Am I My Sister’s Keeper?

(I found the beginning of this post buried in my drafts folder. It was very emotional and distraught because I was in the middle of a painful situation with my sister.  Almost a year has passed and we’ve all found some peace and healing. After spending the weekend with this sister and her husband I thought it was appropriate to revisit this post with a different perspective)

“It’s like you’re stabbing yourself in the leg. And I’m caught between agonizing over your pain and getting frustrated that you’re bleeding all over me.”

This is what I told my 20 year old sister last year when she justified re-uniting with her then-abusive husband. At the time I couldn’t hear the self-centeredness in my words.  Her first year of marriage had been a rocky one, ending in a split that I expected would end in divorce. I knew he was wrong for her. I KNEW IT.

But she didn’t.  They have been back together for almost a year now and I’ve probably only said a dozen words to him until our family trip this weekend.  In my mind I kept thinking that if I ignored him, he would go away. She would end the marriage and get back her life and go to college, live her dreams.

Her dreams? No, those were my dreams. She never wanted to go to college. She expected to marry young, not unlike me, although I managed to wait another year and had the decency of NOT being a teen when I wed.

But it’s not about ME, I keep telling myself. It’s about her and her happiness. It took me a long time to understand this. I spent many months really upset by the choices she was making (and the responses from other family members) and trying to talk her into changing her mind. I even wrote a post about how sometimes answers to prayers can be wrong.  But looking back, my problem was that I thought I was right and I could control other people.  Both of those attitudes are problematic in relationships.

The fact that I’m ten years older than my sister doesn’t mean I’m necessarily more mature or better at relationships.  I know she looks up to me and wants me to be proud of her. Looking back, I know it was hard for her to have disappointed me with her choice to stay married. It’s only been recently that I’ve realized I was proud of her for being kind and understanding to me even when I was being belligerent and decidedly unkind about her husband. In those moments, I learned the truth behind the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” I’d always thought I could have it both ways, but I’m learning now that I can’t.

Forgiveness is a virtue I’m a little rusty at. But, I’m getting better. We invited Lil Sis and her husband on a family trip with us this weekend and had the chance to watch them interact. They were very happy, respectful of each other, and worked together well. This has given me hope in the power of change. It’s also given me a greater desire to forgive and stay out of other people’s business in the future.

In the end, though, I’ve realized that I need forgiveness from my sister for adding to her pain when I ought to have been helping relieve it.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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12 Responses

  1. A powerful post! You’ve learned the secret to improving sticky family relationships is changing our own behavior rather than trying to change theirs.

  2. Ziff says:

    I like this post, Jessawhy. I haven’t had a similar experience in precisely this area, but I can be terribly stubborn about how I view things. I think it’s great that you gave your brother-in-law another chance and that it sounds like things are going well.

    I do also think it’s great that you’re a concerned sister too, though, even if looking back you feel like your approach wasn’t precisely right. I always appreciate knowing that my sisters are concerned about me.

    • Jessawhy says:

      “Terribly stubborn?” You?
      I don’t believe it 🙂

      You do have great sisters. I’m glad they’re watching out for you.
      And now your boys have a sister, too! Awesome.

  3. aerin says:

    What a beautiful post. As an older sibling myself, I too struggle with my own expectations of my siblings. With my hopes and dreams for them, which may or may not be what _they _ want.
    With that said, while being polite is important, I’m not sure that a person is required to like or be close to everyone, even their in laws. I don’t think all behavior needs to be approves of. One can love someone no matter what but not be comfortable with all their choices.

    • Jessawhy says:

      aerin,
      Excellent points. I try to remember that we choose our friends but with our family we have no say. But having good manners and genuinely caring about a person can get me a long way in a family relationship.

  4. AmyB says:

    Beautiful post. It’s been my experience that forgiveness is something that tends to come once I feel into what it’s like for the other person. A couple of times when I’ve really struggled with someone, I sat down and wrote letter to myself from them. The act of writing it down seems to deeply pull me into the other person’s perspective and out of my own. Once that happens, forgiveness isn’t something I have to choose.

    It’s been some time since I left the church and stopped writing for this blog, but I still stop in now and then. Each time I am impressed by the quality and depth. Thank you to those of you who keep at it!

    • Jessawhy says:

      AmyB,
      Always nice to see you drop by and say hello!

      I love the idea of writing a letter from that person’s perspective. What a great way to really develop empathy.

  5. Corktree says:

    As a (reformed?) controlling oldest sibling, I know this all too well. I think I’ve finally learned over the years to let those I love figure life out on their own, and I’ve recognized that my influence and opinion can’t take the place for their own experiences, or even their own mistakes. I see this most clearly with my youngest sister, probably because I more often feel like her mother than her sister – and I’m seeing the need to let her fly or fall without anyone’s help.

    Great post, and great reminder to trust those we care about to do it on their own just as we have to. Loving examples can and should only go so far.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Well said! I told my sister something similar a few months ago when we “made up” over this whole issue.

      It’s hard to be the controlling oldest sibling. It’s probably harder to be the younger one, though.

  6. Caroline says:

    Wonderful post, Jessica.

    I think one of the reasons you were having a hard time unbending about your bro in law is because of the abuse issues involved. That’s one of those areas that I’m black and white on — it’s just wrong. Period. And it’s easy for me to see anyone who abuses as the irredeemable villain. But at the same time, I do believe in the power and possibility of redemption and change, so I’m very happy to hear that this man seems to have transformed his life. And I admire you for stepping back and acknowledging the positive changes in the relationship.

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