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Girl Talk: Sister Envy

Q. I feel like I'm not as good a mother as my big sis. She was always the perfect one. Her house is clean; her baby's on a schedule; she cooks real meals! I can barely keep it together. How do I shake this insecurity?

 

A. Congratulations on recognizing that your feelings stem from insecurity and not your imperfection. You realize that your view of your sister is skewed by a lifetime of sibling junk. The next step you need to take is to see your sister and yourself as separate people, not as yardsticks of achievement.

 

Before you blurt out, "Easy for you to say! You don't know my sister," I should tell you that I, too, share the spotlight with a pretty amazing person - darn her! My sister is pretty, good-natured, and a wonderful mother of three exceptional children. Oh, and did I mention that she's a cardiologist who plays piano, speaks I don't know how many languages, cooks gourmet meals, works out almost every day?.wait, I need a minute.

Okay. I'm better now.

 

Why would a list of my sister's great qualities upset me? Maybe because it's so hard to separate my self-worth from hers. It's the way family dynamics work. But here's the thing: If I don't let it go, I won't be able to focus on what I am doing right. To keep myself from playing the unwinnable game of comparison, I use this little trick: I pretend we're not related. I don't mean I disown her; I just look at her with a stranger's eyes.

 

For instance, if I listed all of my sister's accomplishments but put them under someone else's name, I wouldn't feel insecure. I wouldn't feel anything except perhaps admiration for this person's abilities and gratitude that we women were born generations after Gloria Steinem. Does a stranger's success affect my own? No. Does her self-confidence diminish mine? Um, no.

 

See what I'm sayin'? Obviously, you and your sister aren't strangers. You have a long and tangled history that makes you who you are today. But now that you have your own family, you need to recognize that you are your own person. Own it! Your beautiful baby is all yours, and it's your endless capacity to love him that makes you a terrific mom. It has nothing - I repeat, nothing - to do with your sister. Separating your self-esteem from your sister may take time, but while you're working on it, remember: Nobody's perfect.

 

Kitty O'Callaghan is an award-winning writer and a mom of three living in White Plains, New York.

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