Relationships Between Sisters: Two Books

In some ways, siblings and especially sisters are more influential in your childhood than your parents… Deborah Tannen, interviewed on NPR, on relationships between sisters

The relationships between sisters seems a timely topic for today considering the upcoming release of the new Sisters comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

I. My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life (2006, then available in paperback 2012) by Vikki Stark, MSW 

Family therapist Stark’s research on relationships between sisters involved interviews with 400 females ranging in age from four to 95.

Selected quotes from her interview at Commitment Now. (Note: I wish I could link to the url from which I recently took the following quotes; however, it currently appears inactive.)

The myth about having sisters: “…(W)e assume that a sister is just one-step removed from your ‘self’.  It goes without saying that a woman’s sister should be the person to whom she can turn at any time of the day or night. She knows you better than anyone else and would make any sacrifice on your behalf.”

Older sisters: “In a nutshell, women who are older sisters tend to suffer from the need to make everything right for everyone and have trouble letting others take care of them.”

Middle sisters: “Middle sisters may seek their identity through their social life outside the family as kids, but as adults, they often become the backbone of the family. Among their friends, they are good mediators because being both older and younger sisters; they can easily see two sides of an argument. They’re often more black-and-white, practical and solution oriented than their sisters.”

Youngest sisters: “Whether the youngest one is the adored, spoiled family pet or the overlooked afterthought, the hallmark of the youngest sister is powerlessness. As a result, as an adult she often either becomes fiercely independent (to prove that she’s someone of value) or she remains very dependent, needing validation from others in order to act.”

Twins: “Like middle sisters, twins tend to be good mediators and more so than any other sister position, seek harmony. They are often used to having someone who knows what they’re thinking without having to state it and try to replicate that in friend and love relationships, frequently being disappointed that others don’t just ‘get’ them without a lot of explanation.”

Choice of Occupation: “The clearest indication is among middle sisters and twins who are much more likely to find themselves in jobs in the business sector than their older or younger sisters. Middle sisters were the ones who you’d find working in retail or management; they were the engineers, scientists or I.T. workers – fields that are more black-and-white.  They were rarely to be found in the helping professions as nurses, doctors or dentists. Who were more likely to work as therapists? The younger sister!”

Well, I’ll be…I am the younger sister!

II. You Were Always Mom’s Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives (2009), by Deborah Tannen

Linguist Tannen’s research regarding relationships between sisters involved more than 100 women.

From a New York Times essay by Tannen:

…(T)he key to why having sisters makes people happier — men as well as women — may lie not in the kind of talk they exchange but in the fact of talk. If men, like women, talk more often to their sisters than to their brothers, that could explain why sisters make them happier.

Two quotes from a book excerpt on NPR:

The word “sister” evokes an ideal of connection and support, like the friendships that made Rebecca Wells’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Ann Brashares’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants into bestselling novels and successful films…Part of the reason these books and movies were so popular is that we all yearn to belong to a group with a bond like that. As one woman put it, “Friends are the sisters we were meant to have.”

Everything said between sisters carries meaning not only from what was just said but from all the conversations that came before and “before” can span a lifetime. The layers of meaning combine profound connection with equally profound competition. Both the competition and the connection are complicated by inevitable comparison with someone whose life has been so similar to yours and yet so different and always in your view.

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