BY CHERYL HARBOR
We know what the ideal sibling relationship is: someone with whom you share a history and in cases of siblings born to the same parents, genetic material. Someone you call in the best of times and the worst of times.
But not all sibling relationships are ideal and some are rocked by life’s circumstances and end up on shaky ground. Yet science has shown that older people, in particular, are happier when they feel close to a brother or sister. And these relationships become even more crucial as parents (or siblings themselves) grow old or become sick.
The quality of your relationship with your siblings may have been brewing for many years. One study found that having a poor sibling relationship in childhood serves as a major indicator of who experiences depression in later life. We can’t go back – but we can go forward and work on the relationships we have now. And we can understand how important sibling relationships are for our children and grandchildren. LEARN MORE
Are our relationships set by experiences when we’re growing up together?
What about birth order, for example – did our siblings get the better place in the line-up?
For many years, it was believed that birth order had great influence over our personalities, our strengths, and the type of life we’d lead: Older children became leaders; younger became creative and adventurous. Newer research disputes those stereotypes, as this article in the Washington Post explains.
Did your mom have a favorite?
This TedTalk by Jill Suitor, Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, explains how her research has shown many moms do have a favorite – and it might not be who you think it is.
What puts a strain on sibling relationships as we get older?
Sometimes the strain is just caused by moving in different directions – maybe even adopting different religions or different political inclinations. (Is “inclinations” too mild a world for the environment we currently live in?)
In other cases, one or both siblings come to see the relationship as toxic. An article in the Star Tribune (Minnesota) quotes Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a clinical psychologist and author of What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention Without Hitting Your Sister who says “Sibling relationships are our longest, but it’s also an accident by birth. There are no guarantees that the siblings will grow up with similar personalities, interests, or like each other.” She and other experts agree that cutting off a sibling relationship is a drastic step and the last resort.
What can we do to repair and improve relationships?
An article in the New York Times suggests we need to heal the past, share our goals, avoid contentious issues, stop comparing ourselves to our siblings, verbalize our appreciation, and cultivate a friendship. Read more
An article in AARP addresses the strain that often occurs during the time siblings are caring for or making decisions about their aging parents. How can you become closer to a sibling when there’s emotional distance or distress between you? Here are five suggestions for steps you can take.
Fostering good sibling relationships among the children in your family:
Need inspiration for working on your own sibling relationships?
Watch this TedTalk on the sibling bond by Jeffrey Kluger, writer/editor at Time magazine and author of “The Sibling Effect.” As he says “Our siblings are the only ones who are with us for the entire ride.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: Making the Most of Your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.