Unbeknownst to her, my sister has played an ENORMOUS part in the raising of our daughters. Even though my younger sibling lives a mere two states away, she is here, every day, almost every hour, in the parenting choices I make for Maddie. Or, in this case, the parenting choices I DON’T MAKE.
Now I love my sister, don’t get me wrong. And if she reads this then feelings will probably be hurt. But I have to be honest here, to her and, most importantly, to myself, because it affects how I raise my daughters.
There was a time, growing up, when I was super close to my sister. We were best of friends. Then along came high school and we went our separate ways. Looking back, it’s surprising we were so close for so long, because our personalities are essentially at polar opposites. She is a social butterfly, friendly, open, expressing any and every emotion. I am more quiet and cautious. If she were a raging firestorm, I would be a calm lake.
And so I became a straight-A student and a member of the marching band (read: geek), while she started to smoke and hang out at the 7-11 across the street (read: party girl). And our lives would continue this way, more or less, for the next 20 years. Now we are both married with children.
My sister was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We’re not sure when it developed, but it may explain her past behavior. My grandmother may have had it, too. It can be hereditary. For awhile, I have been thinking about all of this whenever I look at my own daughters. Is this their fate as well?
Every family has their black sheep. In mine, it’s my sister. She has become the “identified patient“. We all have our issues – we just like to focus on HERS (maybe because she’s the “baby” of the family). She has tried counseling and support groups, but nothing seems to stick. Everyone in my family has put a lot of time and effort into trying to help. I have to be careful, because I can become so involved that I will use all of my energy trying to solve this gordian knot, leaving nothing for my own family. Because of this, I have called my sister less often. We have become somewhat estranged.
And so, for a time, whenever Maddie would show the slightest hint of a behavior that reminded me of my sister, I would flinch in fear. I would panic. I would curse the gods for their cruel taunting.
We all have our own destinies, our paths to walk. I try not to compare my sister’s life with my own and simply accept it for what it is, neither good nor bad. I try not to judge. Maddie has her own path as well, and as I gain more confidence as a parent, I am learning to trust her, and hope she trusts me. Together we can overcome any difficulties in life. If we are truly engaged and aware, what more can one ask?
My sister celebrated her birthday recently. I called and wished her well. I asked her to promise me she would think of this day whenever she felt down, and to know that there are people in this world who care for her a great deal. And then I played with Maddie, laughing easily, hopeful of what the future may bring.