for release February 2, 2001
by Melodie Davis
All In The Family: Help Siblings Appreciate Bonds
Jan is a seven-year-old girl who somehow manages to rub her eleven-year-old brother the wrong way, no matter what she does. She adores her big brother, and wants him to like her, but there is just something about their ages that makes for a bad click right now. If she is stewing over some small issue, the more she bugs her brother, the worse it gets. Her parents, sensing that maybe Jan trying so hard is part of the problem, encourage her to just "let it go."
Then one Sunday before Christmas in church school class, Jan's teacher had the students make "gift certificates" to give to family members for Christmas, instead of spending money on gifts. They were to think of something nice they could do for each member of the family. Jan tried very hard to think of something she could do for her older brother, something that he would like. Her peers tried to help, but she rejected all their ideas. "No, no, he would think that is dumb." "No, he wouldn't like that." Finally her eyes lit up. "I know, I'll give him a time that I'll just 'let it go,'" Jan smiled as she filled in the gift certificate.
If Jan learns the art of letting go -- no matter what lessons her brother may need to learn-she will have learned a valuable lesson. Not only did she give a gift to her brother that Christmas, her parents also gave her a gift: the gift of learning when not to make an issue of things, to walk away.
What is it about brothers and sisters that make us so vulnerable to them? At least during the early years, they know us almost better than anyone, and know all the ways to needle and enrage us. Young siblings probably spend more time with each other than they do even with their parents, especially if both parents work outside the home and the children are in the same care giving setting. So sibling spats and even dislike can often be a case of too much togetherness.
But togetherness can also be an advantage. Brothers and sisters can help each other through rocky times in growing up. Isn't it always easier to leave two children with a new babysitter? The siblings can be a comfort to each other, providing familiarity when things are new. If Mom or Dad goes away on a trip, or to the hospital, siblings have each other.
But what if your children really seem to not like each other? All families go through rocky times, and certain phases of life are rockier than others between siblings. With every new family member added, you widen the number of relationships: at first it is just husband and wife. When you have one child, you have husband-wife, husband-child, wife-child, and husband-wife-child. Add a second child, and you add child-child, husband-child-child, and so on. As each person ages in that circle of relationships-going through toddlerhood, puberty, maybe mid life crisis, relationships within each of those circles can be set on edge. No wonder that families are a setting ripe for conflict!
I grew up with two older sisters and one younger brother. The bonds we shared were cemented through long walks exploring our pasture fields and woods, bicycle adventures, farmwork, household chores, vacations, and lots of sibling silliness. Unfortunately, we now live in four different states, separated by many miles. So we are not close in the way that brothers and sisters who live nearby can be close, but I know that they will be there for me in the event of really bad times-and they also help celebrate the good times-graduations, weddings, babies.
I always wanted to be a mouse as my two oldest daughters drove to early morning jazz at high school and home from late night musical practice or band trips. I know they shared things they wouldn't dream of telling me-and that's okay. That is what sisters are for. When my second daughter got to spend a weekend visiting her older sister at college all by herself, I know she got a clear different look at college than we did on parents' weekend!
A brother or sister is a great asset to have in life -- although they certainly don't always feel that way! But we do want to raise our children in such a way that the positives overcome the negatives and children end up feeling like they have an ally to see them through life.
Do you have any stories about siblings to share? Either difficult or positive relationships? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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