Are You My Sister?


Let Dot take a crack at your quibbles, annoyances, and pet peeves-ask her a question below.

Dear Dot,

I have a problem with my sister. We are VERY different personalities and I’m not sure that I like hers. I think she would make for a fun acquaintance or maybe even a good friend, but she makes for a very difficult/ overwhelming sister. To complicate matters, she has a bunch o’kids and her parenting style doesn’t mesh so well with mine. We just celebrated a holiday together and I felt like I was suffocating/going crazy the whole time. Needless to say that there is ALWAYS a blowout when we are together. The last one culminated with her calling me a “f-ing b” on Easter morning and my mom in tears. I mean, she does have friends and I get the impression that people do like her, so what is my problem? Is it me? Should I just self medicate when we get together?

Seeking Sanity,
Little Sis

Dear Little,

Take comfort in knowing that you aren’t the first person to realize that the sisterly bond can chafe. As an older sister who has been known to “helpfully” pass on unsolicited advice gleaned from my five extra years of life to my own little sis, your letter made me check myself a bit. I’d be naive to think that she hasn’t described me as “difficult/overwhelming” and–let’s be honest–probably “an f-ing b” at some point over the years when I’ve been meddling in her life as some sort of half-mom/half-friend mongrel who could use a reminder that she stopped wanting to do everything I do when she was five. The flip side of that, of course, is that I have at times described her as entitled and bratty (plus did I mention that she got to go on an unchaperoned spring break trip IN HIGH SCHOOL with a group of friends which included HER BOYFRIEND and when I reminded my parents that it would never have occurred to me to ASK to go on such a trip because they never in a million years would have let me, they merely replied tiredly, “Everyone else’s parents were letting them go,” as if THAT were suddenly a viable argument!). But I digress. My point is, the relationship between siblings is unlike any other, but the potential for intense closeness and mutual understanding often drags behind it a lifetime’s worth of drama, perceived slights, resentment over familial pigeonholing, and a healthy (or maybe unhealthy) dose of competition.

Since you don’t provide any detail about the circumstances leading up to the Easter expletives, it’s not clear that your sister was completely out of line or whether she was provoked into that reaction by you. If she is a truly toxic personality, I would advise you to do your best to get clear of her, but I’m guessing that there are things you love about her and that your squabbles aren’t completely one-sided. Try to separate out the stress imposed by the holidays, your mother’s crying, and a gaggle of kids running amok and think about the hot-button issues that set you guys off when you are together. Although I trust that she does plenty to get you riled up, I will take the opportunity to gently point out that her parenting style, no matter how poorly it meshes with yours, is a pretty personal deal, and you’re treading in an area where people don’t generally respond well to criticism.

You have nothing to lose by taking an honest approach and letting her know how upset you are about your latest spat and, more importantly, the fact that you never seem to get along anymore. There is a good chance that she feels the same way and will be relieved to learn that you want to work on things. If it’s feasible, maybe you two could benefit from some time alone together–like a weekend retreat sans parents and kids–to remind you of all the reasons that she could be a “fun acquaintance or maybe even a good friend.” You might have to accept that you and your sister have different personalities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t appreciate each other’s quirks and hopefully find common ground.

If all else fails, see if you can minimize conflict by setting some limits on how much together time you can handle before a blowout becomes inevitable. And be sure to rent Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, a movie that will make any halfway-normal sister relationship look like the picture of health and harmony.

In Sisterhood,

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