Rona Maynard Let's Talk

Letters from Rona

Question of the day: how can I reconcile with my sister?


When I read your story about making amends with your sister, I recognized my sister and me. I love her but she pushes my buttons like no one else. Every time I get off the phone with her, I'm either mad because she doesn't get it, or on a guilt trip because of the sharp things I've said. I so envy women whose sisters are their best friends! What's your advice?

First, stop comparing yourself to women whose day is not complete without a phone call to their sister. I once had the same self-defeating habit---until I realized that for every rhapsodic sister pair, there are many more who struggle with envy, anger and disappointment.

So why do we hear so little about sisters like you and me? Because every little girl learns early that loving her sister is a duty akin to thanking Grandma for the lovely hat and mitts. To admit any flaws in the sisterly bond is to break a childhood commandment. But that's what we all have to do in order to see our sisters as the complicated people they really are, and not as the endlessly patient, supremely understanding friends we'd like them to be.

The challenge here is to get past the black-and-white thinking of childhood, with all its constricting value judgments. I used to get off the phone with my sister fuming, "Why is she so hysterical?" She, meanwhile, was asking, "Why is Rona so cold?" We were both so busy fighting for the upper hand (and for our notion of how the universe should unfold) that we couldn't listen to each other.

How did we get from there to here? The short answer is that we grew up. We both realized, in our 50s, that we wouldn't be around forever and wouldn't want to carry our unfinished business to our graves. We finally understood that whatever our differences, we were going to the same place---something I try to remember when my sister and I hit a bump in our relationship. Mortality is a great leveller.

Here's another bracing thought I keep in mind. The suspicion, rivalry and unease that divided my sister and me for so many years is neither her fault nor mine. We grew up in a family ravaged by our father's drinking. Like all such families, mine assigned inflexible roles to the children. My sister was the peacemaker and charmer. I was the pure-hearted rebel. I envied her charm; she envied my reputation for moral courage. Not the best foundation for a healthy sister bond!

Once you've begun to see your sister more clearly, your challenge is to break the habitual patterns of behaviour that pull you into no-win standoffs. Instead of asking, for the umpteenth time, why she just doesn't get it, ask what you can do to create a more positive climate between you. If your behaviour starts to change, the odds are that hers will, too. A few tips that have worked for my sister and me:

* Give her the benefit of a doubt. If she hasn't answered your phone call, don't jump to the conclusion that she doesn't care. Maybe she's just swamped. Then again, maybe she's afraid of saying the wrong thing and starting a fight. Which leads to my next tip...

* Some people are more clear-headed in writing than they are in conversation. A letter or e-mail message, composed with care and reread a few times (or even slept on) will allow you to balance assertiveness with affection and hope. When I reread a message from my sister, I can see the totality of her intentions instead of reacting to words or phrases that get me fuming, "Here she goes again...!" Another big plus for written communications (yours or hers) is that you can run them past someone you trust for a second, dispassionate opinion.

* Slow down. When your blood pressure starts to rise, stay off the phone. And for God's sake, don't fire off a hasty e-mail. You're not meeting a deadline here, and your sister is not a project to get off your desk. Give yourself time to calm down.

* Look for opportunities to have fun together. When my sister and I had rounded a corner in our relationship, I flew to California and spent a weekend at her house. (Click here to read more about my visit.) Her warm welcome reminded me of all the reasons why she belongs in my life.

* Accept the fact that relationships, like people, can take time to blossom. Like people, they can also suffer reversals---as I realized when I came across an essay on my sister that I wrote more than 30 years ago. At the time, it seemed we were at last becoming friends. In fact we had a lot more growing to do.

Looking back, I think it's telling that my sister inspired both my first magazine piece and a recent one that's among my best read. Click here for the piece from the 70s.

Posted by Rona October 03, 2008 @ 3:30 AM. File in Rona answers your questions, Family ties, Mental health


Your comments

Number of Comments  3 responses to "Question of the day: how can I reconcile with my sister?"

October 08, 2008 at 7:07AM
Ms. Maynard,rn The first clue I had that my sister was telling people that she was an only child came one night when I was working at a retail store and my first cousin's best friend and his girlfriend came in to buy some things. Two years previously Johnny and David, my cousin, helped me move out of my apartment when I left my ex-husband. I considered him to be one of the brothers I never had and he always hugged me whenever he saw me. rn Johhny came behind the register and hugged my neck while his girlfriend walked behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. "Just who the hell do you think you are getting it on with my boyfriend like that?", she yelled at the top of her lungs. Johnny started laughing and told her to chill. "Look at her closely, who does this look like to you?", he said. By this time the girl was absolutely livid. "How the hell would I know, she doesn't look familar to me?" rnJohnny, with tears rolling down his cheeks, momentarily stopped laughing and said "This is Edie Dudley's big sister. She is the older sister that I never had." The girl really got mad then. "I am one of Edie Dudley's best friends and she is an only child! She told me so herself on numerous occaisions. Why should I believe you?" rn This was about the same time that my 15 year old sister had given my mother an ultimatium -- either my father left or she would. She had told people all around town that my father was dead,and in the process, I guess she "forgot" that she wasn't an only child. When my mother kicked my father out, I was forced to choose between them. He came and lived with me, my son, and my husband for the next 16 years until he went into a local nursing home in 2003. rn My sister is a pathological liar and a cocaine and crystal meth addicted whore. When our mother was in the final stages of lung cancer, I had no choice but to drop everything and take care of her the last three months of her life. My sister totally cleaned out my mother's house and stole everything that wasn't nailed down a month and a half before I moved into take care of her. She moved in with her boyfriend at the time and left my mother alone to fend for herself, simply because my mother dared ask her to fix her something to eat one night and my sister refused because she was waiting on her boyfriend to come home before she'd cook anything. This was 10:00 at night and my mother called my aunt crying because she was hungry. My aunt took her something to eat at 10:30. I was at work and my aunt called me before I got off that night. That weekend while I was at work my sister moved out and took everything with her. I even had to buy some towels and wash clothes for my mother that night since my stole all of the ones out of the house. She also stole my mother's electric blanket off of her bed and I had to replace that at the same time. rn When my mother died on March 21, 1997, my sister had not seen her in over three weeks. It took the Hospice nurses, their boss, our minister, and the funeral home operator calling her to get her to come to the funeral home and help me make the arrangements. Even though she inherited over $200,000 in stocks and a $35,000 sports car, she tied me up in court for 22 months after my mother died since she was not named Executrix of the Estate and I was. She was livid that I inherited anything at all, even though I got a house with a $13,000 mortgage on it that I had to pay off. rn I recently saw somebody my mother used to work with and she wanted to know if I had heard anything from my sister. I told her that she knew as much as I did about her and what was going on in her life. I was told that she came to our father's funeral in 2004, but I didn't see her at all. Family members told me after it was over that she had made an appearance and left. She could not sue me over my father's will since it was over 20 years old at the time of his death. We don't share the same blood type so she will not be calling me for an organ donation or any blood. I do wonder if I have a niece or nephew out there in this world that I don't know about. I hope and pray that she wasn't able to conceive a baby because she is one of the most selfish self serving people I have ever known. A poor baby would have taken away from her "me" time and all of her glory. I don't see foresee a reconsiliation happening anytime in this life.
bev bowker
March 16, 2013 at 7:07PM
I have spent the last half hour reading all about your sister relationship. Boy! So much of this rings like MY own story with my sister and I The main difference tho, is that we once WERE close....thru our childhoods and a lot of our adulthood, too. Our problems are ongoing thru competitive behavior, since she remarried.rnrnAfter both of us divorced our husbands,, our relationship changed dramatically. She no longer needed me in her life. She pushed me away when I needed her most, which hurt me terribly because earlier in our lives, I came to her aid.rnrnAnyway, after many years of trying to deal with my twin sister not needing me in her life, I have tried to discontinue emailing, because it always ended up in a battle of words.rnrnI have gone to counceling, and have now chosen to make a phone call now & then, to keep from having our little wars. At least this way, we don't fight, and at least we know the other is still among the living!rnrnI have missed my sister terribly for years, and it's not "new" to me to having "lost her". This is the only way I feel I can deal with the situation. She's content to have an email relationship....even knowing I long for more closeness like that we once had.rnrnI could go on forever. After some former flareups, she finally admitted that she and her new husband "turned me away". But she thinks I should "go onward" and start new. How can it be possible when the problems between us still are there? It is ongoing!rnrnSo, I just had to read all of what you and your sister wrote. i AM always hopeful I will see something or talk to someone who might have that magical answer!rnrnI truly hope that one day, before one of us passes away, we will have made a greater effort to really be there, once again, for each other, instead of thru this long distance relationship now.rnrn
Rona Maynard
March 18, 2013 at 9:09 AM
Thank you for visiting, Bev. Isn't it interesting how all these sister stories are variants on the same theme?
Janice Cage
April 02, 2014 at 10:10AM
I love my sister so much. My heart is broken in so many pieces because we are estranged right now. It is essential to me to heal the rift that is between us.
25 yrs ago I lost my oldest sister to breast cancer. In the last 6 yrs I have lost my Mom (cancer), Dad (brain injury), an Uncle (cancer) , Aunt (cancer) , Nephew (stopped breathing in his sleep), Brother-In-Law (kidney failure), dear friend (multiple health issues) & others to various health issues.
My sister is dying from Bladder cancer. She was diagnosed stage 4 in December & has been given only a few months to live. They have stopped all treatment because it is not helping. She has become a recluse. Does not answer her phone or leave her home. I have tried repeatedly to call her several times a day for weeks.
We have had a rocky relationship most of our lives. To me she had it all. She's very social, belongs to many women's clubs, volunteer organizations, Cub Scouts, etc. She has 2 adult children who have never married & therefore has no grandchildren.
I have 5 children & 12 grandchildren. She seems to be very jealous of that. She does not like me to talk about my children or grandchildren.
But we talked & hugged even though it was tense at times.
I will write her a letter to send because she still gets the mail from her box at her front door. Hopefully she will read it. She may never read it. I don't know. What I do know is that for my own peace & well being I must take this step. I will not bring up past slights & hurts. I will not be demanding and hurtful. I just want to tell her I Love her & I'm sorry for what she is going through. I do not think that this is the time to air our dirty laundry so to speak. I know that once I have have sent the letter it will start a healing process in me.
I don't do this as much for her as I do it for myself.

Rona Maynard
April 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM
Good for you, Janice. You're doing the right thing, for the right reason. And you might just bring your sister some peace. My best wishes to you both.
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