My sister and I are five and a half years apart—an age gap that has always kept me one or two life seasons ahead of her.
I have always been protective of her, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always got along. But as I entered my last two years of high school, things began to improve. We realized that a bond between sisters is something to be cherished and nurtured. And although we have very different personalities, growing up a little finally bridged the relational gap between us.
We actually became friends … best friends. Yet at the same time, a strange dynamic developed. As mature as she was for her age, she was still just a kid in many respects. A kid who hadn’t yet dealt with some of the things I had experienced and struggled with in high school and early college.
Knowing the mistakes I made during my teen years, I wanted to share what I learned with her to help her avoid the same path. I learned, though, that she needed to make her own mistakes.
Sometimes she would welcome my sisterly advice and avoid doing something she shouldn’t—like hanging out with the wrong crowd. But unfortunately my desire to help also led to multiple arguments for a few years. There were many times when our words and intentions got misconstrued, and she assumed I was trying to be her mom and to tell her what to do.
One of my biggest regrets from my teen years was getting involved with a boy when neither of us were ready. So when I saw my sister becoming involved with a guy who not only wasn’t mature, but who was downright manipulative and emotionally abusive … I went into big sister beast mode.
I tried to talk to her about it and to get it through her head in any way possible that he wasn’t right for her, that she deserved someone infinitely better. But she was in denial. She cared for him and longed so badly to be in a relationship that she couldn’t see clearly. She told me I didn’t understand him and that I was being judgmental.
Very few things in my life have hurt me as badly as her not trusting my advice. It killed me to watch her be treated terribly by him. But it got to the point where there was just so much confusion and misunderstanding between us that I finally gave up trying to help. I realized there was no stopping her when she had her mind set on something.
Then the craziest thing happened—she came to her senses, broke up with him, and told me she should have listened to me to begin with.
After that, we entered a new era in our relationship. I’m not so quick to cram advice down her throat, and she is more willing to come to me for advice when she has a problem. When I decided to take a step back and not try to parent my sister or influence her every decision, she realized how much my advice had meant to her all along. Giving her the freedom to make her own decisions opened the door for me to walk alongside her in a way I never had before.
As many older siblings out there understand, the fierceness with which we want to shield and protect our little siblings is strong. No matter what stage of life they’re in, though, sometimes the best way to love our siblings is to give them the freedom to mess up—and then be there to help pick them back up again.
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