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Siblings – Heaven or Hell Sent?
When I was a kid, I used to dream of being up on Walton Mountain with John Boy, Mary Ellen and the rest of the family. For the benefit of those unfamiliar, The Waltons was a show about a family who lived in rural Virginia during the Great Depression. They had virtually no money, just about managed to scrape a living together, and yet stuck in front of the TV I’d yearn to be in that wooden house where siblings co-existed with little rivalry and when disputes occurred, which they did, were always resolved by the end of each episode.
So how is it that some sibling relationships are close and affectionate while others blighted with conflict and hostility? According to developmental psychologists, the bond between siblings is a complicated and fluid one with many factors influencing how we relate with one another. Some include parental behaviours, marital quality, family conflict, and even birth order. Children close in age during the early years is also a factor. Add to that, the fact that sibling relationships are the longest relationship we’ll ever have, and it starts to make sense why sibling relationships are so complex.
An interesting fact I came across in my research for this article was that many of us idealise our childhood. However, others will remember childhood as a time of conflict, competing with siblings for parental attention, for status within the family pecking order, or for control over personal space. I certainly remember the mayhem and all-out murder in our house about clothes been ‘borrowed,’ adored ‘Top of the Pops’ albums sold for a few cigarettes, and unfair preferential treatment given (we believed) to our only brother. Add to that, efforts by each of us to carve out personal space in a house with six siblings, a dog, and our parents and it’s a wonder we managed to come through as fairly well-balanced adults.
The answer however, might lie in research conducted specifically in the area of sibling relationships. Experts now say ‘moderate’ childhood conflict, balanced with support and warmth within the family, teaches children emotional competency for they learn how to handle their own emotions as well as others. Conflict also teaches children to negotiate through the sharing of toys, space, or TV, all helping to enhance social skills that benefit later in life. On the flip side, children with low levels of support or warmth at home combined with marital conflict or ineffective parenting practices often leads to high levels of conflict between siblings. Moreover, childhood conflicts or resentments that remain unresolved can lead to distant or fractious adult sibling relationships.
Another reason for adult siblings not getting along is a failure to put past childhood roles behind them. When conflict occurs, whoosh…they’re right back in their old childhood roles, all gung-ho pressing one another’s buttons without knowing why and missing an opportunity to see a sibling, as they are as an adult. You know how it is, you’re all together at some family event when something kicks off and next thing one of your siblings lashes into you like you were twelve all over again and you’ve just torn her Wham poster. Sound familiar?
If you’re sibling relationships lack harmony, here’s some tips you might find useful.
Let go of old roles
Give some thought to the role you played in your family and if it’s damaging your adult sibling relationships then it’s time to let it go.
Just because you’re family doesn’t mean you can ‘say it how it is.’
Sometimes it’s just not okay to be honest. Learn how to use with siblings the same caution, kindness, and respect offered to others outside the family and it will greatly improve relationships.
Conflict Free Family Occasions
Got a problem with a sibling and going to a family event? Learn how to put a sock in it otherwise, you’ll spoil the day for everyone. Instead, make a pact with yourself that you will not get all fired up regardless of how difficult it becomes. It’s not easy having an argument all by yourself, so if a sibling is angling for one, refuse to take the bait and you’ll get thought the occasion. Afterwards arrange to meet up and sort it out between you in private.
Create Common Ground
If a sibling is living in another town, city, or half way round the world don’t let it be an excuse for drifting apart. Even if you’ve grown into very different people, with opposing views on pretty much everything, a little effort given into building common ground will go a long way in enhancing sibling relationships. Sharing stories about family, immediate and extended, is a good starting place.
Forgive and Forget
And finally, very few adults sever all ties with siblings in fact one lucky third will enjoy very close sibling relationships, another third will view theirs as ‘relatively close’ while the rest will unfortunately drift apart. However, the good news is, as age advances siblings often say they’ve forgotten old resentments and turn to one another for emotional, financial, or physical support in their times of crisis or need. A survey conducted by Psychology Today backs up those findings as they discovered more than 80 percent of siblings over the age of 60 said they’d forgiven each other for old hurts and resentments. That’s good to know isn’t it?
G’night John-Boy, g’night Mary-Ellen.
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