My big sister turns thirty-five today. Thirty-five. It’s hard to believe we’ve already spent almost half of our lifespan together. (Unless of course, we get lucky and live to be 100.) I’m only two years younger than Elise, so her hitting this milestone has stirred up quite a bit of reflection in my own mind as well. And when I look back over the course of my life, I realize how incredibly lucky I have been to have a sister.
As small children, we were the best of friends. Our mom made us share a room even though there was one to spare: she wanted to foster a closeness. We wore matching clothes as often as possible until the day she grew out of it and broke my little sister heart. We took baths together; she would be “Miss Hotty” at the front of the tub and I would be resign to being “Mr. Coldy” at the back. Elise was the quintessential firstborn and I, the obliging and adoring little sis.
The cliché I hear often about sisters is that they will hate each other during their teen years, and then grow out of it as adults. I’m sure that’s true for some, but it was never the case for us. We couldn’t have been more different at the time: I was athletic and slightly rebellious, she was in musical theater and a people-pleaser to the core. We had different crowds and different interests, but there was never a time that she didn’t consider one another to be a true friend. We were close, and loved each other very much.
And now as adults in our mid-thirties, we are closer than ever. The past two decades have certainly brought with them seasons of challenge and drama from time to time, but it was all part of learning how to navigate this old relationship in a new way: as adults. Just as adult children have to re-learn how to relate to their parents, we really have to learn to do it with our siblings as well. At times it’s an uncomfortable process, but it’s always worth it for the lifelong friend you have in the end.
These days, as a mother of two boys with a third boy on the way, I spend a lot of time wondering about how to give my children that lifelong gift of friendship that Elise and I have, particularly with them being the same gender. (I also have a little brother who is 5 years younger, and I love him dearly, but it’s never quite been the same as having a sister.) I know that often people aren’t able to maintain healthy or happy relationships with their siblings, regardless of how close they are in age or how much they have in common. Some of it’s luck, some of it’s circumstances, and sometimes it’s the family culture that the parents have created.
I know full well that there is no magic formula but as a parent I’m going to do everything I can to encourage individualism, dispel rivalries or jealousies, and foster an environment of love and support for one another at all times. There are no guarantees that my boys will grow up to have the depth of friendship that Elise and I have, but I’ll do everything I can to give them a chance. Because having a best friend for life is one of the greatest gifts we could ask for.