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Sister Act

By Hildie Westenhaver

I have three daughters who are thirteen, seven and three years old. They spend an alarming amount of time complaining about each other, criticizing, bossing and generally being as annoying as possible. Last week my seven year old, Arabella, came to me crying about how she has no friends in the family (I also have three sons) and this is, for the most part, true. I have taken each of my other children aside since then and explained how Arabella feels and could they please, pretty please, invite her to the park or to play a game. They usually do and for a day or so Arabella is happier.

It’s only a matter of hours, though, until three year-old Ada loses some of her sister’s Polly Pockets. Or Ada breaks the Lego tower on India’s desk (let’s just gloss over the fact that I have a thirteen-year-old who spends her babysitting money on Legos). Or India and Arabella spend ten minutes quarrelling about who, exactly, owns the brown Webkinz dog. Or Arabella informs Ada that she is definitely not a good dancer.

Maddening, to be sure. Like every parent in the history of the world I have wailed, more than once, “why can’t you just get along?” Really! Why can’t they?

Let me rewind about thirty years to the house I grew up in. I was the oldest child with a sister three years younger. I loved to torment her. No insult was too awful. No slap too hard. I didn’t think twice about stealing money or candy from her room. Somehow that wasn’t bad because she just didn’t count. I don’t recall ever considering how any of it made her feel. I do remember my mother staring at me and saying through clenched teeth, “one day she will be your best friend.” That thought stunned me. My sister? Be my best friend? Out of the question. Simply inconceivable.

I continued to tattle. To taunt silently in the car so she’d get in trouble and I wouldn’t. To take full advantage of her kind nature and get her to take the blame for something bad that I’d done. Sadly, there were few, if any, kind moments between us.

Shortly after I turned seventeen, magically—suddenly, almost overnight—I liked her. Out of the blue. My sister was funny and cool and liked the same music as me. We weren’t exactly best friends, but I didn’t mind the twenty-minute drive to school with her. We’d go shopping on the weekends and I helped her get a job at the frozen yogurt shop where I worked.

The year she started college was the year I got married and moved to the other side of the country. As strange as it seemed to me, she was the person I missed the most. I begged her to visit for the holidays, and saved money from my menial little job for plane tickets. I can’t explain why, but it was as if there had never been any hard feelings between us.

She became my best friend.

She is the reason why, after I had my first daughter, I told my husband, “we’re going to keep having babies until India has a sister.”

And now India has a sister. Two of them. I look at those three girls as they find fault with each other and say unkind things, and wonder if the age difference is too big to be best friends. What if Arabella always feels like she doesn’t have a friend in the family? Or what if they just plain old don’t like each other?

I try to make everyone get along. I have said those same insane words that my mother said to me, “one day she’ll be your best friend.” I’m hoping it will be true. I’m praying that they’ll have the same happy ending that I did—the one I didn’t deserve, but so marvelously fell into my lap.

My gift.

My sister.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

27 thoughts on “Sister Act”

  1. First of all, I have to thank you for writing honestly about how your kids fight with each other. I only have 2 and they spend about half their time fighting. I have a girl who is 5 and a boy who is 2, and with the age gap and gender gap I worry that they're never going to like each other. But, like you, I remember that I'm actually good friends with my sister now. I'm only 15 months older than her and we always shared a room, but we spent many years fighting with each other and tormenting each other, and pretty much ignored each other through high school. Then we went off to college and ended up being roommates and friends. Some of my younger siblings I'm not as close with, but it does get easier when you're both adults and the age differences are not such a big problem.

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  2. That was touching. Thanks.

    I do sometimes wonder, though, if it's easier for a sibling to get left behind or lost in a large family. And not by the parents, by other siblings. I have a friend from a very large family who freely talks about knowing and liking some of his siblings better than other siblings. Coming from a family of 3 children, I've never felt that way and it always sounded strange to me. It almost makes me think that smaller families are better at fostering appreciation for siblings. Then again, I have another friend who also has 2 siblings, and half the time they all seem to truly hate each other. So it probably is simply what you make of it.

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  3. I feel lucky that as adults, my siblings and I pretty much all like each other. It's not always perfect, but there is definitely mutual friendship and support. And we fought like crazy as kids, just like everyone else. I am the closest to my two sisters, even though one is six years older, and one six years younger than me. Motherhood has been a unifying factor in those relationships. Hang in there with your girls — the age difference won't seem so large when they grow up.

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  4. I have three sisters (I'm 25 and they're 23, 21 and 17). The 17-year-old and I feel like we don't really know each other (she was 9 when I left for college). The 23-year-old and I get along most of the time, but in all honesty, we'll probably never be best friends, and we actually have fought (recently) just as bitterly as we did when we were children (without the hitting, now).

    The 21-year-old is most like me, I think, and she's my 'favorite' sister. The 23-year-old has been very close to the 17-year-old since birth, and to the 21-year-old since high school. I felt like I was the one without a friend in the family growing up, and now the 21-year-old is the one with a good relationship with each of us.

    Family dynamics are complicated regardless of gender, age, birth order and inborn personalities (but, of course, all those things can make them more complicated!).

    But to have all of us together (we haven't since Christmas 07)–THAT is the magical connection. My youngest sister flew out to visit the three of us in Utah right before Christmas, and walking through the airport, talking and laughing together, made me realize that there is nothing in this whole world like a sister.

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  5. Funny, I always felt like the one without friends in the family. My two oldest siblings were closer to each other, whereas there were three years between them and me and then another three before the next sibling, who was closer with my younger siblings. My mom also said those words, except concerning my brother: "One day you two will be best friends." Do you know what? We're not best friends. In fact, we rarely talk. I remember her begging us to write nice things about each other or to talk things out. I remember at least trying to fill in the ten points she had assigned, but I later found his card. Empty. I actually saw it get pushed around the house for the next few years.

    However, us having LOTS of space between each other has done amazing things. I no longer see all the things that bug me about him and can instead make small talk. I actually do care about how his job or dating life is going, at least as much as any other person would ask. I can say, however, that I truly and finally feel like I have friends within my siblings.

    Among the families I've babysat for long terms, I can't say enough about how scripture study and family prayer were the biggest differences between the two families and it showed in how they treated each other. My family had those things, though, so I guess just patience until things work out . . .

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  6. Sisters. My sister and are are 6 years apart, which is nothing now, but felt like decades when we were young. We really didn't know each other until I was somewhere in my mid-20s, most likely my fault (at least largely) for being the older sister who didn't take enough initiative. Now we're tight. Best friends. And she's getting married this spring and moving far, far away, which breaks my heart. Kind of hard to raise your children together from 2000 miles away. I finally got my daughter 8 months ago. As much as I would like to be done having children during the trying times, we, too, won't stop until she has a sister.

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  7. I'm the youngest of four sisters and my best friend growing up since I was very small till I became an adult was my oldest sister who is seven years older than me. I didn't really have much to do with my second oldest sister and during my childhood I couldn't stand my third oldest sister, we would fight like cat and dog.
    But as we have grown up and all become adults we all get along really well and I would not know what to do if I didn't have my sisters to go to when I need. I worried when I joined the church that the relationship between us would fall apart but it hasn't and they have respected my decision and been very loving about it.

    Sisters (siblings in general) are awesome, it sometimes just takes us a while to realise that.

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  8. I LOVE MY SIBLINGS, more than I can ever express.

    I am the youngest of four with the age gap of 6, 8, and 12 years. My sister is the oldest and though we are far apart, she has always made the effort to be interested in my life. As kids, my siblings fought bitterly. My sister has been known to kick a hole in the bathroom door (in frustration) where my brothers were hiding during one night of babysitting. Don't worry, she is now the most patient of all of us. My brother (6 years older than I) and I squealed, tickled, and complained about one another in the back seat of the van. I do remember though, at one point, a trip to Disneyland with our dad was promised IF we could get along. Mind you, this promise was made 6 months in advance. We had to make a legitimate change. And we did. I don't think we have fought since. I think that as siblings grow older, each one has to make an effort to make the younger one feel important. I always felt so loved by my siblings the older we all got. I was so self-absorbed, and they just loved me. I remember when I was 13 and I got a card from my big brother who was in college. The card said "I'm proud of you!" and I have never forgotten it. I don't know how a 21 year old boy who could barely cook do that. Maybe it's because my parents always made us work it out when we fought. If we fought over a toy, we had to work it out, or neither one of us got it. Or maybe I'm just lucky. Who knows.

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  9. I have no sister, just one brother. My parents are both only children. That means no Aunts or cousins either. All the grandparents are gone, so I grew up with very limited family dynamics.

    I have 4 sons and 1 daughter. I so wanted a sister for her, but it didn't work out that way. My husband says a sister now, would simply dethrone her. I have 2 that are always at each other. I think it's an Alpha thing, proving your place in the pack. It seems to be really important to some kids and not so important to others.
    I find it really hard to balance letting them work out their relationships with each other, and when to step in and intervene.

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  10. I love my sisters, NOW. Then? Please, they were so annoying, who could possibly stomach them. Thank goodness we all grow up and usually get smarter about the friends with whom we share parents.

    Let's NOT gloss over that she spends her money on legos. Uhm, that's awesome. That is a girl who should be encouraged to take better math classes. If she isn't getting great support from her math teachers, make a fuss until she is. That girl has the makings of an excellent engineer and should be encouraged to explore those avenues.

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  11. All the fighting that goes on in my house makes me crazy. Yesterday, I was wondering how to teach my kids to get along. I also wondered what I was doing wrong to create such contention in our home.

    That said, I fought a lot with my younger sister when we were growing up. Things changed when I went to college. Now we chat all the time. My sisters (I have 7 of them!) are my best friends. They are the people I miss more than anyone.

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  12. This couldn't have come at a better time. Our almost 20 yr old daughter is home between tracks at byui. I love having her home-she is one of my best friends. The difficulty is that while she was gone we made changes to several things, one of which included certain TV shows. Now she is very upset if one of the shows she wants to watch gets nixed, and then everything deteriorates into a verbal battle. Ideas?

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  13. I love that your thirteen year old spends babysitting money on Legos. Really.

    My sister and I have a similar history to others I see here. I'm so grateful we are so close now. I don't know what I'd do without her. AND I'm very grateful for free long distance, so we can talk about our common experience of being new Moms together every day. It's fantastic.

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  14. I hope they become better friends, too. My sister is my best friend and I want my daughter to have a sister for the same reason.

    I think moving out and away from your family makes you appreciate your family and siblings so much more – that's what college did to me.

    LEGOS! Your daughter is awesome.

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  15. How am I supposed to respond to that? I can barely see the screen through the gushing tears. I started reading it aloud and got two paragraphs into it before I got too choked up to continue and made Kelly take over. He got a paragraph further and couldn't read it either. Then we both laughed until our guts hurt because we are both too big of babies to read this. He got to the end, but he broke down again and had to leave before he finished. Then I tried to read the last four words, and sobbed for a full five minutes. Jennie, after all these years (especially the horrible ones when we were growing up), what a wonderful complement and gift to me. You are my best friend too. I love you.

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  16. I have three girls and they all get along fine…it is throwing the boy into the mix that has them all in a kerfuffle. Really. If he would just act more like a GIRL they would like him (my 8 year old said this very same thing to him yesterday–and at the time he was wearing a snow white dress up that she insisted he put on…..).

    Being the referee is the hardest part of my day. They better like each other when they are older. At least tolerate each other… I have put in too much time being in the middle of the squabbles…..

    Great post with great timing…

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  17. HH,
    Your daughter is an adult. I think she should decide what she watches. However, you should decide what is appropriate in your home, or when.
    I would say you might want to consider letting her watch them, but respect the rest of the family. She can record it and watch when the rest of the family is doing something else. Or, she can record it and watch at a friends house.

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  18. My favorite thing to say to squabbling kids is, "well it looks like playing time (or free time) isn't working out." Then I set them IMMEDIATELY to work doing something small. If they complete that small job cheerfully and would like to go play NICELY, then fine. If more work is needed, I supply that. This teaches them to value their play time, and that if they aren't being good, they will at least be useful.

    It really works for us. When job assignments start flying, the kids settle their disputes amazingly fast.

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  19. I can only pray that it comes to pass in the life of my nephews. My sister passed away 2 1/2 years ago and before she died she reminded them that they always had each other. I was just saying last night that if Karen could only see what that meant! Each other to fight with…constantly. It never stops. They are now 14 and 16 and I hope that 17 becomes the magic number, like it was for you. At this point I have believed they should be raised separately and put us all out of our misery. But for now, I'll hold on to the hope for the same miracle you had with your sister!

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  20. I so pray that my four daughters grow to view each other as best friends (and that they include my only son too).

    Some days I think my kids will never appreciate each other because of the need for constant intervention to ensure they don't permanently damage one another.

    Thankfully though, at other times I get a glimpse of hope when they stick up for each other to a mean kid on the playground, or share a treat from school or church. Or when they actually give a genuine compliment.

    Maybe it will all work out between them. (Of course I can say that now because I haven't faced the teenage years.)

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  21. My mother used a stunning object lesson to teach me about the importance of family. My mother was a widow, then a divorcee. Us three children and her were a TEAM and contention was more stressful for her, I'm sure.
    One day she took a pearl bead necklace of my grandmother's (who had passed years earlier) and explained it's significance and workmanship. Then she related it to families, and showed what contention could do – at that moment she pulled real hard, and beads went everywhere. I was STUNNED she would do that!
    It stayed with me for all these years, and I have even adapted this visual aid for teaching in my own family and in the church.
    ~Shari

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  22. It's true, isn't it? I felt like the "friendless", being the oldest of 5. Mostly my fault, perhaps, for getting my own room when I was 12 and everybody else had to share. My sisters were best friends, even when young, but I fought with them and was so incredibly cruel to them sometimes, and I was envious at times of their friendships. And then the two youngest, boys, they were and still are best buds. And there was me.

    Then I went on a mission. I moved across the country. All three of us girls got married (within 7 weeks of each other. How 'bout that?) and now, we are each other's best friends. All three of us. Having children has strengthened that bond. What a blessing it has turned out to be. As I watch my two little boys, 15 months apart, I can only hope that they will remain pals. I know there will be fighting and bickering, there already is, but there is hope.

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  23. I "discovered" my sister when she was 13 and I was 18. She's a friend and a wonder to me. My little Mary has 5 brothers but I know she'll find sister friends whereever life leads her.

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  24. I can't keep having babies until my daughter has a sister.
    We are both sad.
    My 13 year old (son) still buys legos, and I love my sisters.
    Great post.

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  25. Jenny, I enjoyed your post and smiled too! Your daughters are growing so fast, are so NORMAL and are each so beautiful!!! I too wanted a sister for Natalie because of the friendships I enjoy with my four sisters. Because of a hysterectomy at age 29, that became impossible and she was stuck with her three brothers. I always felt cheated in a way of not having daughters and the sister thing going in our family… until now with three wonderful daughter in laws.
    I love that India is into Legos! She might become a designer/architect. I hope someday your girls will be great friends as my sisters and I are… I bet your sister misses you like crazy. We miss YOU:)
    *C*

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  26. I was the only girl and always wanted a sister as a child and teen. But now, I have sister-in-laws, and I can say that life is wonderful! They are my sisters. And having lots of brothers has its advantages too–my brothers have put in countless hours at my home helping my dh and me with landscaping projects. I won't feel bad if I can't give my daughter a sister. Being the only girl has huge perks, too. I got my own room even when all four brothers were sharing one small bedroom. I don't have to "share" my mom in the same way I would if I had sisters. And I got to be the only "daddy's girl".

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