:
I have five sisters. It’s torture. TORTURE, I tell you!

Susan September 23, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Hi Lian-

It’s wonderful that you are still so close to your sisters.

I don’t have any sisters of my own but I am a sister-in-law to my husband’s four sisters. I have to be honest – sometimes it’s really heartbreaking to be treated as an “outsider” whether it’s intended to be deliberate or not.

In my husband’s family of origin (4 boys and 4 girls) the sisters really make all the decisions regarding important matters…adult sisters should remember that there are often adult brothers that need to be involved and consulted in important family matters.

pat in o.c. September 23, 2011 at 8:59 AM

You’re truly very blessed w/your wonderful sisters, & your family of cousins. Amazing!

Forgive & Forget…….true. With 3 sisters, & 1 cousin who is our 4th sister.
Have to, you’re family. Though, we are also great at (1) Stewing (we will take a week, a month, usually, not longer, to just be mad & stew alone in annoyance, (2) Not Saying Anything – nothing nice to say? don’t say anything at all…to the extreme. Easy to spot, & we give each other time & distance. But, thankfully, few & far between incidents over the years that are short lived, & rarely mentioned later on.

One of the nicest compliments we ever got was at Target. At the checkout, the clerk saw the 4 of us laughing, joking, picking on one another as usual – seriously, you’re buying THAT….. The clerk looked
at us, smiled, & said, ‘how funny, you all get along, that’s cool.’

Stay connected – yes. By phone, e-mail, Facebook, texting, sharing photos of family, kids, soccer, rugby, how the homemade tamales came out (laughter & snarky comments follow each time), how the garden is growing (or not in the case of one sister known as the Plant Killer)……has helped us all stay connected.

Thanksgiving & Christmas – we now take time to have pre-Thanksgiving & pre-Christmas gatherings. Takes the pressure of having to be all in one place at one time on that one day. It’s great. We find we take a little more time to see the decorations, the work that went into the food more, to sit & chat.

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