Just like you should reassess the division of labor in your house, so too should you reassess the dynamics of your relationships.
Although we are actually very similar, growing up I tended to define my sister and myself by our differences…
My sister is amazing with people, confident and outgoing and extraordinarily empathetic. She was always surrounded by a group of friends in every situation. She could start up a conversation with a stranger on the bus and be their best friend by the next stop. It was a strength that someone who was very awkward with her peers, and just a little shy, couldn’t help but admire.
And me? Well, I was the best at logistics. I always had two sets of lunch money in case my sister forgot hers (which was often useful), and contingency plans for every situation. I could usually negotiate compromises between the members of my family when people wanted different outcomes that left everyone feeling their goals had been met. I think I’m right in saying that over the years it was a skill that has been greatly appreciated.
People looked to me to make decisions, and I acted in the best interests of the group. I felt appreciated and loved. Leading the family team was my thing. It was the thing that made it okay that I wasn’t the best socially and didn’t fit in at school.
As we grew up and left home, the relationship dynamic stayed the same. Whenever we were together, I was still in charge, the quiet but confident director of the group.
Then, last year, we had a family crisis. We all travelled back to where my parents live, and because of where I was coming from, I was one of the last to arrive. I got there expecting disorganized chaos, but that wasn’t what I found.
My little sister, the one who’s supposed to be good at emotional support, was coordinating. She was finding out what we needed to know and making a plan.
I was glad that the relevant fires were being fought, but it felt quite odd not to be in control, to be deferring to someone else. I’d expected to swoop in and be the hero, but she didn’t need me.
The last time I’d lived with her, she’d still been at school. Since we’d last spent any serious time together she’d been to university and lived away from home. She’d gone to another continent to study for a semester, entirely initiated and organised by herself. She now has a job as a real actual adult where she does meaningful things and makes people’s lives better.
She’s not just my kid sister anymore, and she doesn’t need me to remember her lunch money for her. The only reason that it seemed that way before was because I wasn’t trusting that anyone else could be competent. I wasn’t giving her the space to do anything. I always had every eventuality covered on my own.
It was a shock to have her take the reins, and she and I both felt the shift in the power dynamic. We had some serious private conversations that week, and sometimes it was hard. I had to ask for some time and space to get used to the situation (which made me feel about three feet tall, given that this was the least important issue we were facing).
I’m so glad we did manage to work through it. It did take time, and sometimes she still has to give me a bop on the head if I treat her like a child. I’ll tell you this, though: it’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with a situation if you work as partners than if you try and work as manager and minions. I was absolutely exhausted by the time we got through that crisis, and that would have been doubly true if I had shouldered the responsibility on my own.
Now we both get to be good at people, and good at organizing. It’s a much healthier situation.