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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)
Just before turning 18, my sister ran away from our mother’s house to live with her father (my mother’s ex). I’m afraid it was my fault, because she and I used to fight.
She also fought with our mother. Now, our mom is worried that she’s lost her daughter, especially given how manipulative her ex (my sister’s father) can be.
And I’m worried I’ve lost my sister. While we had our disagreements, we did get along and would talk about our personal problems with each other. I would like to continue that relationship.
Is this situation my fault? Did I do anything wrong? Am I a bad sister? --Lonesome Sister; Tulsa, OK
The arc of the sibling relationship is divided into two segments:
Childhood and adulthood.
The childhood portion is an arranged marriage. You have no say in whomever else your parents created. And you have no alternative but to coexist.
This forced dynamic can spawn resentment and rivalry, as you’re competing for everything -- your parents’ attention, your independence, even that last Chips Ahoy cookie.
You look at your brother or sister as an unfortunate reality, another challenge of growing up, like a cracking voice at your Bar Mitzvah.
But with age comes the chance for change. You begin making your own friends, and pursuing your own interests and creating your own life.
And as you enter adulthood, and you’re no longer shackled by family and housing restrictions, for the first time you have a choice:
Is this someone you want to be close with? Or is this someone you’d only turn to so they can pass the turkey at Thanksgiving?
To this point, you and your sister have had the classic sibling relationship -- occasionally friends, oftentimes foes.
Now that she’s an adult (according to her age), you’ve reached that critical fork in the road of your relationship. Your connection could evolve or dissolve depending on where you go from here.
Since you want it to evolve, here are three suggestions for successfully navigating this transition…
1. Gain Clarity On The Past
You closed your submission with three questions, so before rambling too much more, I want to address those directly.
Is this situation my fault?
No. I don’t think so.
Granted, I don’t know all the details. But given your description of the situation, let’s look at what we do know:
You and your sister have been living in a tumultuous home, and she’s been the victim of a tumultuous divorce (or separation).
She also butted heads with your mom, and was wooed into the arms of her manipulative dad.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I have a hard time believing your disagreements were what drove her away.
Did I do anything wrong?
I don’t know.
Just because you didn’t run your sister off doesn’t mean you did anything that would’ve made her want to stay.
The two of you argued, so it’s possible there are issues that need resolving.
That doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, though. Siblings argue all the time. And on a larger scale, people break up and make up all the time.
All it takes is someone making the first move toward reconciliation. Let that someone be you.
Am I a bad sister?
Only one person can answer that. And it’s not me.
2. Stabilize Her Present
Once you’ve reached out to your sister, and once you’ve put the past in the past, it’s time to lay the groundwork for the future.
And that starts with being there for her in the present.
Your sister is dealing with a lot at the moment. She’s 18, and on the verge of adulthood. This would be a scary time for anyone, but the fear she’s feeling has likely been amplified by the chaos surrounding her.
Not only has she run away from home, she’s clashing with her mother, and (possibly) being manipulated by her father.
She’s lost, and she doesn’t have anyone to turn to.
Earn her trust by lending your support. Be her rock, her sounding board, her calm amid the clutter. Be the one worry-free person in her life, the person she knows she can can count on and who has her best interests at heart.
In other words, be her sister.
3. Give It Time
I’m four years younger than my brother, Brian.
As we’ve gotten older, we’ve become more alike. We wear similar glass frames, we do the same DVD workouts and we’re battling the same onslaught of gray hair.
I consider him to be one of my most trusted confidants and closest friends.
But that wasn’t always the case -- despite what our parents would have you believe. They claim the two of us never fought. Ever.
Yet on our 1986 family trip to Disney World, they enacted a bribery system that paid us a certain amount of cash in exchange for a certain level of behavior. That arrangement could’ve only been born out of necessity due to a threat to their sanity.
While the four years were a healthy separator, I know there had to be times when Brian got tired of me hanging around, wanting to be a part of what he and his buddies were doing.
It wasn’t until he’d gone off to college that our relationship transitioned. That’s when I remember us starting to become actual friends.
For the first time, we were closer in maturity levels, which meant we were closer to being contemporaries. It helped that I was going through what he had just completed, so he could advise me like, well, a big brother.
But it was a process that’d been nearly two decades in the making.
Right now, you and your sister are in the same position Brian and I were then. And though it feels as if the two of you have known each other forever, the truth is you barely know each other at all.
You’re searching right now, and the coming years are sure to be filled with twists and turns as you both find your footing in adulthood, and in your relationship.
But as long as you’re devoted to one another, and you work on building this bridge together, this separation you’re enduring at the moment could end up being the start of a beautiful friendship.
This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.