We have a very nice portrait. If I recall, it was expensive. More than we could afford at the time. There we are, all three of us, on a lovely lawn posing for the photographer. Our two-year-old daughter joyfully snuggled up to mom and dad. We were capturing our family on the wake of welcoming our second daughter. Smiling back at the camera, I was a solid six months pregnant. My logical husband thought it was a ridiculous idea but I was determined to document our threesome. Well intentioned, but naïve. That portrait is collecting dust because that is not our family! We are a foursome, and the siblings, 27 months to the day don’t know life without each other!
Being raised in a nuclear family of mom, dad and two girls, it wasn’t lost on me that I had possibly re-created a dynamic. And, despite some ferocious fighting in our pre-teen years, my sister and I have been very close since high school. And, I considered, why? Because, we have each other’s back. We can self-deprecatingly laugh at the genetic quirks that make us, us. We enjoy (and dislike) the same things! We are fiercely loyal. We laugh, we support and we are each other’s cheerleader. We do zag sometimes, and that is always painful; but, at the end of the day, we know it’s us for the genetic long haul. And, perhaps we’ve modeled a positive sister relationship. I wasn’t conscious of it as a young mother, but in retrospect, there may be some validity to it.
But, truthfully, there are so many variables in the sibling relationship that I find it impossible to take much credit as a parent. Yes, my husband and I have fostered “getting along”, but who doesn’t? We’ve tried to employ strategies that help them have perspective when they are disagreeing but again, I don’t feel like I’ve had much to do with it. It’s as puzzling a relationship as any. As Harper Lee famously quoted, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family…” (To Kill a Mockingbird). There’s something to that. How do we choose friends? And, how fortunate if the methodology for choosing friends, turns out to be the same formula for nurturing a relationship with a sibling?
I asked my girls (currently age 19, 17) to tell me (separately) why they feel like they have a close relationship. Three of their answers overlapped. And interestingly, these are qualities that one likely looks for in a friend as well:
- Humor/Laughter: And not talking about the ‘I’m being funny but you don’t think so’ kind of humor. True, belly laugh humor. As siblings, you have an arsenal of topics to make fun of (i.e. start with mom and dad’s foibles) and all the funny nuances of living under the same roof.
- Similar Interests: I know this isn’t always the case or even desired! But, when they do have similar interests, they have similar friend groups and activities. It does support more family time and they understand each other’s “world”. The tricky part here is to make sure they are not too competitive.
- Support: Both girls feel like they have confidante’s in each other. We’ve encouraged this by not exploring too much of a “friend” role with the kids. We are parents. As much as I’d like more intel, I’m satisfied knowing that they are talking to each other.
And, I realize their closeness may exclude me sometimes. I’ve participated and thus witnessed this behavior when my sister and I get together at family functions. We naturally break into conversation and can be in our own world. So, at some point, my girls may prefer to take a trip and I may not be invited. Or they may spend Thanksgiving swapping parenting stories that aren’t relevant to me. I hope that I will understand that it’s not me, it’s their need to connect. I hope I will remember that this was my goal and celebrate that they have this gift of a beautiful, lifelong sibling friendship.