When I was younger I didn’t consider my younger sister as an equal, either to be with or to hang out with. She was just there. There was no true relationship of any kind, but that changed when we moved into our twenties. We were both living in the family home and at one point we spent a day together. It was then that I ‘saw’ her. It was as if I was meeting a person for the first time with fresh eyes. There was a willingness from me to get to know her, that went beyond all the pictures I used to have. Pictures that had framed her and resulted in an attitude of ‘don’t bother with her’ from day dot.
Why had I missed out on this ‘getting to know her’ moment in the first place? Was it really because of a bunch of pictures I had? Well, yes. Convictions were ruling the show. As I was the eldest of three I was minding my own business. ‘It’s not cool to hang out with your younger sister… and if you are to, then you have free reign to bully her as she is smaller than you.’ The relationship had been reduced to an age-factor. ‘I am the oldest, and you are five and a half years younger than me.’ This is just one example of the picture I had of how to relate to a younger sister.
But there is more. Taking the family as a whole, every member has a fixed place and with each place comes an expectation and some further convictions. These may vary according to each family. It sets a dynamic which engrains itself in behaviours that seem hard to crack. The dynamic keeps on repeating itself as if we are confined to those behaviours and patterns. Regardless of what plays out and how non-loving the outplay of it all is, it still keeps on going like a merry-go-round. Once you are placed in the setting, you ‘play and outplay’ your role. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘stop-button’ to provide the space to observe and have a closer look at these patterns and wonder: are they healthy, loving and supportive, or not? And it seems to be what is occurring in all families …
I had never realised that I was relating to my younger sister from a fixed way of being with her up until that moment when I saw her with fresh eyes. I visited her in her flat where she was living with her boyfriend. Leading her own life, studying and enjoying her relationship and life there. She was all of a sudden someone, no longer my little sister in the family situation, but an independent person leading her own life. It shifted something in me. A real stop-moment. I stepped out of the family merry-go-round context and all of its dynamics.
So, what exactly had I seen, and how did that unfold over the years with my sister?
It was like waking up out of a ‘sister-soap’: as if I was letting go of the role of an actor with a specific jacket on. I didn’t need to act out what I usually did. I stepped into something grander. A bigger field. It was like meeting a person who was a potential new friend, someone I hadn’t considered to be a possible friend, but now hanging out with her felt super joyful. Like love at first sight; questioning if she too had been raised in the same family as me.
What was really happening was that I was seeing her beyond the ‘little sister’ picture. I was meeting her in full. In fact, I had no clue who I was meeting but I knew that there was something I had missed out on. Call it a heart-connection or a genuine interest in the human being behind the picture I had created.
After that point we met up more frequently, got to know each other more and more and deepened our relationship. Of course there were ups and downs, but more and more the relationship became one of equalness. We began to share a flat together, which brought up a lot of things in many aspects, but mainly we were reflecting to each other that we were outgrowing the so-called version of ‘being sisters’ that we had subscribed to, the version society had taught us … whereas true sisterhood is a sacred state of togetherness, an intimacy that has a grace and a flow to it. There was a genuine love and deepening support for each other. We were growing up by outgrowing the smaller, previous, version of our relationship.
What have I learnt?
There seems to be more to a person when we go beyond the label of sister or brother; the youngest or the eldest, and the entitlements that come with those labels. These expectations of how another should behave, become confines that trap them in this very picture. If we keep ourselves within these pictures, we are robbed of a much truer relationship with the person beside us with whom we live.
To me this feels more than just a shame and a lost opportunity – I now realise I missed out on so much for so long, unnecessarily. And so I ask … Are we willing to explore and observe the dynamics that play out within our families and go beyond them, to truly meet the others that we are here with in our life?