Siblings Unrivaled

…we were a two decade long loving embrace, that in truth can never be the same again…

There is one aspect of parenting that I feel more strongly about than most others, and I have no explanation for why.  I want my sons to be close, best-friend, always-there-for-each-other, close.  I want them to have the kind of intimacy that comes with having spent a lifetime together, and I desperately want it to last.  But why I feel this so passionately, why it ranks right near the very top of the list of things I hope for my family, I would struggle to say.

Maybe it is because I believe so strongly that siblings are monumental in our lives.  I had nothing to back up this assertion until I discovered Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us, who explains, “From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales. They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them.” By the time a child is eleven, she has spent a third of her free time with her siblings, more time than is spent with any other person. Kluger also reminds us that the sibling relationship will be, for most of us, by some measure the longest relationship in our lives.

Kluger concludes by saying that siblings socialize each other.  My three children shared a single bedroom and bathroom.  Everything they ever learned about taking turns, personal space and accommodating the needs and desires of others they learned from each other in those two rooms.  Lest I paint an overly idyllic picture, everything they learned about biting, hitting, head locks, and getting in the last shot, be it verbal or physical, they also learned in their very own bedroom. I often feel that they prepared each other for the outside world, perhaps more so than I did. Kluger describes the relationship between himself and his three brothers as, “a loud, messy, brawling, loyal, loving, lasting unit.” And that sounds just about right to me.

Could it be that I want my sons to be close because I believe that in no small measure they created each other?  Psychologists call this deidentification but we parents know the phenomena as our kids working really hard not be like each other.  How many families do we know where the younger siblings are less cautious either because they don’t want to emulate the oldest or because, as I suspect with my kids, they know whatever the problem, the oldest has got it covered.   Siblings broaden our world by bringing their interests and friends right through our front door.  If they are older they are an example, a cautionary tale or a road map.  If they are younger they provide a challenge, a different way to do things, a cause for reflection.

My desire for closeness amongst my children started when they were tiny.  Our three boys were born in four years.  And while, perhaps, I had a fantasy of built-in play dates and their ability to amuse themselves without maternal intervention, the reality was often very different.  They surely loved each other and when each of them entered our house, from school, soccer or a playdate, the first question was for the location of their brothers. Yet, they fought with a physical ferocity that at times left me staggering.  A game would begin, there would be a break where they seemingly tried to kill each other and then their play would resume as if random outbreaks of violence were to be expected.

My kids shared nicknames and inside jokes that conveyed both endearment and ridicule and more than once, okay more than a hundred times, my husband had to reassure me that males say terrible things to each other as a sign of affection, it did not mean that they hated each other. The cruel quips that they hurled at each other were a symbol of their love and nothing to worry about. In her recent book, Social Understanding and Social Lives: From Toddlerhood through to Transition to School, Dr Claire Hughes, explains that . “The traditional view is that having a brother or sister leads to a lot of competition for parents’ attention and love. In fact, the balance of our evidence suggests that children’s social understanding may be accelerated by their interaction with siblings in many cases.”

Maybe my hope for them has nothing to do with them but rather my feelings towards my own brothers.  I believe my younger brothers to be two of the kindest most loving men I have ever known.  They were playdates and confederates for me and have been wonderful uncles from the start.  At no point in my life when I needed them did they ever let me down and I know my sisters-in-law to be among the luckiest of women. Was this just a case of wanting for my children the loyalty my brothers and I have enjoyed?

As my sons were separating for college I began to panic.  Maybe their closeness was proximity.  Like many siblings, they are very different personalities with wildly divergent interests.  Was their daily interaction the glue? Without driving to school together and sitting side by side at the dinner table would it all evaporate?  And although it appears, thus far, that I need not have worried as they text, video chat and even have their own Facebook group. Still there was the nagging question, why do I care so much?

After I finished examining my better motives for their enduring friendship I took a hard look at myself,  for as Kluger pointedly says, “…reproducing is a genetically narcissistic act.” Maybe, this was just about me.

My sons, husband and I, the five of us, were a period in time, a two decade long loving embrace, that in truth can never be the same again. For now there will be girlfriends and studies, later spouses, grandchildren and careers, and those magical decades will exist only in our hearts.  But, If they have each other they will always have five of us together.  For as long as they are bound together, in the decades when their father and I are here with them, and for the many in which we will not be, my sons can at any moment conjure up our regular Sunday night dinners, with roast chicken, carrots, onions and baked potatoes. They can be whisked back to a summer at the beach with our closest friends or the Christmas morning they saw the house across the street burn to the ground.  They can remember moving houses and countries together, and the school and teachers they shared over many years.  For as long as the three of them are close, all five of us are close, be it a year from now or fifty years from now.  Their love for each other recreates what my husband and I created.

They hold each other’s childhood and with a word or a phrase the five of us are back together again, and we are all young with so much of our lives still unknown.  I told them that I wanted them to be close forever because in the end they would always have each other, because it is truly a blessing in life if there is someone who can be counted on at any time.  But I now realize I was being far more selfish, because as long as they are there for each other, they will always have us.

TED talk: The Sibling Bond with Jeffrey Kluger

About Grown and Flown

Parenting from the Empty Nest
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32 Responses to Siblings Unrivaled

  1. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    ohhhhh…………this filled me with such longing………i want this for ME and for my three too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This was so beautiful. You and your husband gave your boys roots and wings, and some great memories. Terrific post!

  3. happyoutlook says:

    Wonderful post! I too want my kids to be there for each other! I recently borrowed the idea from a friend and now encourage sibling togetherness of my teens/20 something children by offering to help underwrite some of the cost of their going to a movie together or visiting each other at college. Of course, I love it when they come home because then I get to be with them too!

  4. Having them close in age and the same gender helps tremendously with bonding. It’s a wonderful thing to encourage in families and even better when it actually pans out. Enjoy them while their home.

    • It does help, no question. But in doing a bit of research I found how important siblings of the opposite gender are to each other in learning about male/female differences. Kids learn something different in every family dynamic.

  5. Wonderful post. Nothing fills my heart more than watching my boys interact in postive ways. As you have said, even the negetive ways bring valuable lessons and boys seem to value that sort of engagement. I am like you, it’s really important to me that my boys get on (four and half years seperate them), probably because I didn’t have siblings and feel like I missed out. It was very important to me to have more then one child and thankfully the good Lord was willing.

    • The negative interactions between boys is like a foreign language we moms have to learn. And I have to tell you, I am not very good at foreign languages!

  6. momshieb says:

    This post brought me to tears. I share the same feelings about the closeness of my three grown children; every time they come together to joke, and reminisce and tease, I feel as if the yeas have melted away and we are back to being our own little world of five. Thanks you for this beautiful essay!

    • I am so happy that this spoke to you. Your kids seem to have similar interests, that will hopefully bind them together for many years to come.

  7. bohemianspiritedmom says:

    Beautiful. “..a period in time, two decade long loving embrace.’ What wonderful sentiment describing the fleeting time our kids are entrusted into our care

  8. Wow. What a beautifully written post. If I ever give my son a sibling I too would want him to be close to his brother or sibling. My brother and I are very close and I know that in a heartbeat he has my back. I loved what you wrote about in the end. It’s your children’s childhood memories that keep you as a parent in their hearts. Again, brilliant, heartfelt writing.

    • You are very kind to say, thank you. I think in some part we model this relationship with our siblings for our children, so you sound like you are set!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing….just spent a family weekend with my two sisters….and I see how my children watch and engage with the three of us as they continue to evolve in their own sibbling relationships.

  10. i have three brothers (and two sisters). i think its different with brothers – not so many overt signs of affection as you see in sisters. when we’re all together though, they gravitate to each other. over the years, the relationship the three of them share ebbs and flows just like all great friendships do, but there is something unique in the relationship they share and its visible. i’m sure your boys will find the same as they grow older together.

    • I certainly hope you are right. With the older two still at University, it is in the early stages, as we all know so many changes to come. I think that ebb and flow is very apt, and I will remember that.

      • Anonymous says:

        keep the faith. it is so apparent how much you love your children and your family. that’s how they learn how to do the same.

  11. Beautiful! Your sons are lucky to have you encouraging their bond, from childhood til now. I only have one kid now, but if I were to have another one, I also want my kids to be close. Your intro paragraph really hit home because I too can’t explain *why* I would want my kids close, only that it’s a huge deal for me that they are. Of course I may be setting myself up for unrealistic expectations, but I would love it if my kiddo had a close relationship with a sibling.

    • It is funny some of the things we just know to be true, but never seem to question why. Those are probably the things we should be examining closely! Thank you so much for reading, we are always grateful.

  12. taprinam says:

    Excellent post.

  13. S says:

    This is just beautiful. I teared up especially at the “My sons, husband and I, the five of us, were a period in time, a two decade long loving embrace, that in truth can never be the same again”. My boys are still so young (at 4 and 2) and I so love watching them grow to play together and look for each other every morning when they wake. Thinking about that time when they will leave is so amazingly hard despite how hard the days can now be.

    • It is so hard when they go…hence this blog. We are touched that you are reading us and thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.

  14. muddledmom says:

    “They hold each other’s childhood.” I think as a sibling this rings true. My sister and I have history. I love knowing my kids will share that, that they have a relationship outside of my husband and me, secrets and memories and a bond that doesn’t include us. My kids have been close from the start, and having a son and daughter, that really surprised me. They cannot be apart. I always hold my breath that this will not change.

    • There is so many memories that siblings share because they are experiencing our families lives from the same perspective as children. If your children are close now, they have the base for a lifetime, I think the glue can be set very early.

  15. You are fast becoming one of my favourite blogs – love the way yourexpress your wishes for your sons to be and remain close- I have that same wish – it is not coming true yet, but I have hope for the future

    • You warm our hearts, thank you so much for your lovely words. Try to express what we think all of us mothers (and fathers!) feel. The point about siblings being the longest relationship of our lives, really brings it home. Thank you for reading…

  16. Emily E says:

    We are three, my boys and me. They are two years apart. I told my oldest on the day his brother was born that “brothers are a gift from God”. Of course they had no reason to doubt me, so they treated each other with love and kindness that left people asking me if they were always that nice to each other. I had to be honest–they had stood together (albeit in diapers) as their father left and was fierce and angry– yes, they treasure each other. I remember in preschool when an older sibling of one classmate died in an accident. There sat my two, tucked into one chair all day. It was the day they found out you could lose a brother. Their sadness had no bottom– it went all the way to their core. I didn’t try to talk them out of their sadness or stop their quiet vigil that day- they needed to face that together- it wasn’t about me at all. They went on to be happy, silly, respectful, reflective, annoying, loud and came back as gifts to each other after each time they seemed to take a step apart. But, they are now preparing for their first big separation– college in the fall for the oldest. I thought I would be the one to shed the tears, but they are already savoring their final summer before everything changes. They again are sitting side by side tucked in together while they are the sizes of grown men, playing computer games, and planning their last summer. There are occasional references to the uncertainty for each other waiting at the end of this summer. I’m blessed to have shared in their magic so long. They’ll always have their brother.
    Your piece was striking and truthful, with a bit of sadness of them bringing the whole five back with their collective memories. Thank you.

    • Your comment is a beautiful post and a testament to your wonderful parenting. I wrote a post earlier this year about their separation and how technology has allowed them to stay so close, I am sure your boys will do the same. When they reunite for the summer I am sure your boys will pick right up where they left off. You were right on the very first day, they are a true gift to each other.

  17. SFriant says:

    We were having similar thoughts, you’re just a few decades ahead of me. Any tips? Here’s my version,


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