Finally offered the position I had been eager to receive, I headed back home to Salem, Oregon. While I had not yet found a home for my two children and I, my youngest sister allowed us to stay with her. She was currently a full-time student, had a part-time job, an expanding family of two children with a third on the way, so, it was safe to say, she had a lot on her plate.
We spent several weeks living together, crossing each other’s paths during our daily routines of work, and attending to our children. I realized I was becoming easily frustrated with the lack of housework done in her home. It seemed as if I just came to the reality that my sister was, in fact, a lazy slob. She was not valuing the extra time I took to prepare meals, wash dishes, and attend to both of our children’s never-ending requests for attention. I would work all day, but still find time to contribute, while I felt that she would just allow things to pile up in her home. It got to the point where anyone would have agreed it was blatant abuse of my time and effort.
I had enough! So, I made the decision to confront her one evening. I was feeling unappreciated, and exhausted, from allowing her to walk all over me the past few weeks as I was basically doing everything around the house. I mean, after all, I am a guest in her home not a maid. We were in her kitchen, pondering what to make for dinner, when I spoke up about how I was feeling. I explained how I felt it was unfair that she did not feel the need to help, when we both create messes in the home. I told her that is was more or less lazy of her, that she would allow her home to get this messy. It was irresponsible, and just flat-out rude, that she had me, her sister and guest, do it all.
After what I said, we exchanged many hurtful words to one another, and that night I packed up all of my things and left with my children. I left full of anger and judgment towards her. I felt right, I felt justified, and that I deserved so much more out of a sister. I was frustrated that it had come to this when all I was doing was trying to put the truth out on the table, and on top of that, I was the one taking care of her house.
We did not speak for months. I stayed busy with my new career, and the transition into my new home. However, that did not take away from the unhappiness and frustration I felt from the whole situation. Nothing had changed. I thought of that evening every day, for three long months. I was still waiting for her phone call, the recompense she owed me, and for her to apologize for everything she had done wrong.
Another typical morning came, and I woke up to the thought of another day where I would not be exchanging daily texts with pictures of the kids, how things are going, or arranging plans with my sister. Three months ago, that was something we did nearly daily. Part of me longed for that time. However, as I arrived at work that morning, an assumption I had of my sister began to change. I want to describe what happened.
As I hurried and grabbed my pen and notebook for the morning meeting, little did I know the shift in paradigm I was about to experience. In our meeting, we discussed a book that we had been assigned to read, Leadership and Self-Deception. The book challenged us to think of how we sometimes are the problems we complain about the most, which is not the easiest thing to consider. I was asked to share my thoughts on the chapter we had read, and was then prompted by my colleagues with a number of questions. Questions that forced me to put myself in other peoples’ shoes, in an effort to understand why people do the things they do. At that point, I remember myself, for the first time, becoming curious about my sister and why she had done the things she did. Other than assuming she was lazy and a slob, I considered her pains and challenges for once. I even considered what some of her ambitions might be, and It started to make sense why everything escalated so quickly between us.
What must it have been like to have a sister like me, full of judgement, resentment, and impatience? All of the sudden, my effort to keep her house clean did not seem so much helpful, as it did indignant. It was me. Not her. I was to blame for how I had sabotaged our relationship. It was not her messy home, or her lack of help. It was my lack of understanding, and my reaction to view her as a problem, instead of as a person who needed help. That help being, for her older sister to actually care, care and sympathize for her situation.
I had in fact, this whole time, been viewing my sister as less than I was, not valuing her as an individual who has needs and objectives just like I do. She was a mother, just like me, who was barely making ends meet financially, trying to finish school, while attempting to spend as much time with her kids as possible. With all she had to juggle, here I was, making her current situation even more difficult. Rather than listening, learning how I could be of help to her, and really loving her in a time of her life where she needed it most.
Realizing now that I was being selfish by assuming she was intentionally trying to make more work for me, and that she was okay with allowing her home to be a mess, was completely selfish of me. It was selfish and ignorant on my part, as the only person I was thinking of was me, my needs, my challenges, and my pains. I saw my sister for the first time in a long time as a human being, worthy of the same things I long for in life.
After the meeting that day I had a sense to do something. I hurried home to call my sister. For the first time in months I spoke to my sister, and actually cared about her. I apologized for everything and desperately sought her forgiveness. I expressed my neglect in caring about her feelings, for not seeing she was in pain. I was so blinded by my selfishness. I learned over that phone call, that she and her husband were going through a divorce, her job was not going well, and with being nine months pregnant, it was a lot on her body to manage all of her daily activities. She actually really needed help. After hearing her heart ache and troubles, I immediately saw her as my little sister again, as a struggling young mother, and most importantly, as a person. Had I not stopped viewing her as an object and a burden, I would have possibly made one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and lost one of my best friends. Assuming that others are the problem without taking a deep look at ourselves limits our possibilities for a better outcome.