The way we first learn to carry out relationships leaves a lasting impact on our lives. Siblings are the first non-parental relationships most people have, and the lessons they can teach are invaluable.
I have two sisters, both very close to me in age: one 18 months older and the other 6 months older. If the math doesn’t add up, it’s because the “middle child” is my mother’s best friend’s daughter. The three of us were raised between two households, neither any less home than the other. I would imagine that an only child may be lonely and may miss out on important lessons learned from siblings – but then I remember that one of my own sisters was chosen rather than born. The assumption is that if a child doesn’t have a biological sibling, there’s a good chance that a non-biological someone may play a similar role in their lives.
My sisters and I all fell into the same peer group, had many of the same friends, and went through life experiences at almost exactly the same time. For me, my sisters presented the first blueprints for proper behavior and expectations within a relationship of any kind. These are five of the most important things I learned through growing up with them, and continue to have reinforced as I seek my own happy, healthy relationships in adulthood.
Most things really aren’t worth fighting over
It seems that closeness in age always translates to even more fighting than average siblings. In the early years, it was all about stupid stuff. Fights used to break out over different opinions over the best type of dog, or who got a larger helping of food. Angry? Make up an imaginary club and exclude the person you don’t agree with, and stop talking until you both forget what it was all about. It’s silly, and it wasn’t any fun. We learned to pick our battles and just let go of the things that aren’t worth holding onto – things that others might only learn in retrospect from a failed marriage. On the other hand, I also learned how to identify the things that really are worth fighting for, and how to dig in my heels and never give up on a worthy cause.
People who care about you will screw up too, and that’s okay
When someone doesn’t fulfill a promise, it’s easy to take it personally. You might even think that the person doesn’t even care, and that’s why they let you down. Sisters screw up too. The next day, even if you’re still hurt, they’re still the same people they’ve been your entire life. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that something came up. People have and will let me down a lot in life, and it’s wonderful to know that I don’t have to take it personally.
Trust others’ judgment, but don’t let it trump your own
Everyone has their own motivations. Ask a sister which color of dress is the prettiest, only to have her warn you off of it so she can pick it herself, and you’ll understand why another’s judgment should only be a guide. It’s okay to ask for opinions when you need to make a decision, but no one else can hold a definitive answer to your life.
You really can choose your family
Family can be wonderful and supportive, but it can also be toxic. So many people deal with a negative, harmful person simply because he or she is family, so they feel obligated. When such people hurt me, some well-intended people quipped, “Well, you can’t pick your family.” Then I looked at my sisters and thought, “I already have once. Why not?” I have since chosen my own family – a group of mutually supportive individuals with whom I share fundamental values. Most of these people are not blood-related, but this does not make them any less family, as far as I’m concerned.
Friends are a dime a dozen; someone who always has your back is priceless
Humanity in general truly is a mixed bag – and there are an awful lot of nasty, horrible people out there who will hurt you for their own gains. Next week I’ll be 28 years old; that marks 28 years that I’ve never been willfully hurt or betrayed by my sisters. They taught me the true value of a person that you can call at 2:00 in the morning just because you need to talk – a person who will make you a priority whenever needed, no questions asked. It’s easy to feel undeserving of this kind of devotion, and to consequently not demand it in relationships. Anyone can ignore your call, or betray your confidence, or brush you off. Such a person is not worthy of your time, devotion and emotional energy. My sisters helped set the bar in my relationships, guiding me to find people who truly value me and who will allow me to do the same for them.
Overall, having sisters has been one of the best and most influential elements of my life. Even when I could not value myself, they helped me insist on healthy, worthwhile relationships in all aspects of life. They’ve served as role models, sounding boards, and sometimes cautionary tales. It’s safe to say that I’d be a very different person without them, and I suspect I wouldn’t be so content with my life and the people in it if it weren’t for the early lessons they helped me learn.