July 1997

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Sibling Togetherness

By Beth Weiss,  Copyright 1997

I was driving down the road the other day, listening to a tape titled “Musical Nights”.  You won’t find it in the record stores, or even advertised on music video stations late at night—this is a custom made tape, created for me by my little brother. Just the fact that the tape exists is a special memory.  Brett made it while visiting me in Germany, using the limited music collection I acquired there, with a few songs thrown in from my boyfriend’s LPs.

The tape is an eclectic collection, tied together by the night theme and the history my brother and I share.  Brett loaded the tape with Billy Joel songs, no doubt remembering my excitement over the Glass Houses tour.  And he probably recalled when the kids down the street were the first one to get Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight, a far cry from the earlier Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.  Don McLean’s Vincent doesn’t have “night” in the title, but it certainly has starry starry nights, and it might be one of the most beautiful songs ever sung—I know Brett thinks so.

But listening to that tape brings some uncertainty and concern, along with a lot of special love for my no-longer-so-little brother.  Brett and I had a really rough relationship through our teen years, which has since been replaced by a special closeness that we both cherish.  So where does the uncertainty come from?  I want so much for my children to have the same kind of closeness that Brett and I share, without going through times when fratricide runs through their minds.

All the experts say that some sort of sibling rivalry is unavoidable, and I suspect they’re probably right.  Right now Jennica worships her older brother, and he adores her, but my friends’ experiences lead me to believe that it won’t last forever.  But then, I have three cousins who have been as close as can be since babyhood—rumor has it that they never fought growing up, and all three of them say it’s true.  And my college roommate was incredibly tight with her siblings, so darned it, I know it’s possible to raise kids who love each other, and treat each other with more respect than rivalry.

But I’m not sure what I can do to help them along.    I’ve read and re-read Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.  They have great ideas for making sure all of your children feel special, without falling prey to the unworkable idea that they’re all equal.  A letter to some advice columnist sticks in my mind, where a mother wrote in that she told her teenagers that when they were grown and the parents passed on, their siblings would be the only ones who would remember them when they were young, they were keepers of each other’s memories.  And Miss Manners has often written how important it is to keep a higher standard of civility in one’s home, especially between siblings, than outside of it; she explains that good manners are most essential with those one loves most.  And, of course, I watch how other parents help their children learn to interact well with each other, fostering a sibling bond that will be strong enough to withstand the inevitable flares of rivalry.

I don’t know if any of that, or all of that, is enough. I have reason to hope that it is.  Jordan tells me that when he and Jennica are grown up, their children will be cousins and like to visit each other.  And at the pool last night, I heard two sisters tell their mom, “We don’t want 50 cents each.  We already decided to share something that costs a dollar.”   And I saw a preschooler run to get his little brother a towel because his brother looked cold.

Here’s hoping that those of us who are parents of more than one child keep seeing those precious moments, as our children learn to cherish what will probably be the longest relationship of their lives—the one(s) they have with their siblings.

Best wishes,

Beth

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