Sibling relationships are most likely the longest-lasting you’ll have in your life. We love our sibs and we absolutely hate our sibs, too! Our bonds with our brothers and sisters help define who we are in conjunction with our parental relationships.
Conflicts between siblings are inevitable, because, in many ways, we are wired to compete for the attention of our parents. How parents respond to these conflicts can contribute to the success of efforts to work them out, or further entrench anger and resentment within the minds and hearts of their children. It’s no shock that it can take a lifetime — if ever — for these issues to be resolved.
In many ways, sibling strife helps each child develop his or her own sense of identity within the family and in the world outside of the home. It can be humbling to realize that this person has known you since your life began — and will hopefully know you until the end of your days. Sadly, though, some of us don’t have the loving and connected relationships we may want with our siblings.
My relationship with my own sisters has at times been great, at times been fine and at times been estranged. The loss of relationship with one of my sisters has been one of the most painful and confusing experiences of my adult life. In my own family, the perceived and actual experience of my parents treating their daughters and grandchildren differently has been the single biggest contributor to the discord. Many parents are quick to deny differential treatment of their kids, because they fear it will seem that they have failed.
Another issue that increases discord among adult siblings is when parents continue to be involved in the arguments of their grown children, which makes it harder for the siblings to come together and actually work out the anger and resentment that may have been decades in the making. Sadly, this is where my parents also chose poorly, because they decided to pick sides — which only deepened the chasm in our relationship.
When the parents continue to intervene in the conflict of their adult children, it continues the cycle that began when their children were young, and this only exacerbates the conflict that exists. If parents step out of the way and allow the conflict to be dealt with in an open and honest manner (without “rescuing” behaviors), hopefully the conflict can be resolved from an adult perspective, rather than from emotions entrenched since childhood.
Birth order can be the most defining factor among siblings. Our personalities — good, bad and ugly — are often defined by the personalities of our brothers and sisters. We react and respond in our relationships to the behaviors and attitudes we simply must cope with because it is the only option we have as kids.
Positives: High level of confidence, taken seriously, patient, organized, strong powers of concentration, confidence to dream and plan, feel supported and feel they will be respected for what they do.
Negatives: Have an innate fear of being dethroned, perfectionists, overachievers, feel as though they are never good enough and tend to be selfish with possessions and attention.
Positives: Peacemakers, mediators, able to keep secrets, not spoiled, take risks but are realistic, get along well with others, read people well, loyal, competitive and imaginative.
Negatives: Hate confrontation, stubborn, cynical, suspicious and rebellious.
Positives: Outgoing, sociable, affectionate, caring, creative, empathic and confident.
Negatives: Spoiled, manipulative, immature, self-centered and capricious.
In looking at this list, I know that my own sibling relationships seem to fit the descriptions very well. My middle sister has always been the peacemaker, and until recently has avoided conflict — to the detriment of her life and self. It is my oldest sister (the firstborn) and myself (the last-born) who seem to struggle in our relationship the most.
In some ways, we see each other and relate to each other through our negative parts. To her, I’m spoiled and self-centered and not deserving of respect — and I see her as a controlling, selfish perfectionist. I will continue to reach out to my oldest sister, because I love her and she is my family and her children are my children’s cousins. I must say, though, that my middle sister (who struggles with her own relationship with our oldest sister) would tell me to just give up. But hey — she is a cynic!
Do you and your siblings match these descriptions? What about your kids?