We know of Mother’s and Father’s Days but how about National Siblings Day, observed annually on April 10th since 1995? Just as we do not choose our parents, we have no say about siblings. My mom and dad had seven children. At the time we weren’t unusual in this large number; when we moved to Edmonton in 1958, six children next door mirrored us in age.
Copious studies explore the relationships of siblings and their influence on our personalities and lives. After all, this relationship may be our longest lasting. But growing up together in the same household is no guarantee of compatibility or shared interests and values. Siblings can become our best friends or worst enemies or something in between. As a sister and on the heels of a reunion, I’ve reflected on our family dynamic. Breathe easy dear brothers: my post is not an exposé à la Spare by Prince Harry.
I understand no children, including siblings, are the same in temperament, ability or intelligence. Do parents recognize the need to adapt their styles to the differences of their children, distinguishing, for instance, the bossy, sensitive, brainy, brash or reserved? The naughty or nice? Do parents love and treat their children equally, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses? A 2021 study found that 20% of adult siblings still argue about which child is the parents’ favourite.
Sibling rivalry, which may begin as early as age three, is normal, but the way parents — and children — handle it matters. Because our family environment constitutes the practice ground for relationships we develop later in life. (Don’t watch Succession for lessons: the patriarch fuels rather than assuages sibling rivalry.)
There’s no agreement on how birth order affects personality. Some studies describe the middle child (that’s me) as “excluded and embittered”, others as “flexible, adaptable observers.” Or there’s the syndrome: “to compensate for a perceived lack of attention, middle children may either act rebellious or try to people-please.” An article in Psychology Today asserts “the firstborn child is not necessarily the achiever, the middle born is not necessarily the peacemaker, and the last born is not necessarily the manipulator.” As my post is not a tell-all, I will write no more on this aspect of sibling relationships.
A fruitful exercise at any age is to analyze, accept and deal with our family dynamic. Easier said than done. Since each sibling has a subjective reality, we experienced and remember our collective past differently. Whose “truth” do we affirm? With concerted effort, we can outgrow or modify our earlier, less desirable roles and traits.
Why value, or not, our siblings? According to psychologist Jill Suttie, “people who have close sibling relationships have better mental health, better psychological health, and better social relationships, generally speaking.” Conversely, “sibling conflict among older adults is associated in part with symptoms of depression, anxiety, hostility and loneliness.”
Mom aimed to keep her children close, if not geographically then at least emotionally, as friends. She orchestrated large family reunions in 1990, 1997, 2000, 2002 (to celebrate her 80th birthday) and 2009 (her memorial), with smaller ones in between. Although rifts have occurred among us, only one is not repaired. For ten years two brothers are estranged, which begs the question is blood thicker than water? The reality: sometimes we need to end relationships that have become like oil and water. And sometimes that happens in families. Apparently 30% of American siblings are estranged.
Fortunately, I get along well with my four surviving siblings, three of whom recently attended a mini family gathering on the west coast. Our several days together confirmed we can share laughter and love. ♥
P.S. Whether the primary force in our makeup is nature (genetics) or nurture (environment), I cannot say — though acknowledge the deep effects of both.