I can’t begin to count the number of times over the years when my adult children have complained to me that their sibling “has changed.” And my repeated response (with a mental roll of my eyes, most likely) is “maybe they’ve changed, but you probably have changed too.” After all, isn’t that what we aspire to do? Grow up and change into an adult?
I mean, consider the extreme success of Facebook. I think a large part of Facebook’s ascendancy is based upon our curiosity of “I wonder how ___ turned out.” Be honest, how many times has that thought crossed your mind as you put a name in the search engine? We don’t expect the people we knew as children to remain the same…we wonder who they became—the adult they turned into.
Why then, do we expect our adult relationships with our siblings to remain the same? After the time I just spent with my sister and niece, I realize that all three of us are guilty of that expectation. I cannot honestly say we had a great time…and I wanted to be able to say that. I believed I would be able to say that. I certainly had that expectation when we planned the trip. The only thing I can honestly say is that we all three tried really hard.
But as I look over the progression of our three individual lives, there are few similarities. I share some common life crises with my niece, but other than that, we live our daily lives quite differently. My niece is married to a brilliant scientist who travels the world to further the amazing research he leads; which allows his family the opportunity to experience many lands and places and in turn, her children are open minded, progressive, and independent (but still very kind and loving). With the birth of her first grandchild this year, I suspect our commonalities may increase.
And my sister? The lives we have lived are like night and day. She has been married to the same man for nearly 30 years who is loyal and devoted and provides extremely well for his family; she has never had to work a day in her life, and has three adult children who politley attended the college they chose for them and the career they chose for them as well. Although her children are the same age as my children, they are all unmarried and have no children. She and her husband enjoy ownership of several homes, take elaborate vacations, pay cash for expensive vehicles, and two of their adult children make more money than my husband and I, combined. They are the American Dream Family.
If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning, you know my life path has been more haphazard…probably the antithesis of the American Dream. I’ve had it all, lost it all, divorced, remarried, stepchildren, step parents, child with terminal illness, children with disabilities, dealt with (spousal) alcoholism, dealt with domestic violence, dealt with substance abuse, dealt with an illegitimate childbirth, dealt with a child’s divorce, have been penniless, and have been prosperous, and there has never been a period of my life when I didn’t work to contribute to the family income. Each of our children chose their own colleges and life paths, and we have had to continue to offer financial support to several as they started their families while growing their careers. Even though my path was so convoluted, I wouldn’t change one moment of it because I LOVE the people who my children have become as a result of that life.
As children, my sister and I had a simple relationship. I took care of her…so much, that she doesn’t even remember that my dad was a mean and violent drunk [and hates me for saying so.] I was nearly four years older than her, so from the age of 7 (when I remember a severe belt beating because I didn’t know where my 3 year old sister was [bigger question, where were you mom and dad?]), until I left home at 20, I was expected to look after her: keep her safe and provided for. I began working at the age of 12 (at the dance studio) to pay for both mine and my sister’s dance lessons. I continued working there and additionally took on a job at a fabric store when I was 16 so that I could get discounted fabric to sew many of her clothes. When a group of girls threatened to beat her up on the bus in middle school, I am the one who gave them an attitude adjustment, not my parents. So, again, our relationship was one that was explicitly me taking care of her.
For many years after we each married, my sister and I lived across the United States from one another: she in Florida and I in California. [I actually designed and made her elaborate wedding gown across the distance by sending muslim replications back and forth over the course of six months.] Then, the year before our mom died, we each moved and were within 5 hours of one another, she in Virginia and I in Pennsylvania. We thought it was serendipitous that we would be brought together right before our mother’s death—so that we could be there for one another. But, as we have attempted to rejuvenate a long neglected relationship, we have run into extreme difficulty. You see, my sister no longer needs a caretaker and I have plenty of people to take care of already…so where does that leave ‘us?’
This most recent trip was by far the worst. I was actually thrilled that a work crisis came up that required my early return. I had been so worried about ‘three being a crowd’ that I never stopped to consider the real issue—that we no longer have anything at all in common. My first day there, Saturday, was quite possibly one of the worst days of my life…but that is fodder for another blog. While we each (my sister and I) enjoyed our niece’s company; without her, we had nothing.
I suppose this issue—this disconnect in personality development— is one that causes many divorces. Each spouse becomes so entrenched in their individual pursuits, that they bend and change in different directions. How then, can we ensure that we do not lose or damage the relationships that mean so very much to us?
I would love to be able to say that I’m dying to see my sister. But that becomes less true each time I see her. Who she has become and what she says, hurts me deeply. Her jabs at the useless girls her boys have dated (losers from divorced families, or psychos on medications) feel directly pointed at me or my family. And the lengthy discussions of her ‘cash pay’ negotiations following my confession that my most recent car had to be financed nearly as long as a house, feel like a slap in the face. I don’t know how to work around those types of issues. I don’t know if those things are truly directed at me or if that is just the way she speaks. Either way, I am not comfortable with those types of comments. I will always love my sister no matter what. But how do you spend quality time with someone whose very values seem at opposite ends to your own? Is love enough?
Sadly, I can write this blog openly because my sister, who has no children at home and does not work, simply does not have the time to read my blog—even after my heartfelt appeal for her help.
How long do we fight for what once was? How do we know when there is no hope of recovery in a relationship? I’ve never been good at giving up on people…I have been told that is a fault of mine; but when I love someone, it is forever (yes, that is why Robbie is included in my family picture on my Christmas card—I still love that man and he will always be part of my family whether we are married or not). I always believe there is hope…some kind of hope…but this past week has left me wondering.
Have any of you lost a familial relationship due to the normal progression of life and the changes that happen to us as we live it? If so, how did you cope?
As much as I would like to believe that “time heals all things,” I would be surprised if it heals this…this growing up and apart that has taken place between my sister and I. I feel a great sadness that what ‘once was’ is no more…