Brothers and Sisters

Siblings. The word evokes many emotions tied to a lifetime of memories. If brothers and sisters get it right and put in an effort sprinkled with love and loyalty overload, theirs is a bond like nothing else. It’s such a unique connection that siblings often do not develop anything close to such relationships with anyone else throughout their lives.

I lost my sister and brother at early ages, respectively 25 and 30. Truthfully and regretfully, my memories of them aren’t especially strong or even positive, all of us having chosen different paths very early on … and then they were gone.

I have, however, been blessed to have families throughout my life that have adopted me and vice versa. Recently, two of these families brought together brothers and sisters — one via a large wedding and one via a small outing specifically orchestrated to bring together the siblings. These events included siblings in their 60s, in their 30s and 40s, and even infants, toddlers and small children.

Evident at each gathering was that special closeness between siblings rivaling the very best of relationships. Happiness, glee, joy and everlasting love. Razing tied to decades-old memories evoking laughter that hurt ribs and generated tears happy and sad. Pretend shock and blame for past misdeeds and fault more often than not denied or deflected. Stories resurrected from bygone days retold for the umpteenth time. Snarky grins, sideways glances, raised eyebrows, inside jokes, arm punches, warm hugs, and clinked bottles.

Incontestable at each event was the fact that, regardless of time apart, distance and different paths, these were best friends in a truly singular manner. In some cases, it was clear that hasn’t always been so, but at these particular family gatherings, there was no doubt that they have the others’ backs.

Bonds to beat the band

It’s not a stretch to state that no one understands one another better than siblings, likely because they come from the same place having lived the same experiences. Regardless of the siblings’ generation, theirs is a relationship that, at least at some point in their lives, has relied on each other for support and counsel.

The bonds between siblings are some of the strongest connections we make in our lives — emotional attachments that materialize early and which are rooted deeply in our development. Siblings are likely to be the longest relationships that most people experience. They are the playmates on whom we practice life. They are the collaborators, role models, protectors, and sources of pride and envy. If destiny allows, being a brother and sister means being there for each other, time and distance be damned.

They help us learn crucial skills to navigate relationships, find a sense of identity, and understand how to create an attachment to others. They also often help the other sibling bring out the very best in themselves, including helping peel back and reveal the layers of self-respect, belief in oneself, and even integrity.

Tormenting 101

“You and I are brother and sister forever. Always remember that if you fall, I will pick you up. As soon as I finish laughing.” — Unknown

Throughout their lives, siblings invent innumerable ways to aggravate one another. They don’t waste any time getting on one another’s nerves, starting early and continuing through the teenage years. Clashes between siblings are a normal part of childhood development — jealousy and competition often being the stimuli that flare into squabbles and spats. Exasperating for parents, siblings fight hard to establish their own identities and personalities.

The Guilty Party

Who’s more of a nudnik, brothers or sisters? Tough to say. Depends, I have surmised, on who is telling the family stories. The case is often made that brothers are born to be a scourge to their sisters. Get pretty much any family together, and stories abound about a brother being a pain in the rear, constantly getting on his sister’s (and his parents’) last nerves. Likewise, numerous tales are told of the cunningness of a sister’s many plots to keep family control. Be cautioned that it’s generally not wise to seek daddy’s recollections on this point, as his little girl was then, is today, and always will be very much his princess. In family storytelling, the beleaguered son’s title customarily only rises to the rank of Chief Tormentor.

It turns out, however, that what siblings say to annoy and tease their counterparts has nothing to do with what they really think of each other. As the decades pass, one day they realize that the greatest gift their parents ever gave them was each other.

While every set of siblings has, at some point, gone from fighting to allies within minutes, closeness isn’t promised for a lifetime. Best buds don’t, unfortunately, always take. Life happens. Different influences, different paths, different likes and dislikes, different beliefs, different friends and relationships, and sometimes just plain bullheadedness all contribute to creating emotional distance and roadblocks that effectively — and sadly — push the early best-friend relationship far in the rearview mirror of adult life … often never to be embraced again.

The protector of all protectors

The brother-sister bond can often become one of care and protection. This sometimes depends on the ages and who was born first, but in most sibling dynamics, the older sibling looks out for the younger ones. The sister looks out for her brother as the brother protects his sister.

It’s incredibly cool when it’s evident that this got-your-back pledge has continued into adulthood. In the best of such relationships, a sis or a bro has a knack — and a runway — to tell the truth as they see it. Granted, this is sometimes self-defense when quarreling, but it often serves as having a built-in protector at your side.

Early on, siblings quickly discover that they are not just family — they are a team. Siblings often stick up for and look out for one another during challenging moments. If someone messes with one sibling, that someone may have to contend with a power they will soon understand, as well as with the other siblings in the brood.

In my observation, this team realization also helps teach young’uns to look out for others, in addition to watching over their brothers or sisters. When they grow up with a firm sense of what being part of Team Family is about, they are likely to defend others they befriend along life’s journey.

Bring out the best in each other

When children grow up surrounded by their siblings, they have the opportunity to experience life differently than a single child does. A busy home with multiple children is a wacky, looney-tunes place — one with ever-increasing levels of non-stop banter and showdowns. Kids will talk, scream, tease, bicker and bother just as much (or more) than they will harmoniously play together. It’s part and parcel of growing up.

Mediation

Children who grow up with siblings quickly discover that if they really want something, they will have to negotiate their way to the finish line. Siblings learn in short order that life isn’t always fair and that their siblings will take things that belong to them and find other ways to get under their skin. To survive the madness, siblings learn how to haggle, with mom or dad often being the final mediator.

The older you get, the more fun you have laughing, pranking and trolling one another

As noted above, one responsibility of being a sibling is irritating your brother or sister and getting them in trouble.

While the best sibling relationships create a unique and unbreakable bond that is strengthened over the years, it doesn’t mean that most brothers and sisters didn’t pert near go to war with one another while growing up. Battles Royale, indeed! Blame for all sorts of acts of complicity is a commonplace occurrence amongst siblings. Acts that would be considered totally out of line as adult demeanor were wholeheartedly acceptable as means of combat and strategies to employ against one’s brothers or sisters.

It doesn’t take much arm-twisting to elicit growing-up stories that today produce giggles, finger-pointing and “Not me!”

  •  A brother-sister duo convincing their baby brother to eat congealed bacon grease, telling him that it was applesauce. (Ooooo, did they get in trouble!)
  • Delineating room barriers (Stay Out! signs) and other partitions (e.g., at breakfast, stacked in-line cereal boxes).
  • Creating backseat rules, the youngest generally being delegated to the middle hump during all family trips.
  • “Shotgun!” One apparently does what he/she can to keep siblings out of the car’s front seat.
  • Sharing — Two notes: 1) It’s only fun when it’s not your stuff, and 2) There is no We in Food.
  • Competing — Four notes: 1) They want to see you do good, but never better than them; 2) You can’t have what’s mine; 3) I don’t want what’s yours; and 4) My friends are solely my friends and your friends are possibly my friends. too.
  • MMA has nothing on sibling fights, which include hair-pulling, pinching, arm-burn-giving, tickling, and use of the dreaded fart as a weapon.
  • Convincing a sibling to eat dog food or other choice delicacies such as mud.
  • “She’s touching me!”, “He’s breathing my air!”, “He’s on my side!”, “She’s looking at me!”, “He hit me!”, “It’s my turn to push the button!” … and so forth and so on.
  • Doing unspeakable things to a sibling’s toothbrush.
  • Pulling off Oscar-winning performances of impromptu tears to get your sibling in trouble.
  • Generally knowing what buttons to push, including the parents’.
  • Following hush-hush negotiations (often with sibling accomplices), making pinky promises to protect the guilty parties.

Besties

If your siblings made it to your besties list, consider yourself blessed. Perhaps better than anyone, you know their faults and virtues, their sorrows and triumphs. A relationship combo of forever friend and pain-in-the-neck whom you love endlessly is a pretty darned good endgame.

If that’s not your family dynamic and it’s been a while, consider reaching out to your sibling(s) this Thanksgiving season. I believe that there are some things you just shouldn’t put off. Make the call and tell them you love them before it’s too late to do so. Don’t take your brother or sister for granted. Consider yourself lucky to have them.