The ties that bind

by Carolyn on October 18, 2009


Ties That Bind by Diana Dunn

I always wanted a full blooded sibling.

For a couple of reasons.

First, I always wished for someone to share the burden of being the last remaining relic of my parent’s marriage.  It’s hard feeling like an anchor around your parent’s ankles; tethering them to one another when they so very much wanted to be severed.  I’ve always felt that having someone to share that with would make the weight of it lighter somehow.

The other reason is my desire for a lifelong connection.  After my parent’s separation, we all moved to another city.  As my mother was establishing her life, we moved a couple more times.  Later, I twice moved myself.  I switched schools after third grade, after fourth grade and after ninth grade.  I know that by some people’s standards, that’s not very much, but it left me with no real ‘life long’ peers, and I always wished I had one.  Someone who knew me my whole life through and who I knew just as well.


I have three.

They are all half sisters, meaning that they were born to one of my parents and one of my stepparents.  My father had two girls and a boy with his wife.  My mother had a girl and a boy with her husband.  I finally had siblings and yet my relationship with them never felt like my vision of what a sibling relationship should feel like.  What I ached for was the sappy sister quotes you read in Hallmark cards and on decorative plaques.  My idealized version of sisterhood could be summarized by this quote:

She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were an only child. – Barbara Alpert

I was an only child for eight years.  It was ten years before there was another child in the household which I lived.  As the very big sister, I was the role model.  The authority figure.  I was not their partner in crime just as they were not my midnight companions.  And with this I have always had the struggle of feeling like the outsider to their true sibling relationships with each other.  If I said “smarten up” to one of them, thinking they were making a bad choice, I felt like the bitchy outsider as opposed to a concerned sister.  I could never let them see the real me because I had to set a good example.  Like a parent, I felt responsible not to lead them down the wrong path.

But how I ached to be on the inside.  How I wanted to be able to pick up any of the plethora of ‘from your sister’ birthday cards and have it be appropriate.   Unfortunately, so many of those start with ‘remember when we both were little…’.

Nope, on to the next one.

But you know, as I write this I struggle with the reality that all these years it wasn’t just the circumstances, but actually me holding myself as the outsider.  My preconceived notions of what being a sister should be, that kept me from ever feeling like one at all.  Why do so many of us do this to ourselves?

Sometimes we focus so much on the relationship we wish or hope we could have, instead of appreciating and embracing the relationship that we do have.

Something happened to me last weekend.  Two of my sisters came to visit me and my family, for the first time by themselves.  All adults now, we have been working on our relationship through biweekly phone calls.  Not waiting for something to be important enough to call about but simply calling every couple of weeks and talking about anything.  Or nothing.  Whatever comes to mind.  And when they decided to come for a visit, it marked the first time they really got to see me in my current life.

There’s a reason scientists study animals in their natural habitats.

I felt like they were finally getting to see me.  And I was really seeing them too.  We silently dropped all our expectations, wishes and hopes for our relationship and were simply reveling the moment of being together.  It was such a gift.

It hurt when they left.  I miss them terribly already.  And I feel inspired to try and forge the same path with my other siblings.

Today, I feel like a real sister.

Barbara Alpert’s quote romanticises sisterhood, making it seem fairly unattainable for those of us who don’t quite fit the mould.  Although it is a romantic and charming notion, I think someone else says it better:

I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at. -- Maya Angelou


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy October 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

It always amazes me how easy it is for me to relate my adopted child background to your child of divorce background. They are such different things, yet so many of the feelings and situations you describe are so similar and familiar.

Congrats on having a breakthrough of sorts with your sisters!


2 Carolyn October 19, 2009 at 10:31 pm

That’s so interesting, Tammy. Because you aren’t the first adopted child who’s commented to that effect on my blog. I think it’s kind of neat.


3 Theta Mom October 19, 2009 at 9:11 am

I love when you said you aren’t waiting for a “reason” to call them, you are already doing it, building upon your relationship. And this was the best, “Sometimes we focus so much on the relationship we wish or hope we could have, instead of appreciating and embracing the relationship that we do have.” I think this applies to all relationships in our lives, not just in reference to our siblings. Once again, awesome post.
.-= Theta Mom´s last blog ..Spice It Up =-.


4 Carolyn October 19, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Thanks Heather. I agree. I think a lot of us do this in various relationships. Maybe it’s just human nature to always clamor for what you want instead of living in the moment of what you have.


5 Angelia Sims October 19, 2009 at 2:25 pm

This is such a wonderful post. To finally, fully invest yourself and your love with your sisters. I have an older half sister by 8yrs. If someone called her a half, I would get very mad. She was MY SISTER full blood. I was so lucky to grow up that way. It’s still hard to call her half, seems like a rip off. I just never knew her as anything other than my “real” sister. I treasure her, she is one of my best friends.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful story!
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..Sunday Healthy Reflection =-.


6 Carolyn October 19, 2009 at 10:38 pm

I’m so glad you have such a wonderful relationship with your sister! I just wonder, was it just you and her in your blended family? I wonder if I would have felt differently if there were only two of us. As it was, both my sisters on my father’s side and my sister and brother on my mother’s side were born quite close together. And I always envied the neat and oh so typical sibling relationship they shared with each other. Now from their perspective, that may not have been how it felt at all being *in* that relationship, but that’s how I saw it from my perspective.

Family dynamics are so interesting when you get into a blended state, aren’t they?


7 Type J (Julie) October 19, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Wow…that was such a great post. (so much better than sneezing inside your shirt and writing about it). Good for you! My parents divorced when my sister was in high school and I was in college. I feel like we lived through that experience in such fundamentally different ways. And now we live 2000 miles apart and our dad just died. It sucks to have that bring us back together!


8 Carolyn October 19, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Julie, you just made me laugh right out loud. Who says sneezing into your shirt and writing about it isn’t as good? Maybe you need the visual. ;)

In all seriousness, it is unfortunate that so often it takes a tragic event to bring people together. You are not alone in that situation.


9 Kristen October 20, 2009 at 10:42 am

My half-siblings were 10 and 7 when I came along born to our mother and their stepfather. My younger brother followed 5 years later. Growing up my half-brother (the oldest) lived with his dad and then out on his own. My half-sister died in a car accident leaving a different hole in the family. As a child and teen, I wasn’t very connected to my half-brother. We weren’t in the same household, he was living on his own, things were too different. My brothers connected, despite the 15 year age difference, over sports. We are all adults now. I think we started weaving together a life connection that didn’t include our parents but economic reasons have started tearing a hole in some of that.
i think it takes a lot more time and energy to build up that connection when it doesn’t happen during childhood. We have to recognize the value of connecting….and that doesn’t always happen at the same moment for all three of us. .
When we talk about our childhoods…all three of us have a different context. My older brother had 20-year-old, first-time parents. I had 30-year-old parents that were mixed in experience and were just two years into building an extended family. My younger brother had 35-year-old parents, more established in their careers, and had his teen years without anyone at home. So many differences in parental economics, rules, technology, etc!


10 Carolyn October 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm

And those differences only add to the difficulty! Thank you for sharing and welcome! I loved your comment.


11 Betsy October 23, 2009 at 11:02 am

I have 2 sisters. Hallmark visions of romantic sister relationships always make me achey too. Our relationships are so short of ‘em it ain’t even funny. It’s really good advice to make the relationships you do have work instead of longing for idealized ones. I know that. But I do the achey thing all the time instead.
.-= Betsy´s last blog ..Venusimo =-.


12 Carolyn October 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm

It’s hard to let go of what we’ve wished we had. But what I’ve found is that by not letting go, I prevented myself from seeing something really good that was always right in front of me.


13 Robyn October 25, 2009 at 1:03 am

Well, I come from a blended family. We all were getting together because my half sister was going to have a baby but unfortunately the baby died shortly after birth this week. Its been a real hectic week for everyone. I think sisters really do rely on each other in times of real need. Everything thats going on in my own life took a backseat when I thought about what my half sister was going through. Same with my other stepsister whose been helping her out also…its like you get an extra dose of adrenanline.


14 Carolyn October 27, 2009 at 11:08 pm

My god, Robyn. I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m so sorry for you and your family’s loss. I can’t imagine the devastation you must all be feeling right now. My thoughts and prayers are with you.


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