The dim lighting of past years had shielded me from the truth, but there it was in blue and purple: the mark of womanhood. Spider veins.

I completed the natural first step:  I screamed.

Then the natural second step: I texted my sister:

“OMW I HAVE SPIDER VEINS ON MY LEGS!!! The fall of Adam is affecting me!!!”

She responded sympathetically. “Hehe the spiders were going to get to you somehow”  Of course, feeding my fear of all things arachnid.

“BUT I HAVE SUBURBAN MOM LEGS”

“Well at least you don’t have suburban MAN legs” She responded.

Having sisters is like having built-in besties and frenemies all in one bloodline and under one roof. I clearly remember many incidents where Ella’s unmade bed and Autumn’s scattered pony collection drove me up the wall, or when my bossiness got me in trouble (again), or when we were forced to sit on the couch holding hands for an hour until one of us could apologize. But as much as you fight, yell, and dole out the silent treatment, she’s still your sister and you’d still babysit her kids – even if they act like she did way back when.

I will admit I haven’t been the best at the sister thing. In my teens I went through that ‘loner’ stage where sisters tagging along was annoying. Then I moved away to go to college, which automatically made smarter and more mature (of course). But after two of us have married, I’ve had little girls of my own, and we’ve been separated by hundreds and thousands of miles – there are definitely days I wish I could fly in my three sisters for the unabashed girl talk that only we can have. I have thought about the good and bad of sisterhood frequently and came up with eight things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Never shower longer than ten minutes.

It’s just not okay. For those who have never shared bathroom, this doesn’t apply. But for those who do… you get this! The three of us shared one bathroom, and let me tell you, ice water was dumped over that shower curtain on more than one occasion. As my second sister recently said, “Nothing determines hierarchy in a family like limited hot water supply.”

I’ve talked with a few girls who also come from large families, and they have said the bathroom-sharing days were some of the worst and best of their lives. Make it easier by not fogging up the mirror. Then the rest of us can still do our makeup while you use up the hot water.

While many arguments were had over who showered first and why the toilet paper roll wasn’t changed, a lot of good conversations were had in that bathroom as well. I would much rather have fought and argued in there than have lived separate lives in separate bathrooms! We have a lot of good memories because of it, ice water and all.

2. Ask before you borrow her things – especially clothes.

“Is that my belt?!” I was incensed. My favorite patent black belt, around Autumn’s waist, and I paid a whole TWO DOLLARS on consignment for it.

“Maybe.” She said nonchalantly, pulling gum out of her purse and slowly smacking it with disregard.

“You didn’t ask!!!”

“Well YOU didn’t ask when you took my yellow purse to work the other day.” She smirked, knowing I had no defense.

One source of constant trouble with ME was my take-without-asking tendency. Of course this meant just vengeance upon my own closet. But I, the oldest, ALWAYS took care of borrowed things, whereas younger siblings had no such guarantee. Right? I mean, they could run it through the lawn mower or something.

If I had a do-over I’d treat them like I did my roommate – I didn’t go in her closet and take things without asking. And I know some sisters have that share-the-closet understanding that my sisters and I never had to that extent. But still ask. It shows you care that those are their things.

3. Never smack your lips while you sleep.

I have three sisters: Autumn the Face Planter, Laney the Sprawler, and Ella the Smacker.

If you’ve ever shared a bed with your sister you probably know she’s one of these three. Or she’s like me: the Log. I sleep in a line so straight I can wake up the next day and smooth the covers to make the bed.

If you don’t want to be pushed out of the bed, drink water before you sleep. Then, do not smack your lips. Ever.

Do not roll your face into your sister’s.

And do not end up with your legs across her torso in the morning.

4. Ask about her life and be interested.

In other words: listen. It’s hard sometimes, especially when stories drag on with more detail than a lace embroidered wedding dress, *cough ELLA cough*, but it’s worth the effort. We listen to our friends and ask about their lives, but because we live with our sisters we think we know everything that they think, do and say. Why bother to ask? We ask because it shows we care even if we think we know what they are up to. I asked my sister Autumn to contribute some ideas to this post and listening is one she mentioned. In her words:

LISTEN TO YOUR SISTER, as in actually listen to her the way you listen to your friends.  As in, read her facial expressions and inflection and read into it just as much as you make the effort to with your buds.

She put ‘listen’ as Number One on her list rather than Number Four. I’m sure I’ll hear about that later.

5.  Encourage, don’t demean and compliment, don’t critique.

I remember the day I realized I liked getting compliments, but I rarely dished them out, and I complimented friends far more than my sisters. I knew how it would go:

“Hey Aut, that looks good on you.”

“What do YOU want?”

It’s too bad it had become that way. I mean, after all, I see them at their worst, so I might as well compliment them at their best! We have a great opportunity with our sisters if we choose to take it. Too often it would come out, “You’re wearing… that?” or “Your room is a pig sty.” The principles that apply to husbands apply to other relationships as well: focus on the negative and you’ll find it. Look for the positive, and you’ll find that too.

Encouragement is another aspect of positively speaking into your sister’s life. I’ve tried harder at this now that I am gone and watching my sisters decide what they want to do with their lives. It can be difficult to find out their dreams and goals long distance, but when I do, it helps me know how to encourage them via text or email or call, when I can. They can do the same.

The best part is that when you learn to be an encourager and compliment-er with your family, you become a genuine person. Who we are at home is who we are! When we learn to treat our family the way we treat our friends, we become the consistent, transparent people God created us to be.

6. Don’t hold grudges or withhold feelings.

Due to my fast paced lifestyle, I’m not much of a grudge holder. You’re sorry? Okay, let’s move on then. Some people struggle more in this area than I do, especially the quieter ones who don’t articulate their feelings as openly as extroverts like myself. It can be easy to ‘keep track’, as my family calls it, when your sister wrongs you. She has the opportunity to wrong you more than anyone else in life, because she’s close to you.

Another version of holding grudges is withholding feelings. This is simply NOT communicating something that bothers until it mounts into a monster and blows up. Just like marriage, we have to communicate issues quickly and resolve them as soon as possible in order to maintain peace.  Quieter sisters can do us louder ones a favor by communicating their hurts and annoyances, and we extroverts can do better by actually listening.

7. Hug often.

Some families are as huggy as a pack of diapers. I, however, still struggle with this – in fact I wrote a whole book about it.

I remember my dad forcing me to hug my sister after a fight, and as I stretched out two stiff arms like an unoiled Tin Man he told me, “Your sisters will be your best friends for life. Be affectionate to them. You want to give that to your husband and children someday as well.” It’s true that physical affection is one of the best expressions of our hearts, and as emotional women we need to make a habit of expressing our love to each other in that obvious way.

8. Pray for your sister.

Finally, pray for your sister. This cannot be underestimated. Whether we are on good or bad terms with our sisters, fighting or laughing with them, we should be praying for them. Just like we pray for our friends we should pray for them: for their goals, dreams, protection, and health. It would tear my heart up for one of my sisters to be hospitalized and for me to look back at months of prayerlessness on their behalf.

Pray for your sisters’ children if they have them, or even if they don’t! Those will be your babies’ cousins, after all (my sisters probably pray for my children daily, since according to them, they will be a side-parted, starched up little Dockers munchkins with no personality whatsoever). Prayer changes our attitudes, if they need changing. It also awakens our hearts and eyes to the needs of others. It reminds us that others need us and we need them.

The sisterhood is a lifestyle you are born into and can never truly leave. But why would you want to? Make the most of it!

Do you have sisters? Comment with your own experiences and advice on relating to them!