The Sad Reason I'm Estranged From My Sister

Even though we're close in age, we're not actually close.

photo of two sisters holding onto each other pio3 | Shutterstock

I can pinpoint when it happened. I was driving one-handed up the interstate frontage road, kids yelling in the backseat, frantically explaining to my sister we weren't coming to her wedding.  

We had two small children, one 11 months old and exclusively breastfed. Her wedding would require driving an hour and a half, boarding a plane, boarding another plane, renting a car, then driving 4 hours from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod.


Reserved hotel rooms ran $200 a night, and my husband was a university adjunct pulling in somewhere below the poverty line. My children were not welcome at the reception.

“I can’t do it, Kate,” I said. “I just can’t.”

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“You’re so selfish,” she snapped. “It’s always all about you.” My phone double-beeped a hangup buzz.

And that was the last time, barring severe family drama, that I spoke to my sister. On that occasion, she answered only to say that if I called her again, she’d block my number. We’ve weathered parental divorce and heart attacks this way.

So I don’t have a sister. Or I do, but a sister I don’t speak to, which is both personally painful and socially awkward. My kids know there’s someone named Aunt Kate, but even the oldest doesn’t remember her. Kate only saw him once, when he was four months old.

She’s never clapped eyes on my younger sons or acknowledged their births.


Before she unfriended me, I’d see pictures of her loving all over a set of twins. They were somehow related to her wife. Even livid at Kate, every snapshot broke my heart a little more.

Elizabeth Broadbent personal photo with sister

Photo from the author

This estrangement shouldn’t come as a shock.

We’re a mere 16 months apart, close enough to seem like we should play together, and far enough apart to hate it. As children, we fought constantly, often physically. My beloved grandmother, in true Catholic form, told me that “Katie is your cross to bear.”


Kate was the jock, the athlete: basketball and softball, and good at both. She was smart, too, but not the kind of smart that aces standardized tests and offers sonnets to English teachers. That was me. I resented the family's attendance at her games.

She resented her teacher yelling, “Kate! Your sister got a perfect score on this test! There’s no reason why you can’t do the same!”   

We competed for more than just trophies and grades. At age 3, Kate proclaimed my mom was her best friend. I was 4 and enraged. As we aged, the race for parental affection intensified. We tattled incessantly. If one of us got in trouble, the other wasted no time cozening up to Mom or Dad

. When mom arrived at the babysitter’s, we outdid each other jumping and yelling and hugging to get her attention. My mom cut my hair short; she grew Kate’s into long ringlets everyone admired. Kate was the pretty one, the funny one, and my short-bobbed, shy self hated her for it. She rubbed it in, smirking when Mom took her off to curl her hair. I felt ugly and unwanted.   


We fought over the front seat. Not because we wanted to sit there, but because it was closer to Mom. Kate claimed she got nauseated and won. I spent an entire childhood seething in the back seat. It felt, in retrospect, as if there were only so much love and attention to go around. And we had to fight for every scrap.

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They say girls don’t physically fight. At street hockey, Kate high-sticked me in the throat and called it an accident.

I grabbed her finger and said that until she stopped doing whatever she was doing, I’d keep pulling. She didn’t stop. My sister’s ring finger remains bent back at the last joint. We slapped each other in the face and pulled each other’s hair.


We kicked and hit and bit. I clawed with my long nails. It didn’t stop in childhood; for reasons I can’t recall, at my wedding rehearsal, I grabbed Kate’s face and squeezed as hard as I could. We stood on the steps of the church, in front of God and everybody.

In high school, we were friends for a bit, and I enjoyed it, a having-a-sister-friend. We ran with the same group of friends. We listened to similar music. But still: one afternoon, I got so angry I told her to get out of the car and went so far as to stop it and scream at her.

Kate threw a gigantic fit when her friend Brandon became friends with me (note: she’s a lesbian, and he’s two years younger than me). I borrowed her clothes. which enraged her so much that she'd throw a screaming fit if I opened her closet door.

And still, in our own ways, we battled over our parents.


I lost the fight when childhood-long, crippling depression manifested with cutting and anorexia.

Kate won when she got a job, which she kept for years, despite requiring a pickup at midnight or later. I was crazy; she was employed. The race mounted during college: she got a brand-new Toyota; I had to make do with a cruddy 3-cylinder Geo Metro.

My mom urged Kate to go to my school to “keep an eye on” my mental health. Kate might have been on the fence about my college until that. Then she went as far away as she could.

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And now, we have nothing in common. She’s a cop in a gay resort community. I’m a three-kid stay-at-home mom in the South.


Kate thinks our religion demonizes her, and hence that we think she’s Satanic. We don’t. We never had the chance to tell her.

Everything added up. Each hair pull, each tattle, each fight, and each parental-tug-of-war, each added up and became part of something monstrous. I envy my husband, with his two close siblings. I hate those “BEST SISTER EVER!!!” photo frames.

When people talk about having children very close so they’ll be lifelong friends, I’m always the voice of dissent. Watch it, I say. Closeness is no guarantee of friendship.


Kate hung up, and there our relationship stands — aside from the shouting that she’d block my number.

She found out about my third child through our mother. I heard about her divorce the same way. I haven’t told my children about our estrangement yet. They know of Aunt Kate and have even seen pictures. But they don’t know why they haven't seen her. They’re fuzzy even on our sisterhood.

It’s embarrassing, this estrangement. My parents pretend it doesn’t exist.

I have to gently, painfully remind my in-laws that Kate and I don’t speak. It hurts, to see the sisterhood friends enjoy it and know I’ll never have it.

I wish it could be different. I wish I had a sister I could call on the phone, could visit in the summers, could introduce to my kids.


I wish I could trade mundane news, like hey we’re getting a puppy, and the baby peed on the floor again, and I got a new dress from ModCloth. I wish for so many things, so many moments.

But most of all, I wish for a sister.     

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Elizabeth Broadbent is a writer and regular contributor to Scary Mommy. Her work has appeared on Today Show Parents, Babble, xoJane, Mamapedia, and Time Magazine Ideas.