About three years ago, I stopped talking to my sister. She had just exploded at me after learning that I couldn’t come to our family Christmas gathering after my town became buried under 34 inches of snow.
The storm broke state snowfall records and received coverage from news outlets all over the world. It was so bad that the National Guard was called in.
My predicament ignited the deep-seated hatred she’s always had toward me. I was “selfish,” “a bitch,” “a loser.” All insults I’d heard thousands of times over the years, but this time something inside me snapped. After a lifetime of hurt and abuse, I told her we were finally done.
I had my first daughter a little less than a year later. My sister didn’t meet her, nor did she meet the baby I had last September. It stung, but mostly I felt relieved that my children would never have to see me subjected to her hate. Unlike most everyone else in my family, I don’t believe blood relations get a pass on being decent human beings.
It took years, but I can finally recognize what I experienced as abuse. Her ripping my hair out by the fistful. Or rounding up kids and having them bully me until I’d run away crying. Relentlessly teasing me about the teenage acne that caused me so much shame. Breaking into my diary and reading its contents to the entire neighborhood. Urging me to kill myself when I hid in my room in fear. And the countless insults about my pathetic friends, job, clothes. With every cutting comment, eye roll and punch, the message was clear: I was worthless and didn’t deserve to exist.
And yet it wasn’t until I was a happily married woman in her 30s that the torture came to an end. I held out so long for a reconciliation because I’ve wanted nothing more my whole life than to have a close, loving family. So my hopes would swell whenever she’d throw a little kindness my way. Maybe, just maybe, this time it would be different.
People also assured me that we’d grow closer as we grew older. And yet no life milestone could bridge the divide.
At her wedding, she managed to hurl some hurtful comments my way in between drinking and dancing. She also refused to let my husband take even one photo of us on my phone. When it came time for the professional family photo, her bridesmaids practically begged her to let me in it. I’m the one on the end with the big, forced smile.
Like the hopeful idiot I’d always been, I made her a bridesmaid in my own wedding even though I had no role in hers. She returned the favor by mocking the dresses I chose and opting out of the wedding day salon prep that every bridesmaid knows is part of the deal.
Besides my eternally springing hope, I stayed in touch because my parents pushed a message about the importance of getting along. Research shows that sibling abuse most often occurs in dysfunctional, neglectful homes where parents fail to set boundaries or discipline abusive children. Check, check, check. Every time I turned to my parents for help, I received the same messages: It’s your problem to sort out, you’re too sensitive, just ignore her better.
Also keeping me connected was the sheer embarrassment of admitting to our estrangement. If you want to see looks of horror and receive heaps of unsolicited advice, tell someone you cut off contact with your sister.
I’m always shocked that people assume I overreacted after some petty argument. They’re appalled that my oldest daughter is two years old and only met my sister in passing at a family reunion.
People’s horror and unsolicited advice is about to start rolling in again. That’s because my sister recently announced she’s pregnant with her first child. And just like that, it hurts like hell all over again.
I mourn our sad and painful past. I mourn the fact that I had to learn about this big life event in an Instagram post. I mourn the fact that our children will never know each other. And that the next time I see her will probably be at one of our parent’s funerals.
Upon learning her news, some primal need to connect became triggered from deep within me. I eventually became so distraught and conflicted that I called into a no-nonsense radio personality’s show. She told me in no uncertain terms to stay away. And to seriously rethink my relationship with the parents who enabled her behavior.
I’m letting that sink in while I work through these complex feelings with a therapist. I’m also finding endless, unbridled joy in being with my two little girls.
Given my history, I begged God to give me sons. I could start fresh with sons–plus, we all know boys adore their moms. Instead, he sent me two girls with a similar age difference as me and my sister.
I still have so much to learn as a mom. But one thing I do know is that I’ll put a fast stop to any abusive behavior. I talk to my toddler multiple times a day about her “awesome little sister.” And that her little sister’s big, toothless smiles convey her love toward her.
They say having your own children is your second chance at a mother-child relationship. I wholeheartedly believe that and wonder if the relationship that unfolds between my girls over the years will prove to be similarly cathartic.
For now, it’s a comfort to know that they will never feel unsafe, unloved or unsupported with me as their mother. If I do nothing else right in this life, let it be this.
This article was originally published on