oh brother! siblings shape our lives

by gurumommy on July 27, 2010

in hot topics

This article written by Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today about siblings really makes you stop and think about how your children interact.  Hara says that ‘Siblings are born to compete for parental attention, and the strategies they use wind up encoded in personality. Small wonder it can take a lifetime to work out sibling relationships.
He set the standard for my lifelong attraction to younger men,” says Isadora Alman of her brother, her only sibling, 5 ½ years her junior. “I can’t remember one occasion on which we fought. If one of us was to be punished, the other would immediately jump in: ‘Oh, no, it was my fault.’ Our relationship became part of the way I love people.”
Of course, Alman notes, “It helped that we never lived under the same roof after I turned 13 and went off to boarding school” and that they now live on opposite coasts. It also helped that her baby brother was promised to her. “He was my baby. I was prepared for him. There was no sense of competition.”
Their bond is sealed by something unquantifiably stronger than genes or geography—a shared sense of the absurd. “We’re both word people,” she explains. So the emails they exchange once or twice a week revel in outrageous puns and the verbal mishaps of others.As a marriage and family therapist in Alameda, California, Alman knows from countless hours in the consulting room that she and her brother are lucky exceptions. Sibling strife is often the rule, at least at some point in life.
Not only may parents treat young offspring unequally, giving rise to sibling resentments that can long outlast the parents themselves, there is evidence that competition among siblings to distinguish themselves from each other is an inevitable—and necessary—part of family life. Sibling strife allows for the emergence of distinct personalities and identities.
Despite siblings’ power to inflame, they are the longest-lasting relationships many of us ever have. Others may help us become who we are, but no one else knows us from the beginning to the end, and that longevity can be humbling. Whether siblings cycle through our lives or call every week, we are almost always conscious they are there. We carry deep within a sense of shared fate. What’s more, often quite unthinkingly, we tend to replicate our roles relative to them in work and even love. Whether we like them or not, siblings are forever.
The Sibling Trajectory
The 82 percent of Americans with siblings typically spend their early years interacting with each other far more than with outsiders. That changes as they grow, expand their range of contacts, and hit new stages of development. In early adolescence, the sibling bond naturally sheds some of its intensity as exciting new relationships open up outside the family and intimacy takes a great leap forward with agemates of both sexes. In early adulthood, siblings—especially sisters, bound by their penchant for self-disclosure—may come together to share resources.
As siblings get beyond their 20s, pair off with partners, move, and establish their own families, the bond generally goes into hibernation. “It’s not a key relationship even if you like each other,” reports Heidi Riggio, assistant professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles. “We care; it’s just that we’re so busy raising our families.” Distance becomes more a determinant of sibling emotional closeness. Unless, of course, there’s a crisis.
At 44, Shanley Wells is the oldest of three. “Because of our age distribution—my brother and sister are five and six years younger—we seemed to be raised in two different families,” she reports. “Our memories are different, our knowledge of our parents is different—but we did have the same parents!” Wells grew up in a traditional family with a stay-at-home mother. But when she was in college, her father left, and her siblings grew up with a single, working mother. One result, she says, is that her sister became a strong feminist.
Wells was not close to her siblings growing up in Memphis. “They were close in age and knew a lot of the same people. I always felt out of the loop.” To her, both siblings were “a general annoyance. We fought a lot. For years my brother and I had our younger sister convinced that she was bought at a children’s farm in Kentucky. He even drew up a certificate of purchase.” Wells believes that in taking their frustrations out on each other, she and her siblings were reflecting the tensions in their parents’ marriage.
Nor was Wells a role model for her siblings: “I was angry and rebellious.” Wells moved to the Midwest. Ten years ago, her sister also moved to the Midwest, and the two became much closer. “I felt more secure,” Wells confides. “I had my own sense of self. What happened when we were kids didn’t matter anymore.” Eventually, their brother also moved to the Midwest.
And then last year, their mother died, totally unexpectedly, at a relatively young 68. “That pulled us together,” Wells reports. “Formerly, we all stayed in touch through my mother. But my brother, busy with his work and children, has vowed not to let life whiz by without contact. He’s really trying. We now have a plan to all travel together, with our spouses, once a year.
The Long Arm of Influence
Sibling relations are so durable because they are close—”often uncomfortably close,” in the words of British developmental psychologist Judy Dunn. What’s more, they are children’s first relational experiences, the ones that shape their social and self-understanding for life. And without any prompting from adults, they tend to be highly emotion-ally charged. They turn everyday family life into a daily drama for young ones, each of whom is vying for a starring role.
No one has limned this territory better than Dunn, professor of child development at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who has studied siblings in their natural habitat, the home. Starting from a very early age—before 12 months—children exhibit a highly sophisticated social understanding. Read Entire Article Here

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