Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sibling Relationships and Assumptions

I heard part of this program about sisters the other day on the Diane Rehm Show. The book by Deborah Tannen (You were always Mom's favorite) sounded interesting, and I will probably read it at some point.

I think there can be a special bond between siblings. But I do not feel that if a person does not have this sibling bond, that they will be missing out on having a fulfilling life. (One of the callers on the show gave this impression).

I think each of us has different experiences and different relationships.

I'm certainly not trying to downplay the caller's obvious pain about not having that sibling relationship. I think I'm just saying that just like a relationship with a parent, we don't always get to choose our siblings or families, or the dynamics of those families. It's just not cut and dry.

My twins are beginning to recognize that they are different people, with different likes and dislikes. They are becoming more independent (something my husband and I are fostering). They disagree, and at times we talk about how it's okay to disagree, and to have different interests. They sometimes have different expectations of each other, and those expectations clash at times.

This has all been happening for years, but as they become more verbal, it's easier to discuss with them.

When they were first born, some people would say things like "oh, they will always be friends" or "they will always be close". And I silently disagreed.

It's not that I don't want my children to be close. I hope they will be friends and be able to support one another. ***

But I also think that how a parent reacts to their children, whether or not they play favorites, handle individual attention and competition and whether or not they "force" a friendship or relationship between siblings makes a difference.

And, of course, the siblings themselves may just be very different people, with different personalities.

Two anecdotal examples:

The first is that I asked an friend with a twin sister if he had any advice for me (as the mother of boy/girl twins). He also cautioned against forcing my twins to be friends - saying his parents had done just that, particularly as teenagers. And as we all know (or most of us can agree) the surest way to get a teenager to do the exact opposite is to force them to do something. It wasn't that he disliked his sister, but the parents' getting involved in their sibling relationship was not helpful.

The second anecdotal example: a friend of mine from a large dysfunctional family (not mormon) grew up with two sisters. His mom didn't have sisters growing up, so she was determined that her two daughters be good friends. (The same mom also didn't want them to cut their hair, as she believed it looked better long - like I said, there were lots of unreasonable expectations in that family, and not a lot of tolerance for differing views/feelings).

This was some time ago, they (the sisters) are both now adults, so the situation may be different. But at the time, as sisters, they didn't seem to have an especially close or ideal relationship. And their mom's insistence on a friendship didn't seem to help either.

Of course, this is all my opinion from the outside, not being in either sibling relationship, I don't know for sure.

I don't think that a person can make assumptions about sibling relationships, or assume that siblings will always be close.

***Note: I enjoy interacting with my own siblings and want the siblings of mine reading this blog (hi!) to know that I love and appreciate them for the unique people they are. This post is not necessarily a reaction to my own sibling relationships but sibling relationships in general (and stereotypes of those relationships).


Anonymous said...

As the oldest child in a family of three, my sister and I never got along. We were always having other families (one in particular) being pointed out to us showing what wonderful children they were and how they always played together and were great friends. The one and only thing my sister and I agreed on at the time was that the other sisters were not friends, that it was all a facade. Now that we are all grown, my sister and I are best friends and the other girls have very dysfunctional relationships.

carrie said...

as an only child, it's always been interesting to hear people who don't know that i don't have siblings talk about what that experience must be like (lonely, boring, socially maladjusted, spoiled, etc.). in my opinion, my upbringing isn't a great fit for any of those descriptions.
i agree that the value of sibling relationships is completely contextual. as a kid, i hardly ever felt any jealousy toward friends who did have sibs b/c they were usually fighting, as kids do. as an adult, i've had the great fortune of marrying into a family with good sibling friendships (and in-law spouses who have become good friends), but my husband and his older brother antagonized each other (eg. one fight involved padlock throwing) and their younger sister (eg. suspending her cat from the dining room chandelier) throughout childhood (a bit like myrelish's experience, perhaps). now, they are very close.
these are all good things for me to keep in mind if/when we have another child and E becomes a big sister. thanks for the reminder!

Aerin said...

Thanks myrelish! I don't think your experience is uncommon at all.

Thanks carrie! Your husband's experience sounds fairly common for many families...and I would agree, I have also met a wide range of children without siblings, with many different experiences there as well.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I have 2 female friends that have twin brothers & they don't get along AT ALL. Their parents probably tried to force it.

My brothers & I fought like crazy while we were growing up. I think it is part of having siblings. Now, we get along very well.

I don't know if there are any secrets for raising kids that will get along. I think that recognizing their differences is a great way. They will learn that they are important and they will appreciate each other more.