I’ve been a lazy blogger lately, but a busy mama. This summer I felt a pull to be present and in the moment, soaking in the heat and sunshine during Wisconsin’s brief but perfect summer. So instead of keeping up with two to three blog posts a week, I let it slide temporarily to make room for trips to the cottage and swimming at the beach. Not gonna lie – it was a good trade off. But I dropped my oldest at his first afternoon of 4K today, and I’m feeling both sad at how quickly my time at home with him is drawing to a close and grateful for a potential two hours to write and reflect while my littlest naps. Nobody warned me about how intensely bittersweet motherhood is, a constant yearning for both just a little more space and independence and a heartfelt awareness of how truly fleeting these early years of intense care really are.
Anyways, while I haven’t been busy at the computer this summer, my brain has been on overdrive thinking of new post ideas, reading related books, and even considering additional creative avenues for spreading the sisterhood love. One of those ideas had me sitting down with a pen and notebook – all old fashioned like – and really breaking down what sisterhood is and what allows it to work well. These aren’t universal laws, of course. Just my own interpretation of sisterhood and what it means to me in my life, but I think that many women out there will identify with the general ideas.
So when it comes right down to it, what is sisterhood? To me, sisterhood is a deep friendship based on authenticity and a mutual willingness to be vulnerable. There is no such thing as keeping up appearances with a sister. You’re not going to lie and hide the Kraft macaroni and cheese box to uphold the pretense that you only feed your kids organic food. You’re not going to lie and gush about how everything is great with your husband when you’re actually going through a rough patch. You’re going to be real with her, and you know that she’ll honor and respect your vulnerability.
Sisterhood is being close enough that you’re willing to sacrifice your own time, resources, and/or comfort in order to support her. It’s splitting your lunch at school if she forgets hers. It’s giving up a chance to go to the big party because she wasn’t invited too. It’s leaving your warm bed at 1am so she has a safe ride home from the bar. It’s dropping $200 on a bridesmaid dress you’ll never wear again so you can stand up in her wedding. For some friends of mine, it was taking two weeks this summer to road trip across the United States with all three of their children – ages six and under – to visit with their best friends from college.
But what makes this rich bond possible? How do we make the leap into familial devotion with friends who were formerly just acquaintances? I think it comes down to some common agreements, the Principles of Sisterhood if you will:
1.Be authentic: You can’t have a real connection or emotional intimacy without honesty. Sometimes this is scary as hell. You need to do it anyways.
Note: Depending on your situation and the circumstances you’re in, it’s not always in your best interests to be 100% honest and open about everything, with everyone, all the time. Your grandma doesn’t necessarily need to know about your one-night stand last weekend. Given the different generational values that are likely present there, that situation most likely wouldn’t serve anyone. You’re allowed to have some privacy. But when you’re with sisters, you don’t need to hide parts of yourself. You can both shine as bright as possible and admit the things that aren’t working for you.
2. Listen. Sisterhood requires active listening. Not the kind where you listen just long enough to make a connection and turn the conversation to yourself. Not the kind where you interrupt to offer five different solutions. The kind of active listening where you can hold space for someone and be with them through whatever they’re experiencing at the moment without trying to change it. I love the video below from Uplift.
3. Recognize that every woman is on her own unique journey: Sisterhood is downright impossible if you view every choice that someone makes as a reflection on your own life and your own choices. They aren’t. Every woman – no matter how much you have in common – is going to sometimes make different choices than you. Every woman is going to sometimes have different opinions than you. Every woman is going to sometimes have different experiences than you.
None of that makes her a threat to your choices, your opinions, or your experiences. Your choices, your opinions, and your experiences are still perfectly valid for your journey.
4. View women as a source of support and connection – not competition.
If you’re constantly viewing other women as competition, sisterhood is out the window. You have a choice to make. You can go through life seeing other women as teammates or the enemy. There will be times where viewing them as competition feels safer, but ultimately this tactic leads to isolation.
5. Embrace tolerance – ditch the judgment: Judgment shuts down communication and connection. Judgment doesn’t help people overcome negative or destructive behaviors – it just makes them shut down.
This doesn’t mean that you need to enthusiastically approve things that go against your values or feel unsafe. Remember the importance of being authentic? That doesn’t go away. But if you have concerns about the health or safety of a sister, the focus needs to be on that, not on any knee-jerk moral judgments that might come up for you. There is a big difference between a heartfelt “I’m concerned about you” and a judgmental “You’re a (fill in the blank).”
For example, say you have concerns about a friend who’s alcohol consumption seems to be progressing from a social outlet to a lifestyle. There is a big difference between checking in to make sure she’s being safe and calling her a drunk. The first is going to keep the lines of communication open, and the second is a fast track for shutting your relationship down. That said, if she has concerns and talks to you about it, you don’t need to pretend that nightly binge drinking is a healthy habit. You can say, “I love you, and I want you to be happy and healthy. How can I help you get there?”
6. Be dependable. This is simple but crucial. Show up when you say you will. And keep confidential things confidential.
Confidentiality is absolutely necessary when people are trusting you with their authentic selves. They are opening up and being vulnerable with you in a way that they aren’t with the casual acquaintance. You need to honor that by maintaining their privacy. All it takes is one wrong move to break that trust, and it’s difficult to regain.
7. Seek balance. All relationships require balance. If you are constantly drawing upon sisters as a resource without offering them support in return, it’s going to stop being a healthy relationship for them. Conversely, if you are always the one who is supporting but never showing vulnerability yourself, you are imposing limits on that friendship.
This may be my own bias speaking, but I think with women it’s often the second scenario that tends to be more common. We’re often raised to be compassionate and offer help, but it’s harder for us to admit our own challenges and seek help. Admitting to vulnerability and the need for help is very often the harder leap for us to make. It is for me anyways.
8. Recognize that women are strong. This is my bias as a birth doula speaking, but women are amazingly, wonderfully, superhumanly strong. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we need to crawl in bed and pull the covers over our heads and pretend for a day or two that things aren’t falling apart. But when it comes right down to it, women overcome. We get shit done. Don’t believe me? Check out my previous post on Women in Politics.
If you’re going to support your sisters through the hard times, you need to do it with the steadfast and unshakeable belief that she can absolutely overcome whatever she’s going through. You need to have 100% faith in her when she doesn’t believe in herself.
So, there are my eight principles of sisterhood. I would love to hear your views on sisterhood. Are there any of mine that you disagree with? Any that you think I left out? Please share!