Extended family / Family / Kids / Parenting

Brothers and Sisters, Sisters and Brothers

My sister Rachel and I were mortal enemies for the entirety of our childhood.  I can’t tell you why, other than the fact that we were sisters, three years apart in age and miles apart in personalities.  I am the older of the two of us and was naturally born into a position of power, or at least perceived power.  I took advantage of my unspoken supremacy whenever possible – marching into Rachel’s room whenever I felt like it and borrowing clothes just because I could, and certainly not because we shared the same taste in fashion.  Deborah and sisterShe, on the other hand, obediently waited at my door for an invitation to enter.  Not so much as a toe crossed the line between hallway and doorframe unless I granted permission.  She never dared even ask to borrow a single item of clothing.

When it suited me, she was my play date, though our sessions never lasted very long.  Rachel could never play a scene to my satisfaction in the intense dollhouse soap operas I authored and directed.  I did occasionally take pleasure in the teacher role.  Under my tutelage, Rachel learned how to tie her shoes, touch type and do long division.  While we remember these rare moments fondly, we both agree that we spent the majority of our childhood taunting, bickering, and inflicting pain unseemly of young ladies.  I still have a doozy of a scar on my hand to show for it.  On a good day, we took to our corners and ignored each other.  While I’m sure neither one of us wished the other permanent nor disfiguring harm, we simply did not like each other.  At all.

When we moved out of our childhood home, we moved out of each other’s lives.  There was no Facebook to keep us even superficially connected.  Eventually, in adulthood, we found our way back to each other.  Motherhood was the great equalizer.  Childhood residue flaked away with every conversation about the successes and frustrations of parenthood.  We learned to accept and even appreciate our differences.  We found unexpected support in each other and the sublime comfort that comes from yelling at your kids while you’re on the phone and knowing you won’t be judged for it.  In the early years, our conversations were constantly studded with outbursts like:

“Don’t you dare do that to your brother!”

“Yes, that looks very funny.  Now, please take that out of your underwear.”

“OH NO!!  You’re not supposed to use THAT MUCH toilet paper!”

“Excuse me!  I’m trying to use the phone!”

Rachel and I are older, wiser, and more tolerant now, and I am grateful that my sister is in my life.  I wonder if our boys will find the joys in brotherhood.

At the ages of 9 and 6, I can say that they are best friends.  Their personalities are just as disparate as mine and my sister’s were, yet they seem to like each other.  They want to spend time together. They think about each other when the other isn’t there.

I’d love to take credit for their brotherly love, but I know it’s nothing we’ve done or said. I’d also love to believe that they will be each other’s best friend for the rest of their lives.  But I know there are no guarantees.  Will they turn on each other over politics?  Will their spouses drive wedges between them?  Will they move far away from each other and simply drift apart with age?   Luckily, there will be no fortune to fight over when Gabriella and I are gone.  But aside from leaving them penniless, what else can we do to encourage fraternal friendship?  It’s a rhetorical question.  All I can do now is savor the bond they have in the present and hope that they are able to nurture an even deeper relationship in the future.  Siblings can be treasures but they take work.  Just ask my sister.  She’ll tell you she’s worked hard to meet me half way.  But I think she’d also tell you that it’s worth the effort.  I’d say the same.

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  1. I never wanted siblings when i was growing up, but I do have two half sibs who are 11 & 13 years younger than me. I always felt like more of an aunt. Now that we’re all older, I absolutely adore my “little” brother (who is 8″ taller than me.) He is so much like me in so many ways, and I truly enjoy (and look forward to) spending time with him. It feels so much more important to have him in my life as adults than it did when we were young. Funny how a bit of time and perspective can change so much.

    • I think there’s something powerful about maintaining a bond with people who have known you for a long time whether they are siblings or half-siblings or childhood friends. Those family members and friends who have known me during many stages of life and can bear witness to my history have a special place in my heart. So happy to hear that you have those treasured people in your life, too!

  2. I have the opposite story but my circumstances were very different. We had a rough go in childhood. I have an older sister and a younger brother. Very close when we were young but now, even Facebook doesn’t help. I’m not close with either of them or their spouses and I have absolutely no relationship with their children. They have nothing with mine either. My girls are seven years apart. They haven’t had the best time growing up together. I’m okay with whatever the outcome of their lives, I just hope it isn’t hate. That is such a strong emotion to carry. I have a feeling it will all work out. It’s good to hear your story. 🙂

    • I am sorry to hear that about your fractured family situation. My sister and brother and I are very close partly due to the broken relationship with our parents – the stuff of another post one day. We are that much more grateful for the relationships we do have as a result.

      I’m keeping my fingers crossed for your girls. I hope that they are able to find love and support in the friendships they choose and connection in the family they have. Ultimately, we all need to surround ourselves with the people who accept us for who we are and love us unconditionally whether they are related to us by blood or not. I wish you and your family much love and happiness.

      • Our parents are a big reason why my siblings and I aren’t close. Older sister is loyal to dad, I’m loyal to mom, and our brother seems to be in between. For a long time, he was faithful to our dad. Having had the experiences of growing up and losing the folks related to me, the people in my life now are just that… my family, most of them are not my blood. I’m not sure what the future holds but I know that all things happen for a reason. And thank you! As my girls get older, their relationship grows, also. Best of the best to you and yours, as well.

  3. My brother and I never had much of a relationship until we were both well over 30. But especially now that he’s a stay-at-home dad, making up a creative career as he goes along–bizarrely like me–we have become pretty good friends.

    My daughters adore each other now at 8 and 5 and often insist they are going to marry each other when they grow up (we tell them over and over that sisters don’t have to get married, because they are already family).

    Hopefully their love will stick and help them through life over the long haul.

    • Well that’s a happy story, Shannon, especially the brother part. I don’t hear of as many solid brother-sister friendships as I do between 2 brothers or 2 sisters. It must help to have shared experiences in adulthood, she said with absolutely no scientific evidence to prove anything about brothers and sisters.

      • There are family-dynamic reasons I won’t get into here. But my brother and I have a lot in common too–even though we didn’t keep very close track of each other over the years we kind of ended up marrying very similar people and wanting very similar things in life and facing similar obstacles.

        We also really like each others’ spouses a lot which helps ease our relationship now.

  4. Oh, and I have the cutest baby niece on the planet Earth. So there’s that.

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