The sister act

March 11, 2018


Although I never had a girl, my two boys have grown up with the large presence of a sister. We’ve never seen her, because she’s totally imaginary, but she’s helped my boys in many real ways.

When I was a teen, I knew several families with boys-only, and while a few of their mothers had managed to teach them essential things about how to relate to girls, most of them were clueless. Somehow, when a mother has exhausted all the energy she has, boys will still listen to a sister.

Teaching my little brother the fine art of ladylike hiding your drink when a camera appears.

A sister refines and smooths a brother. She teaches him that he can only hang out with her friends if he’s polite, and if he tries to pick at his nose, she’ll kick him out. Boys with sisters aren’t afraid of girls in the real world and understand they have feelings — lots of feelings. And they don’t get freaked out by all the feelings because they know as soon as the clock strikes a new hour, the feelings will change.

Sisters teach their brothers how to have normal conversations which don’t involve sports or smelly/gross/creepy things. I dated a boy who only had a brother, and he could carry on an animated, long conversation, as long as it was about the Atlanta Braves.

Teaching him to respect scrawny beach-babes.

Not having a sister around to help them understand girls are real people with real feelings, the boys I knew without sisters did weird things like bring me frogs on my birthday and put corsages in the freezer. They also thought it was hilarious to point and scream if my slip was showing (back in the day when we had slips and not these stretchy sausage casings they sell us now). Boys with sisters would know to discreetly whisper, “Check your slip.” And then distract everyone while you tugged your skirt down a bit.

Although boys are incredible just like they are, a sister can often smooth the rough edges and help them understand mysterious girls.

When he was around nine years old, my son saw a young — very young, probably eleven-year-old girl, with a cropped top that bared a large portion of her midriff. With her pants sitting low, where her future hips would be, there was a lot of skin showing. He asked, “Why is her shirt so little?”  I gave a softer and kinder version of, “she’s being raised by wolves — bless her heart.” But my son immediately personalized the situation and thoughtfully said, “Well, if I had a sister, I wouldn’t let her wear that.” From then on, we made many of our decisions about how to treat girls based on what would be good for their imaginary sister.

While purchasing a birthday gift for a friend and thinking a music CD with suggestive lyrics was no big deal because it was the popular thing at the time, I asked, “If you had a sister, would you want her to receive a gift like that?”  When a girl at school was being bossy and my son said he wanted to punch her, once again, the pretend sister scenario led him to reason with her instead. As the boys grew older and wanted to “hang-out” with girls (because no one “dates” anymore), once again, we discussed if they had a sister, how they’d like her to be treated.

I think the imaginary sister has done a good job with my boys, but at the same time, they still could use some refining, but at this point, that’s for their future wives to worry about.

The sister hasn’t been around for some time now, but at least she’s always in the back of their minds. They are actually old enough now for me to have introduced imaginary daughters to them. “Would you want a boy to text your daughter to say he’s waiting in the driveway, or would you want him to come to the door and shake your hand?” That scares the be-jibbers out of them, but boy, does it ever make them think twice about how to treat a sister, daughter, wife and lady.


 This story first appeared in The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Mobile Press Register and The Mississippi Press. See it HERE at

  • When your sons’ future wives realize where their gem of a husband came from they will surely give you the praise & credit you deserve.

  • Hats off to you for raising young men who treat females of all ages with the same respect they would want their sister (real or imaginary) to receive!

    • Depends on what day of the week it is and what time it is, but thanks!

  • We do whatever it takes. For me, I had two boy cousins who grew alongside me and I can assure you I kept them in line. My daughter is older than my son. They are extremely close and can fight amongst themselves, but don’t dare let it be someone else that messes with them:)

    • Cousins are gold. It’s a treat to be able to grow up close to them, and it’s almost like having extra brothers and sisters. I love your point about siblings sticking together against the outside. How true!

  • Ellen Shook says:

    Great article! I am glad this worked with your boys. My “little” brother is/was so — shall we say unique — that I doubt anything would have worked with him. He chose both his wives mainly on the basis of their not being “high maintenance women” (unlike his sister – me) since he has an aversion to anything that doesn’t involve guns, hunting, fishing and sleeping under the stars in the mountains. I guess we could call it less than successful.

    • Too bad you weren’t closer. I’m sure you could have taught him many good skills!

  • What a great idea! My husband is the oldest of 4 boys. I swear I’ve been training him for 45 years, and it is still a work in progress! I am a lucky girl because my darling 92 yo mother-in-law still tells her friends that I’m her favorite child!

    • My dad was the oldest of 3 boys and there were times he was completely baffled by me! Glad your Mother in Law has good sense!

  • What a great way to teach boys how to treat girls. Manners are so important and I feel that many homes today are lacking in that area. Happy Monday

    • Thank you Pam. Any way you can drive it home to them works for me! Hope you have a great week!

  • I love your stories about life in Fairhope and along the Gulf Coast. They keep me in touch with an area I enjoy. Thanks for sharing

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