It’s a common adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. While the whole of the family indeed makes a great contribution to human lives, the different parts also make their own unique and valuable contributions across the lifespan. Children have an influence on parents and parents have an influence on children that are both irreplaceable by other relationships. Often overlooked, however, is the significant impact that sibling relationships have on individuals in childhood as well as on into adulthood. These three facts (from U.S. data) highlight why this relationship deserves more attention.
- Approximately 80 percent of Americans have at least one brother or sister.
- Kids today are more likely to grow up with a sibling in the home than a father.
- The sibling relationship is the longest relationship that most people will have in their lives.
I recently read an article by Anna Goldfarb focused on the significance of sibling relationships as adults and the important choices we can each make to grow those connections from wherever they are now to become more fruitful in the future.
Heal the past.
Beliefs and memories from the past can sabotage the present, so letting go of the shame or the resentment that he broke all your new crayons or you took her favorite jeans and ripped a hole in them (sorry Stefani!) is a great foundation for clearing the soil so new seeds can grow. Crayons and jeans may not be a big deal so many years later, but other more complicated issues may still impact relationships. That’s why this second suggestion is encouraging.
Avoid contentious issues.
I come from a family of origin that was impacted in major ways by divorce and litigation. The ripple effects of that remain today. Acceptance can be important when complete healing doesn’t come. Research shows that factors such as birth order, age, personality, and the presence of different people in their lives (like peers, coaches, or teachers) can significantly impact the experience and later perspective siblings have about the same challenging life events. It can be healing to let it be and just move forward from the present.
Differences in opinion exist in every relationship. This is true for politics, religion, and favorite sports teams too. Awareness and sensitivity can empower us as adults to avoid topics that may be divisive while growing in ways that can be uniting. That leads to the third tip.
Share your goals and cultivate a friendship.
Goldfarb wisely stated, “It’s simple to fall back on your shared history with a sibling, resting on the idea that you both must deeply know each other because you grew up together. But aging changes us into vastly different people, and it’s entirely possible your sibling might not even know who you truly have become as an adult.”
Being open about the desire to grow the relationship and other goals that are important to you invites connection. It can lay an intentional foundation stone for future growth. Be aware and open to how that communication is received, and give it time.
While facing a life challenge this past year, I have reached out more intentionally to my “big little brother” who lives near me now. Birth order and difference in age prevented us from being very close in our childhood years. While we get the little cousins together to play and we support each other at important life events and holidays, we have not had an adult relationship of depth in years past. Creating those specific times now where we have lunch together or have individual phone conversations independent of family get-togethers has grown our sibling bond. It means so much to get a text from him that says he was thinking of me because I know he knows what’s going on in my life and that he cares, and the friendship is reciprocal. This week he called to share a challenge he was having and asked for some perspective about it. That adult sibling friendship is such a blessing in my life today.
This month is a great time to reflect on progress, growth, and hope in our sibling relationships. Family bonds can be powerful. Our intentional choices to grow those bonds can yield great benefits in our lives and the lives of our siblings!
“It is for good reason that the terms ‘sisterhood’ and ‘brotherhood’ are used to connote cohesion and support, even among biologically unrelated individuals” (Mark E. Feinberg, Anna R. Solmeyer, and Susan M. McHale, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288255/).