Those of us who have brothers and sisters, whether they are biological or step siblings, know that these relationships deeply define us. Depending on the pecking order, you can be the one held responsible or the one to blame for everything. You can be the caretaker, the troublemaker, the high achiever, or the quiet one who tends to slip between the cracks. While the pecking order impacts the relationships we have with our siblings as we grow up, it can change in adulthood. How it evolves results from the value that parents place on family and connectedness along with modeling what connectedness looks like over time.
Regardless of your position in the sibling order, it is quite interesting to see how childhood roles can morph as you age. A sure sign of how you were parented shows up in the relationships that you have with your siblings. Are you involved in each other’s lives, talking regularly and sharing or have you allowed life or other people to interfere with your sibling connections, limiting the closeness between you?
I am the youngest of four children and was, (well, I still am)the most boisterous one of the bunch. I copied my immediate older sister because I looked up to her ( she didn’t quite see it that way though.) I mouthed off the most and got in trouble the most for my attitude because of my lack of a verbal filter (ADD) and because, of course, I needed to practice my drama skills! By the time my folks had me, they had pretty much put my other three siblings through the obstacle course, so I got away with a whole heck of a lot more than they did. (To this day, my brother and sisters laugh at what I got away with when I was a child… and shake their heads at what I still get away with as an adult!)
But, now, after many years of all of us growing into our older selves, it seems as if my relationships with my siblings has equalized, to a great extent. We relate to each other as peers more often than not. I can be there for my siblings now, in ways that I couldn’t have been when I was younger because our relationships had not evolved to a point where my siblings would see me as anything but the “baby sister.”
Clearly, the evolution of connectedness that came about between me and my siblings grew from the emphasis that my parents placed on being together as a family and the example they showed us about how to be involved in each others’ lives. I would like to share with you a few things that my parents did that worked, to keep us committed to loving each other and maintaining good relationships as adults. I hope that you, too, might see yourself making similar efforts to keep your children connected with each other.
1. Recognize that your level of involvement is indicative of what your children’s level of involvement is with each other. If you are a parent who tends to stay on the outskirts of your kids’ lives, “thinking” that you are connected with your child because you may go to some of your child’s athletic events and that you say good night to them each night, think again. In this day and age, it is difficult to have your finger “on the pulse” of your child’s life. We live in a technological time where the ways that your children keep connected with others exists in the underworld of texting, Facebook and Twitter.
These technologies, in and of themselves, capture and hold onto an enormous amount of personal information about what your child likes, thinks, feels and does as well as imaging what is going on in their peer world, in a way that you likely might not ever have access to otherwise. You would be remiss if you dismissed the value your children place on internet status as a way of living and connecting with others.
If you want to really know your kids and establish a solid connection with them, dig deeper in their lives. Swim in the watering holes of your children and keep up with the intricacies of their lives. Insert yourself, even if it makes you and your child uncomfortable in the moment, their will be a large payoff.
Insist on being in the “know” and keeping tabs on what they do, who they’re with and support them fully in whatever they want to do, that fosters their self esteem. The only way to assure that there is a solid connection between you and your child is to be hands on and stay up to date about how their generation lives and show your children what real connection looks like, through your parenting at home.
Establish the value of family as early as you can with your children. This can look like family dinners every night where everyone shares their “I’m proud of myself today because” moment with each other or establishing another family routine where everyone is together, movie night, game night or weekly religious service attendance.
2. Teach and insist that your children work to resolve the challenges they face with each other. If you stay on the periphery of your children’s lives, they will learn how to keep their distance in the majority of their relationships, including family relationships. They will never learn how to hold on and fight for their relationships and the chances of your adult children and family breaking apart are very high, if there is a shake up in the family system with an in-law relationship, the death or illness of a parent or family member or some moral disagreement between siblings. Sometimes part of staying close is learning how to embrace changes in the family dynamics and committing to stay connected, regardless of how they change.
Your parental involvement, in keeping the family close and together, is key. Be the conduit for the love and regard your children have for each other.
If you want to ensure that your children want to grow as loving siblings together, teach them how to get along and appreciate the chance to resolve conflict and offer forgiveness to themselves and to their siblings when they are young. This way, they won’t have to carry around pain and anger for the rest of their lives, because of something that happened in childhood.
Teach them how to apologize and understand the significance of an apology: to show sincere remorse, display compassion and to feel humble enough to ask for forgiveness from someone. This will establish the ability to take responsiblity for mistakes and disempower pride and ego from the start.
3. Pay attention to how your kids treat each other when they think you aren’t looking. Some of the most amazing things happen between siblings when kids don’t realize their parents aren’t looking. To really know if your goal of establishing the foundation of sibling connectedness, just look at how your children take care of each other and notice how compassionate they are with each other, just between themselves. Do they comfort the one who cries? Do they watch out and protect each other when the threat of harm or pain presents itself? Do they lead their own lives, keeping their distance and focusing on themselves? Have they learned to only take care of themselves?
When I was a child in elementary school, my mother would volunteer monthly, to serve in the school’s clinic. She never told us when she was there because she knew that we would have a hard time with her being at the school and our inability to spend the entire day with her, especially when the sick kids got the chance to do so. Between us siblings, we call this “The Clinic Syndrome” : seeing our family member, feeling the closeness and not wanting to let that go.
This syndrome, so to speak, has translated into something more meaningful between me and my siblings. We actually feel this way towards each other. If we are somewhere and we see one of our siblings or when we pass one another on the road in our cars, the need to connect is immediate, so we reach out to pay homage to the sibling sighting either by seeking each other out phsycially or via cell phone on the road.
I can say that Clinic Syndrome is the sign that our parents did a really great job making sure we have relationships that endure and last. You may have a different name for what bonds you and your siblings. Whatever you call your sibling glue, make sure your work at keeping your reservoir filled up.
We all need to have a sense of belonging, especially to our family. Maintaining family relationships take work and to do the work, you, as parents, must teach your children about how valuable family really is and how to honor the relationships you have with each of your family members.
My siblings are my best friends and I can’t imagine not being able to reach out the to them and share my life, ask for advice, or just hang out.
Mom, Dad– You done good!
In love and light,