My sister Sara and I shared a wall between our bedrooms growing up. We had a secret knock we’d use to say good night to each other: I’d knock first and my sister would knock back. I’m younger than my sister by three years, and her little knock always made me feel safe. If there was a thunderstorm, I’d get scared and drag a blanket down the hall to her room. “Can I sleep in your room?” I’d whisper. “Yes, but on the floor,” she’d whisper back.
Adults in midlife now, we laugh about that one. (She couldn’t give me a tiny sliver of her bed?) My sister and I are so different. We live about 1,000 miles apart and our personalities are that far apart, too. I talk too much; she’s shy. No one would know we are sisters; we are adopted and don’t look alike. While we don’t share genetics or personality type, we do share something powerful—sisterhood. Now science is even backing up this premise. A 2015 study from De Montfort University in the U.K. showed that “the presence of a female sibling may be a protective factor…improving family relationships and increasing self-efficacy, optimism and perceived social support.” This could not have been more true in my case.
Sisterhood is a fierce bond.
I could be my sister’s publicist in life. I love her and I’ve always looked up to her. She’s smart (high school valedictorian, educated at Harvard) but she would never tell you because she’s also humble. I feel fiercely loyal to my sister because we shared a tumultuous childhood that revolved around an alcoholic parent. We both had to enter adulthood with burdens to overcome, and that shared experience resulted in a stronger bond. My sister told me once, “You have never let me down.” And I responded, “You are my sister.” By which I meant, no matter what happens in our lives, I know she understands my past because it was hers, too. I don’t have to fill in the blanks for her or explain who I am, she just knows. Our connection is strong and comforting.
Sisters have shared experience.
When Sara and I were kids, I would take clothes out of her purple-beaded closet without asking. As sisters do, she’d yell at me for stretching out her clothes or ruining them. She’d read books in her bedroom and I’d slip notes under the crack in her door to make her laugh again and forgive me. We shared the levity of childhood—flashlight tag, long bike rides to the lake and road trips. And we also shared in the heaviness of adulthood—when we gathered around my mom’s bed on her last day of life. During every part of life, we have leaned on each other.
Sisters are your tribe.
At 26, I found my birth family and learned I had married birth parents and a birth sister. Gulp. When I finally met my birth sister, Jen, in the flesh, it was like looking in a mirror. Two redheads, two talkers. Two people who love to laugh and be the life of the party. Our connection was instant and easy. We didn’t have to share a past—we immediately got one another. Sisters are like that.
A sister’s presence is powerful.
When I am around either of my sisters, I feel happier. We all live in different states but we share an invisible connection beyond geography. Life is in session when we’re together. We relate. Sisters make you feel like you aren’t experiencing the highs and lows of life alone. With a sister, you always feel like you have a home base where you can draw strength, where someone is always in your corner.
Sisters get personal.
Even though my sister Sara is a quiet person, we still share everything and hash things out together. Swapping stories and venting gives us both a healthy outlet to process emotions and get feedback. This kind of expression also happens to foster well-being.
Sisters look out for one another.
My daughters are twin 5-year-olds. By watching their sisterhood play out before me, I notice how often they look out for each other, even at this young age. Sure, they tell on each other, but the sisterly love, generosity and consideration for one another seems innate. In separate preschool classes, they check in on each other on the playground. They shriek and chase each other around the house and prevent each other from falling asleep at night with their antics. Each will come up to me and say, “Mom, sister needs you.” I’m so happy they have each other.
Sisterhood is powerful indeed.