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.
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
The Thanksgiving Un To Do List