Unexpected life lessons I learned from my sister-in-law

They say that when you marry someone, you are also marrying their family. You don’t get to choose your in-laws, and this inherited branch of the family tree often gets a bad rap. But sometimes, if you are lucky, you are gifted with a bonus branch, full of wonderful people who add to your life. My sister-in-law, KK, is one of these gifts for which I am thankful.

KK has known my husband since he was thirteen. The high school sweetheart, wife, and now mother of his older brother’s child, KK has been around to witness my husband’s entire dating life. In fact, Ben let me know that it was her I had to impress when I met his family. Cue girl-judgment anxiety! But instead of being intimidated (well, after a very nerve-wracking double-date at a pizza place), I bonded with KK over a similar sense of humor and love of Jennifer Aniston in Friends. As Ben and I continued to date, she and I actually became friends. Now, a few years later, I count her among my closest circle, and text her at least ten times a day.

Although she is only a few years older than I am, she serves in many ways as a mentor. I look to her for advice, encouragement, and the newest crockpot recipes she’s making. She was invaluable when I was planning my wedding, calming my anxiety when I was overwhelmed by just how much planning is involved. She has comforted me in times of illness, and counseled me in my dreams of one day becoming a mother. I have benefited many times from her experience. These are some of the key lessons I’ve learned from her so far:

You can be powerful and kind without compromising your beliefs

One of the things I admire most about KK is her ability to stand up for what she believes in, all while maintaining tact. She is not afraid to confront issues head-on, telling people if their behavior is unacceptable, without creating an uncomfortable confrontational environment. As a woman, I notice that I have been conditioned to defer and to brush off situations where I don’t feel comfortable. KK has taught me that it is not only OK, but imperative, to speak up in these situations and stand up for yourself.

Move with intention

My sis-in-law is not as naturally touchy-feely affectionate with others as I am. When she hugs you, it’s special. She moves with intention. Her words and actions have meaning. I still maintain my natural warmth, but I have stopped saying “sorry” as a preface to a conversation, or a reaction to an interaction where I am not at fault of any wrongdoing. She has taught me that we are only as good as our word, and a thoughtful one is more valuable.

Set a realistic and challenging goal—then work your butt off to achieve it

I have always called myself an asthmatic with marathon-running aspirations because a) it’s true, and b) it allows me to quietly set goals without actually being on the hook for working toward achieving them; if I fail, it is not a true failure because I didn’t really try. I have never witnessed anyone work so hard toward a goal as KK. Sometimes it’s a result of pure stubbornness and an inherent competitive streak (even with herself). But more often, it’s because of a personal awareness that understands you have to put in the work. As my pace-partner in running, KK pushes me to continue when I don’t think I have any more to give. Having a partner to work with is helpful, but having the right partner is key to success. Last week I finished my first ever 10K race, and KK was cheering me on.

True friendships require commitment and compassion

To this day, KK’s best friends include many from her high school circle. Marriages, moves, and careers can make staying in touch difficult. She has showed me that you should work for those who are worth it, and they will do the same. Although she has many other obligations, she is always there when her friends need her. She taught me that prioritizing these relationships is just as important as family or a romantic partner.

When I got married, I never thought I would gain a true friend, let alone one which has guided me through adulthood as if she were my real sister. It’s easy to compare two women who are married to brothers so close in age and personality, and I admit that sometimes I catch myself doing it too. But most of the time I sit back, in awe, as I watch her navigate the world with such poise and honesty. I watch her with my nephew, and admire her strength and patience. She leads by example, and honestly probably doesn’t even realized the effect she is having on others. Although unexpected (and perhaps unintentional on her part), I learn from her every day and look forward to a lifetime of future lessons, laughs, and love.

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