Siblings get top billing in our family. I count my brother and sister among my dearest and closest friends. My husband and I enjoy spending time with his sister and her family. My two sons were best buds when they were growing up.
Siblings are a completely random occurrence. Our parents dont ask who wed like to have sleeping in the top bunk. And we never get to interview prospective brothers or sisters.
Still, siblings can play a unique role in our lives. They are genetically closer to us than anyone else on the planet. They share experiences that others can never know. They might have similar interests and beliefs.
Unfortunately, sibling relationships can also be devastating. Sometimes one child is favored over another. A sibling can be cruel or abusive. Intense intrasibling competition can make less achieving kids feel like failures. Parents may fail to adequately protect their offspring so that the family unit becomes a source of torment and humiliation.
The initial relationship is shaped by the family of origin. Households that make getting along a top priority are more likely to foster close sibling bonds than those who bicker or degrade each others worth. Parents who model sound problem-solving skills pass those patterns on to their kids. And families that have fun together carry on that tradition into the next generation.
Of course, siblings arent born best friends. Social skills such as sharing and conflict resolution must be taught alongside table manners, chores and personal cleanliness. Moms and dads pull their hair out when they hear kids yell, She hit me! or He keeps taking my toys! But those hardfought lessons about how to get along are fundamental to childrens development.
Parents lay the groundwork for siblings closeness. Once kids have moved out on their own, the responsibility lies squarely with them. If they want to have a loving relationship with their sibs, theyll have to put out the effort. If they dont, theyll have missed a great opportunity.
WANT TO HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLINGS? TRY THESE SURE-FIRE STEPS
Value your siblings. Treat your siblings like the special people they are. Giving them a high priority dictates how youll behave.
Keep in touch. Relationships are strengthened by time together and frequent contact. Call each other often. Send cards. Plan times to get together. If youve been out of touch for a long time, be the first one to break the silence.
Accept your differences. You may be completely different. Thats OK. You dont have to be clones. Cherish each other for your uniqueness and develop your relationship from there.
Avoid being judgmental. Quit comparing who has more education, makes more money or has a better lifestyle. No ones keeping score. Each of you is doing your best. Leave it at that.
Be pleasant. Discuss upbeat topics. Steer clear of areas of disagreement. Act like the loving sibling you hope the other will be.
Dont bring up the past. Avoid dredging up painful memories. You cant change whats already happened. Instead, create a relationship based on new and constructive behaviors.
Let go of grudges. Grudges are like a low-grade infection. They can fester for years and contaminate your relationship. If youre harboring past hurts, bury the hatchet. Its time to start the healing process and make the best of today. If someone is angry with you, say youre sorry and that youd like things to improve. You will have started the healing process. Its now out of your hands.
Welcome spouses. Make them feel theyre an integral part of the clan. Its nearly impossible to have a close relationship with siblings if you disapprove of their mates.
Accept things as they are. Despite your best efforts, your sibling may choose to remain aloof. Dont sweat it. Keep the familial door open. Drop a friendly line now and again. Hopefully things will change in the future. Be welcoming if they do.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.