for release Friday November 05, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on adult siblings.
The Importance Of Siblings As We Grow Older
I recently drove 10 hours with my sister to help my parents move to a retirement apartment. We were both a little astonished to find out that we could talk non-stop for 10 hours. Neither of us took a nap. We didn’t read or listen to music. We just caught up after being apart most of our adult lives. It was the first long trip we’d made together in about 37 years.
Like she said, “Here I have your total attention. You aren’t running off to fix food or clean up the kitchen or straighten the living room. You aren’t being interrupted by your kids.” She is a person who likes to have (and gives) total attention in a conversation. It bugs her a little when I can be heard clattering dishes in the background when we talk on the phone. As a woman with no children, (she does love kids), she nevertheless often has a little trouble understanding all the distractions I deal with.
What is probably more miraculous is that we are two sisters who could hardly be more different in many areas, yet we still like and love each other. I am very grateful.
One woman says she enjoys her adult three sisters and brother because “We’re all so weird and usually the only times we can be our weirdest is around each other. We have a blast. I think we get along because we don’t hold grudges. You can’t really hold grudges if you want to stay close.”
What happens when adult siblings don’t get along? One man says that he and his twin brother are very different from their other brother who is cool toward them. “He is the millionaire, I am the peasant. He didn’t go to college, I did. He is extremely conservative. We get along mainly by not discussing such matters. We only talk about hobbies and grandchildren.”
Our relationships as adult siblings are influenced by many factors, including parental treatment, birth order, genetics, gender, life experiences, ethnic/generational patterns, notes Jane Mersky Leder author of Brothers and Sisters: How They Shape Our Lives. Leder says that while few adult siblings have taken the drastic and unfortunate step of severing ties completely, about one third describe their relationship as distant or contentious. Typically in our society, sisters are the “kin keepers” says Leder, while brothers are often more conflicted. Brothers usually are more competitive as children, which often carries over into adulthood.
Someone has pointed out that the sibling relationship is usually the longest of any human relationship: we know our parents for perhaps 50-70 years, our spouses (if we are lucky) for 40-60 years, but our siblings (if we are born close together) we may know for 80-90 years. While friends come and go, siblings are always there.
This connection becomes even more important as we age, and many adult children find themselves reconnecting with their siblings when Mom or Dad gets sick, needs extra care, or dies. While this may seem like a shame (that it takes a death or sickness to get family together) it is also a natural process of growing up, establishing our own separate identities and lives, and then not having that much opportunity to really connect (unless your family lives nearby.) This has certainly been true in our family. I’ve noticed that my mother and her sister have gotten much closer, the older they get. They have also gotten closer to their brother, especially since his wife died. These are important connections that can be a significant benefit: “Because siblings share memories and a sense of family identity, people with siblings report higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression in old age,” says a bulletin on “Aging” from the Ohio State University Extension service.
Now that my children are young adults, I like it when I see signs of their continuing bonds as sisters. They each live in different towns right now, and they don’t e-mail each other or talk as often as I would like, but I found it intriguing that when one sister wanted to bring her new boyfriend home to meet us and have dinner, she wanted her older sister to come home, too—partially to help conversation and also as a “buffer” I think in this new relationship. When a third sister was having stress as a freshman at college, one took the time to call and talk her through the situation to look at options.
The holiday season is a time when most of us make an attempt to get together, even when relationships have been conflicted. Unfortunately, those past relationships make family holiday gatherings strained or sometimes there is outright arguing. We’ll look next time at how to identify problems and issues that are bothering us and how we can get along.
What are your stories of adult siblings who learned to get along? I will try to do a follow up column. 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 the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 846 words; end material = 105 words
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