Friends for life?
April 28, 2017 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Are you part of a brother/sister duo who is super tight with your sibling as an adult? Please come in and tell me all about your experience.

We're expecting our second child, due this November (another fall baby, yeah!), and found out earlier this week that we're having a little boy, who will be exactly four years younger than his big sister.

While I am thrilled to be having a son, I admit that my initial reaction was one of mild disappointment that my daughter is not getting something I really wanted her to have: a sister. I'm working on unpacking some baggage I have around boys and how they're predisposed not to be close to their mothers or sisters, which I'm fully aware is 100% based on my own family of origin and not in reality—but I'm not at all close with my only sibling, a younger brother, my husband and his sister don't speak, and I really don't know many (any?) people who are close to their brothers as adults. Which I guess is largely why, when we decided to try for a second child, my brain pretty much dove headfirst into the fantasy of having two girls (which, yes, I also realize is not a guarantee of closeness). So I really want to hear some tales of awesome brother/sister relationships that have been sustained well into adulthood.

I've read this comment on how parents can help invest in their kids' siblings relationships, which is something my parents absolutely did not do, so we are keen to focus on this with our own children.

I'm most interested in hearing long-term outcomes, so please refrain from posting unless you or your kids are grown; I'm not particularly keen to hear stories of how well your young children get along because it seems easy for kids to adore each other when they are really little and isn't necessarily reflective of how they will get along when they are older. I'm specifically interested in your experience with your opposite-sex sib as an adult. What makes and keeps you close? How do you stay in touch? How do you continue to foster that relationship now that you're adults?

Thank you. I'm really looking forward to reading your responses.
posted by anderjen to Human Relations (40 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm the oldest of three (girl, boy, girl). Both my little sister and I are closer with our brother than with each other, although all three of us are fairly close. We text every day (or, like, 6 days a week), nonstop, and see each other whenever we can (my sister lives in a different city). I'm not sure if I could pinpoint what keeps us close, other than that we were raised to watch out for one another.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:17 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


This is me I guess. My brother and I, and my mom and dad, all still get along pretty well (even after their divorce) which I think has a lot to do with laughing a lot, and sharing a lot of interests. I was 4 years younger than my brother too. I basically wanted to do whatever he was doing and he really wasn't into that of course for awhile but we both grew out of that. My parents didn't meddle in our relationship but my mom just tried to keep the temperature down when we fought by pulling us apart so little stuff blew over and didn't fester. Having a same-sex sibling isn't a guarantee of a good relationship as I know plenty of brothers who don't get along with each other. Adult sibling relationships are the same as adult friend relationships, at some point you think, do I like this person? Do we have anthing in common? Are they more trouble than they're worth? When it works out it works out. When it doesn't it doesn't.
posted by bleep at 10:36 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Mine are 20 and 17, is that adult enough? They've always been close and when my son went off to college, he made it a point to text his sister at least once every two or three days. They both consciously keep the relationship going through texting, Skype/FaceTime, and even regular mail. And when my son comes home for breaks, they go out together and do stuff. She's visited him at his college on her own, too.

We raised them to be kind to each other. And since we're kind of nerdy parents, they turned out to be kind of nerdy kids and they have a lot of the same interests.

We never wanted the older child to feel responsible for the younger one, so we never put them in that situation. It meant getting babysitters for the younger one for a little while even though the older one was technically old enough to babysit, but we never wanted him to be placed in a parenting mode with her.

The first time one of them stood up to us for the other one, we knew we were on the right track.

Really, though, I feel like our son set the tone. He adored his sister from the day he met her at the hospital and he was just such a good brother when they were little (he rarely got angry if she "stole" his toys, he always included her in his playtime) that they naturally just grew to be close. I'm not really sure how much we fostered that or not.
posted by cooker girl at 10:43 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I am very close with 2 of 4 brothers, so I chose to have my second kid close - less than than 24 months to my first. It didn't work. They were adorably close until puberty. Now, I think, while they don't dislike each other, they aren't in contact. (Mid 20s). I raised them with the concept that they would be each other's only family when their parents died. So I don't think you can make it happen, i think it happens when personalities work together.
posted by b33j at 10:44 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I am a younger sister with two older brothers - one 5 years older, one 3 years older. When I was a tiny kid, we did not all get along that well because it was a bit more "the boys" together and me separate (I also had two close female cousins who I spent a lot of time with and went to school with). As a teen/young adult, I was a bit closer with the older of my two brothers, because he was maturing and seeing himself as an "advisor" figure, but the middle one was a bit more rebellious, and I think did not really enjoy having his younger sister tag along with his cool friends. Once we all passed 20 though, we all got close in different ways. Today, eldest is 45, middle is 43, and I am 40. I am closer to the middle one because we just have more in common (more progressive/liberal, closer income-wise), but I certainly have a warm/supportive relationship with the eldest even if we don't agree on everything. At times I have missed not having a sister, but I have close female friends, and I also get along well with my brothers' wives.

I agree with posters above that there is probably not a lot that parents can do to help these relationships last. However, I have to believe that modeling is one of the better ways to do things, and my own parents' closeness with their siblings surely laid the path for us. So I try to make an effort to stay close, visit, etc with both my and my spouse's siblings. Oh, my husband is a man with two sisters - gets along with one and does not with the other. More of a personality thing than a gender thing.

I also feel you if, as I sense, you are having a bit of fear about having a boy. I was convinced for no rational reason that I would have a girl, and was a bit shocked when I found out I was carrying a boy. But, 2.5 years in, I love the kid and have new thoughtful appreciation for some of the characteristics of boyhood (not to mention the unpredictability of parenting and gender stereotypes).
posted by bluedeans at 10:58 AM on April 28


Sister to two brothers here -- one (call him D) a year and half younger than I am, the other (M) 10 years younger. I am super, super close with D, even though he lives 3000 miles away. I literally bragged to him over text about an amazing poop I had last month, and he was happy to get the text and reply with his own anecdotes. (Man, that was a really good poop...) Anyway, we're in similar stages of life in a lot of ways and that helps, but we've been close since we went away to college (different coasts). We didn't get along as kids, but did go through together, as only siblings can, a number of life-changing events.

What helps? Visiting, calls, texts, photos. Technology makes a huge difference. We're both on Instagram, FB, etc. plus we make our kids skype with us and each other occasionally. But before all the technology, we'd visit each other, hang out, and we lived together for a long while after college. So much easier than other roommates. Also, as I suppose is clear from this answer, I was more of a rough and tumble girl than a dress-up girl, so it meant I wasn't shutting down activities or conversations that some might consider messy, disgusting, or impolite.

Our families try to visit together once a year. Knowing we have a safe place to gripe about our parents and families also continues to keep us close. We share some interests (photography, travel) and it's easy to connect about those with gear recommendations and travel ideas. He also has an expertise I don't (cooking) and I have an expertise he doesn't (diagnosing car issues), so we call each other for quick opinions.

Though I spent a few years practically raising my youngest brother, M, he and I are close only when we're in the same place, say together for a week over the summer. We'll hang out, talk well, have easy silences, but we don't reach out to one another in the same way. However, M and D share a few hobbies and they bond much more frequently with each other, again, even over large geographic distance.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:01 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm the eldest of three (girl, boy, girl, just like roomthreeseventeen) and we're all fairly close. I'd actually say our brother is the one who puts the most effort into maintaining our relationships, amongst siblings, with our parents and extended family, all of it. We're all spread all over the country (Chicago, DC, and Houston respectively) so it's hard. We don't see each other or talk as often as I'd like but I still think of us as super close. They just, like, get me in a way no one else does. We still laugh at inside jokes and stories from when we were kids whenever we're together. Only now it's over beers and good food.

I adore my brother (and my sister, but we're talking about brother-sister relationships here).
posted by misskaz at 11:05 AM on April 28


My brother and I go in bursts of being super close and being less close; we're not a call-each-other-constantly kind of relationship and we live on opposite sides of the country. We grew up in an isolating environment, where we had to engage with kids in our grade at school, but I always felt my family was kind of "other" so there was an us/them going on - and my brother was my "us" growing up. We have different skills, his are social and mine are technical; he's an artist and community activist, I have a decent-paying salary job, we're both slightly envious while knowing we chose right for ourselves. But the thing that makes us close isn't the circumstances we grew up in, it isn't our similarities or our differences, and it isn't something our parents did with our sibling relationship in mind. It's the fact that my brother is an incredibly kind and feeling person who knows how to put effort into a relationship - not the kind of effort that leads to the "this is so much work" feeling, but the kind of insightful questioning and active listening that makes me understand myself better when I talk to him, and leads to conversations about our family that we're both contributing and learning.

My only advice for helping this happen with your kids is to raise them both to be people who value and understand their own feelings and are interested in other people's.
posted by aimedwander at 11:06 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


I'm four years older then my brother, and we're both in our 30's now. When my brother decided to move to my area he choose an apartment a few blocks from my house. He's one of my favorite people to travel with, and is incredibly supportive when I'm going through a rough time.

As adults we keep in touch and foster the relationship the same we I do with any of my other friends. When we've lived on different continents we emailed, and now that we are closer we have a weekly card game. When I think of him I absolutely think of him as a friend for life, and I'm lucky to have him.

Also he's the only person I know with the same level of Shakespeare nerdery as me, so it's nice to have someone else who wants to see weird adaptations and dissect them afterwards.
posted by lepus at 11:06 AM on April 28


I'm just about 4 years younger than my brother, who is my only sibling. I think our age difference made it more difficult to be close when we were growing up. We didn't spend a lot of time one on one together after he was 12 or so. We got along, but I wouldn't call us "close" then.

My mom (the oldest of 7) and dad (3rd of 7) both spent a lot of time and effort making sure that things were "fair". For my mom this included not being more lenient with me as the youngest and not relying on my brother as a de facto baby-sitter/chauffeur. This absolutely came out her experience of halfway parenting her younger siblings. For my dad, this focused more on making sure we each got one and one time with him along with the regular family togetherness. I think this helped avoid potential resentment about us being treated differently.

As adults, my brother and I both moved to work in a city about 1 hour away from where we grew up. Being out of the house but in the same place absolutely helped us evolve into a closer adult sibling relationship. Neither of us is much for phone conversations, so the sheer proximity makes it easy to meet for drinks or to be in the same bowling league. For a while we worked at the same company so I saw and talked to him every day. Having regular contact as adults means that we're more involved and knowledgeable about each other's every day lives. When we talk it's not catching up after several weeks, it's an ongoing conversation.

From that, we continue to just kind of intertwine our lives. He had kids and I'm over all the time to hang out with them. I'm invited along on family vacations and my brother and I drink beer and he tries to get me to fish. When I had a health crisis last year, my brother dropped *everything* to come to the hospital, deal with my mom's freakout and go to my house to take care of my cat and clean out the fridge. You obviously can't force the proximity, but I think coming out of childhood without resentment and competition made it easier to build an adult friendship.
posted by thatquietgirl at 11:19 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm 32 and my brother is 28, so the same age difference as your kids will have (& I'm a woman, so it's also an older sister / younger brother dynamic). We played together some and fought some as kids, but haven't fought since I moved out to go to college when I was 18. We're definitely close - we lived in the same city (different from where we grew up & where our parents still live) for a couple years after he graduated from college, and saw eachother regularly. Sometimes it was three times in a month, sometimes once in two months - but we both definitely made an effort and both enjoy spending time together. We no longer live in the same state, but we talk on the phone & via facetime regularly - the latter so that he can interact with my daughter, his niece - and see each other as often as we can.

I'm sure you'll be happy to hear that he's also close to my mom (and dad, though that's not relevant to your question) - my brother and mom went on a short trip together recently which I hear they both enjoyed. I know they talk frequently.

Also, my mom has two brothers, and while all three care about each other and see each other, she and one of the brothers seem to be the closest and talk the most often. My dad is one of four (two brothers, two sisters) and the closest pair is a brother-sister one.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:24 AM on April 28


My husband is quite possibly closer (both in 30s) to his sister who's 3 years older than him then I am to my two sisters. Some of it's location (both settled in the same metro area), but it's also just how frequently they just check in. They also just have a close family in general.

Sports (they were both athletes and sports fans) and music (they often still go to concerts of a particular band) were two areas my husband and his sister connected.
posted by typecloud at 11:29 AM on April 28


I .... don't want to share a whole ton, because a lot of what keeps my brother and I close is the fact that we don't have a lot of other people in our lives. But we are really close, and we have the same age difference. I'm 26 and he just turned 22. We were close enough in age that we had a lot of the same interests, particularly Pokemon. We liked a lot of the same kids movies. Our parents would often get us almost-matching Christmas gifts - like, two different kinds of nerf guns, or two different Pokemon games.

But it definitely hasn't always been easy. I was enough older that I was responsible for him a lot of the time; it bugged me a lot sometimes that he was allowed to be childish and I wasn't. As we grew older, I got downright nasty about making him do his share of the housework. (I was making the family dinner more than half the time at age 13 and I was not going to wash the family dishes on top of it.) A lot of older sisters I know have had that kind of experience, of being almost the deputy mom ... it's not the worst thing. They're all really competent high-functioning adults because of the responsibility they had to take on as kids. Idunno.

I had to rebuild our relationship after I went to college, because I didn't realize I'd have to keep in touch and maintain it. I wish my parents had given us more guidance on that. One thing I did, when he was 15 and I was 19 and I had started renting a place outside the dorms, I told him how he could take the train to visit me. I wrote out directions in a lot of detail, because he'd never taken public transit. And I counted out train fare, put it in an envelope with the directions, and gave it to him along with his birthday present.

But that wasn't really enough by itself. It was a meaningful gesture, but just a gesture. When I moved back home, we still had to rebuild from almost the ground up. I had to make amends for how nasty I was as a teenager. We had to learn who we were as adults. We're close now because we were close as kids, and we learned to rely on each other; but also because we wanted this relationship and put the effort in. And if I hadn't moved back home, it probably wouldn't have happened.

It's natural for sibling relationships to have a lot of friction, and that shouldn't discourage you. There's ways to shape and manage it, like you manage any group of people. But ultimately their relationship is their choice.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 11:31 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm 31, three years older than my brother, and we've been best friends since our teenage years. Even though we live on opposite sides of the globe right now, we text/call almost daily, play words with friends, and share internet articles/ cat photos regularly.

Ways our parents may have influenced our friendship: they didn't allow prolonged fighting (ie. no going to bed angry); they spoke appreciatively about our distinct personalities and interests; they promoted a strong sense of family; and they worked such long hours that I was a semi-parent (drove him to school, made meals, etc.).

It sounds like you might also be worried about your own relationship with a son. But boys are the best! They're so sweet and tough at the same time. The real joy here is that you have the opportunity to help forge a wonderful man, and share him with the world as a force of good.
posted by scrubjay at 11:44 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I am a sister who is 7 years younger than my oldest brother, 6 years younger than my older sister, and 18 months older than my youngest brother. None live in the same city. I am closest to my oldest brother, who is the most distant from me in age and the opposite gender. It's because we have interests in common (both nerds). But we're not *that* close. We are in contact randomly about once a month. But it's comfortable.

I think it's just luck.
posted by pizzazz at 11:46 AM on April 28


I was going to tell you the story of my best friend and her brother (they are about 3yrs apart) but then I read your linked comment from tarumba and it pretty accurately describes the way their mother raised them as well. We're all in our 40's now, and friend and brother are still very close, talking often, consulting each other for input on creative projects, and vacationing together.

We are practicing the same philosophy at our house with our boys, who are exactly 4yrs apart. So far older brother is awesome, never expresses any jealousy. Younger brother, just turning two, is acting like a 2yo wrt to sharing, etc, but I am confident that he will come along nicely in about a year or so, when he is better able to communicate.
posted by vignettist at 11:54 AM on April 28


I grew up as one of four boys in a family with a sister in addition to us brothers. Throughout our childhood, it was very much us boys and her (when it wasn't us boys vs. her). However, I have become much closer to my sister since we have grown up. She lives in the same town as my parents; the rest of us are scattered farther away, and she has pretty selflessly stepped up to be the first line of support for them. That's made me admire her greatly and feel somewhat ashamed for negative feelings I maintained while we were younger.

(I don't think those negative feelings were the result of anything my parents did, or at least not anything that could have been avoided. For example, there were times when we lived in a 3-bedroom home: a room for my parents, a room for her, and a room shared by four boys = childish resentment.)
posted by layceepee at 12:00 PM on April 28


This question for me is a little like, "What is it like breathing air?" I'm not sure what to compare it to! But ...

"I'm specifically interested in your experience with your opposite-sex sib as an adult. What makes and keeps you close? How do you stay in touch? How do you continue to foster that relationship now that you're adults?"

A lifetime of shared experiences and jokes and being on the same team (frequently "team us" against "team parents" when we were children). Parents who did not set us in competition and did not compare, and ruthlessly shut down our attempts to compare. (Of course we still compared inside our heads but we were never allowed to express that dynamic in the family.) Even as a child I always had the feeling of there are talents and interests we enjoy together (marching band! reading!), and talents and interests that were ours alone and the rest of the family would admire and celebrate.

My parents were clear that us being close as adults was a goal of theirs, and they were both close with their adult siblings (which looked like great fun). But they gave the relationships room to breathe and to expand and contract. My brother and I were really close in high school, but more distant when I went away to college. And then when he was in college and I was in law school, not so close -- we were both buried in very intense, closed worlds. But after we finished school, close again, and very close now that we both have kids.

Regular family holidays help, as they maintain a connection even at the seasons of life when they're not naturally a close -- and this could be family Christmas or a family vacation or whatever.

I know my brother's always on team me, and I'm always on team him, so if shit in life is shitty there's not even a question about who will support me/whom I'll support. Also because I come from a big Catholic family, you get all of your sibling's inlaws, so now I'm facebook friends with all of my brother's inlaws and I get christmas cards from his mother-in-law and I see them all at baptisms and housewarmings and weddings and other life-events, and this is very normal for big Catholic families (I know all my mom's and dad's siblings' spouses' families and am up to date on their happs), but it also helps build these connections because I'm wrapped into other parts of his life.

I have a sister and another much younger brother and I am very close to all three, in all different ways.

All four of us always laugh so hard when we're together that I had to banish them when I was recovering from my first C-section because we kept collapsing into such hilarity I was afraid I was going to pop a stitch. We were all making our best efforts not to but hilarity kept occurring.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 PM on April 28


Quite simply, I'm good friends with my brother. On account of he's my brother.
posted by kapers at 12:19 PM on April 28


I'm 7 years older than my brother. We were brought up much like the comment you linked to. No matter what, it's my brother and me (and our families). I was raised to be a bit protective of him, and I think we really bonded when our parents' marriage dissolved. They'd fight and I'd say "get in the car, we're going to the mall" and get us out of there. Obviously, I don't wish this for your kids, but the shared experience helped.

Now I'm 44 and he's 37. And once he got to be an adult and the "watch out for your little brother" obligation faded, I appreciated him for the man he is. We're each married and he has a kid. We aren't very alike personality-wise (I'm smarter ;-) ) but it doesn't matter at all. Our shared interest is pro wrestling. We text a lot during the weekly WWE programming, busting on each other's favorites. We still get each other in headlocks. Before his son's 3rd birthday party last Sunday, we were chasing each other around the house trying to put ice down each other's backs without Mom seeing us. Our spouses roll their eyes.

I can't imagine life without the little punk. I'd give him a kidney tomorrow if he needed it.
posted by kimberussell at 12:25 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Oh this is the same age gap between me and my younger brother. I am 30 years old and my younger brother is 26 and we hang out on Skype for at least a half hour every day and play a lot of games together like Overwatch and Diablo. He is my best friend in the whole world! I guess one reason we've stayed close is we just enjoy spending time together. It probably also helps that we have a lot of the same interests and are somewhat introverted.
posted by CarolynG at 12:31 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I (female, mid-30s) am pretty close to my older brothers (both in their late 30s). Interestingly, we weren't particularly close as children - the fact that they were twins and the opposite gender from me meant that our parents didn't do a lot of things to encourage us to develop direct relationships with each other outside of our relationship to the entire family (whereas my brothers definitely grew up with the expectation and lots of opportunities to develop a 1-1 relationship with each other). In my early 30s I moved back to the same geographic area as my brothers and we've grown a lot closer - and some of the inertia/patterns I had to fight to make that happen have made me reflect on parenting choices I hope to make to encourage my different-gender kids to develop a close 1-1 relationship as adults.

The two main things that worked against me naturally falling into a close adult relationship with my brothers were: (1) lack of awareness on my brothers' parts that we shared interests, so I was initially not invited to activities [like weekends backpacking or other outdoorsy stuff] that they invited each other to; and (2) gendered socialization that meant they don't proactively reach out to "stay in touch" with me (or anyone else) but instead rely on their wives to handle that for all of their relationships.

I think #1 is absolutely something parents can be mindful of as they are raising their kids, especially at older ages. My parents frequently nudged my brothers to include each other in their plans for vacations/fun weekends as teenagers and in college; despite the fact that I had a very similar set of interests to my brothers, it never occurred to my parents to do the same nudging to help my brothers and me do activities together independent of the larger family. In fact, they often tried to set up situations where we were breaking across gendered lines (me and mom would have a "girls weekend" while my brothers and my dad went on a cool mountain retreat). I had to break that barrier myself in my 30s, and it was clear my brothers weren't intentionally excluding me, they just literally didn't think of inviting me along since they were cruising along in the family patterns that had been set when we were all teenagers.

As far as #2, I think there are also things parents can do to encourage/socialize boys to do more emotional labor and "reaching out" to stay in contact, and I'm planning on trying to encourage that in my son. That said: this is not at all a big component of my adult relationship with my brothers (we never just chat on the phone or text back-and-forth about nothing, we're all pretty bad at sending birthday cards) and I'm totally okay with that. In many ways, my relationship with my brothers "looks" like the typical brother-brother relationships I see among other adults in my life, rather than the sister-sister relationships. So it may be worth considering that there are many ways and models for adult-sibling closeness, and it doesn't have to look like the experience of sisterhood that you have--other models for closeness can be equally satisfying and maybe easier to encourage given the personalities involved.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:48 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm 28 and a (very early transition) trans man and I have cis brothers who are 25 and 19. We were basically raised as brothers and sister although my "girl" act was pretty half-assed.

25-year-old and I fought all the time as kids, shared a brief camaraderie that was mostly based around drinking together that lasted for roughly the years where one or both of us were undergrads, got distant again when he stopped talking to our dad, and now he hasn't talked to me since I came out as trans. At this point I think our relationship is, if not beyond repair, damaged to a point where it will take years of effort on both our parts to become closer than "civil." I'm not sure if our parents could have done much to make this relationship go better - as kids I think a lot of our fighting stemmed from the fact that we have polar opposite temperaments and we were often crammed into small spaces together. Specifically. I was quiet, methodical, introverted and easily overwhelmed by my brother who was loud, active and extroverted and there weren't a lot of things we liked to do together.

My 19 year old brother and I have always been very close and our relationship has grown up with us in cool ways that I don't think anyone could have anticipated. When he was toddler aged, I thought he was kind of a pest but my friends all thought he was adorable so when they came over he would hang out with us and just bask in the glow of big kid attention. When we both got older, and my mom trusted me enough to take him to the park/around town, I figured out that the way to get our mom to pay for snacks and stuff that cost money was to bring little brother along. The answer to "Mom, can I have $10 to go bowling?" was usually no, but "Mom, can I have $20 to take little brother bowling?" would frequently get our trips funded. As he got even older he turned into a bit of a nerd and we started bonding over stuff like fun science facts and CS jokes. When 25 year old brother started his stupid feud with our dad, we bonded a lot over feeling caught between them. In a more lighthearted way, we share the same sorts of jokes about our parents that other people in this thread have mentioned.
Our current relationship involves an ongoing text/snapchat conversation where we share cat pictures/stuff about school/new bands/random thoughts. We don't see each other nearly frequently enough in person, but when we do we always make some time (a lot actually) to play video games and get fully caught up on our 19 years of inside jokes with just the two of us.

So all that is to say that this is very much the luck of the draw and it's not really something you can plan for while you're pregnant.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 12:51 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Much younger sibling to two brothers and two sisters. My closest brother in age was 14 when I was born; I worshiped the ground he walked on for a very long time. My sisters were older yet and moved out of the house and were married before I was even born,

I am now extremely close to one brother and one sister; the brother I worshiped is also close but he has five kids of his own and we are in a period where I don't see him very frequently; and one sister is .... difficult.

I became close to them at various different times in life, but none until I was in law school.

It all ebbs and flows, but I will say that the way my parents emphasized family made a big difference to all of us. We celebrated family birthdays, most holidays, and other events together. We had brunch after church at my parents for years. My dad would say, often, "you don't have to LIKE your family all the time but you do have to LOVE them." My parents were also both one of five, and watching them model this behavior with their siblings was important. (It was also important to watch them model setting appropriate boundaries with said siblings).

(Among my siblings I have 13 nieces and nephews, and many more great-nieces and nephews. The variety of different sibling relationships in that group is astounding. But somehow, the above principles have turned us into a large family that is more-or-less there for each other even when we don't always get along.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:56 PM on April 28


First up, I'm a guy. That's relevant to what you were asking, yes?

I have friends who are brothers ~5 years apart, both in their thirties now and who intentionally live within walking distance of each other, who spend time together multiple times a week and who (I believe) don't plan major excursions or events without reference to the other. They encapsulate my concept of close siblings.

On the other hand, I have a sister a year younger than me (40-ish). As kids we mostly fought! scratched! bit! for "parental" (we were raised by Mum and Gran) attention and resources whenever we paid attention to the existence of the other. No shared friends or activities and fairly few shared interests. Almost no leisure time ever spent willingly in the other's company. As adults we've found a place where we revel in the books, in-jokes and memories which even our contemporaries don't share. Presents regularly tend to reference this, an Enid Blyton series we somehow never read as children, a compilation of the Oz books we actually did read, The Hobbit Extended Edition DVDs, etc.

My sister is very much her own person, when she moved out of the city neither I nor Mum saw her except for birthdays and Christmas. Since she moved back, well sometimes I won't see her for a couple of months and sometimes she'll come stay overnight 3 times in 10 days, taking over both the television remote ("The buttons! The buttons!") and the spare room when she does so. No crisps are safe. She throws out anything that's mouldy in the fridge, unless it's cheese in which case she'll scoff most of it. She sleeps a lot.

We never do anything together. Never is here defined as "once per decade" max. We went and saw Jona Lewie perform in a backstreet pub a couple of years ago, because no-one else wanted to (the fools!). It was a great evening.

I used to get most of my information about what she was up to second-hand via Mum, but texting/smartphones have been an absolute boon and meant we have many more silly, stray or serious interactions. Faux sibling rivalry is a recurring element. Just as with parents, becoming an adult means we have to renegotiate our relationships with our siblings and the relationship we have is obviously framed as a knowing recapitulation of the juvenile while retaining a bit more distance in matters adult. I can say though without a shadow of a doubt that I, my Mum or my sister would walk over hot coals without a second thought for either one of the others.

A couple of years ago, upon hearing me mention (presumably for the fiftieth time) that my sister was coming round, a colleague surprised me with the words "You're really close to your sister, aren't you?". I don't feel I am, like most people I think what I/we have is the norm. What my friends the brothers have is "close", to my mind. I tend to think your kids will find/learn/create their "norm" and their "close" whatever you do.
posted by comealongpole at 2:23 PM on April 28


I'm 32 with a 28-year-old brother. We're very close and talk on the phone once a week, despite him living over 1,000 miles away. I took kind of a caretaker role with him as a child (I'd advise that you DON'T make your daughter do that), and my 4 years away at college helped a lot with our relationship. He decided to go to the same college I did - where I'd just started grad school - and we became very close kind of unexpectedly, after 4 years of little contact. I helped out with his first-year-away shit, I substituted in his band, he was the first family member I came out to, we cooked dinner together all the time.

For us, there's something possibly genetic about it: we have the same sense of humor, the same inclinations towards certain types of music, the same social anxieties. Sometimes genes really matter.

He tells me once in a while about how much he looked up to me as a kid, and was in awe of the big-kid stuff I was up to, which I think overcame the gender barrier. One thing our family did well was make it clear that I wasn't less for being a girl, which is think is very different from some of my friends' families.
posted by a hat out of hell at 3:04 PM on April 28


I'm an eldest girl, mid-30s, close to my brothers by comparison with most of the people I know, though I often worry it is not close enough! We all live many states and time zones apart, weird schedules, etc. TBH I think I might be closer to one cousin in particular than to anyone at all - but this is possibly because he was my "older brother" figure in the years before my younger siblings came along (but possibly also just because of random circumstance/personality compatibility).

We don't have tons in common as people but we have enough common history to make up for it; plus, I think we all share a very similar sense of humor. (Unintentionally fostered by our dad.)

Our parents really did emphasize our family as a unit, and the importance of our relationships with each other, but I'll tell you what: there were a lot of years that I was just kind of alienated from my whole family to some extent. I was struggling with what, in hindsight, I can see were some serious emotional/social/mental health problems, and I was just kind of an alienating person. I went far away for school, as well, which meant I missed out on a lot of their day-to-day lives and a lot of big milestones (the dark days before ubiquitous internet and cell phones!) So there were in fact long stretches of not being close at all. But regardless I don't think there were any times when we hated each other, or treated each other badly. I think mostly we just perplexed each other or fell into out-of-sight, out-of-mind habits.

I mention this as anecdata that the relationships may in fact wax and wane over time, but if a baseline of everyone treating each other well enough and being important to each other is established early, it'll help bring things back around. In our case it took a series of massive family crises (yikes) to forge our adult relationships with each other -- I don't wish that on anyone, but I do value the way it transformed my family.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:06 PM on April 28


Thank you all so much for sharing. I really appreciate your replies and have noted that a few consistent themes appeared.

I have been mentally examining while my brother and I are not closer and yes, it's true that we have quite different interests and temperaments, but I genuinely do believe it's significant that my parents did not invest any energy (that I'm aware of) in fostering our sibling relationship. They didn't teach us how to fight fairly and didn't intervene when we got violent with each other. They didn't think to encourage us to be proud of or happy for each other's successes, or even merely interested in/supportive of each other's day-to-day lives. I suppose they thought this would just happen by virtue of being sibligs, but it SO didn't. We didn't have much in the way of shared family experiences either; even in our extended family, everything broke down via gendered activities (the girls go shopping, the guys go fishing/hunting, and never the twain shall meet, very much the way iminurmefi described. (I’m still pissed that none of the men in my family ever thought I might like to learn how to drive the boat!)

I read a novel years and years ago where the father of two young daughters was talking to his oldest, who was pissed at having to spend her evening at her younger sister's karate match. Her father replied, more or less, I know you hate karate and it's not a fun way to spend your time, but your sister loves it, and she's very good at it. You need to be glad for her that she's found something she enjoys so much, and proud of how accomplished she is, and how hard she works. That really struck me at the time and I still think about because my parents never said anything like that. Later in the same novel, the girls' mother was going out for a bit and reminded her daughters to "take care of each other." Again, such a different vibe in just those few words.

So yeah, I think it's definitely true that sometimes personalities and temperaments simply cannot be overcome when it comes to sibling compatibility, and it may be futile to make the kids actually care about and be interested in each other as people, but I would like to think that my husband and I can have some sort of role in fostering expectations for civility and familial support. Brene Brown talks about this in her books, about how her two children are flat-out not allowed to tease/mock/shame/harm each other, because their home is meant to be a safe space for all. (She also made a Venn diagram of activities that EVERYONE in the family likes to do, so they have discovered many things they can ALL do together.)

Anyway, this has been a revelation for me, and this thread has given me lots to think about. Please keep sharing stories!
posted by anderjen at 3:14 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


i (31 yrs, female) have two big bros (33 & 36) - all of us are married, and while they have a pretty decent pile of kids, we just got a dog. one of 'em lives abroad, and the other lives a little over an hour away. we are tight, but our relationships go from pretty mellow stretches (tagging each other in awful memes in IG) to veery long phone calls ..its pretty seasonal. none of us likes skype that much, we mostly skype to guilt trip aunty when shes forgotten one of the spawns b-days.

reasons why we still like each other (we travelled a *lot* when we were kids - i think thats gotta amount to something, we were forced to hang out together) ..hm. i'd say our values still match up. we find the same stuff funny. we all have a pretty heavy interest in photography, world events and action movies. we also have our own ..uh. vocabulary ..or language..(?)
which has been perfected over time into a pretty beautiful thing. we also help each other. i babysit, they send random graphic design gigs my way, we share amazing corn bread recipes etc. sometimes theres drama, but it is what it is. its pretty solid.
posted by speakeasy at 3:28 PM on April 28


I suppose I'll add a reason I'm not super close with my sister... we were four years apart and that was just a tough age difference to have. (I'm female too, if it makes a difference.) I begrudged her for typical sibling stuff: she always seemed to get away with everything, I was always the one getting in trouble. Whether or not that was true I can't tell you—but I can tell you I HATED that my parents always told me we had to be friends because we were sisters, and she would be the "only friend I would have for my whole life." Let me tell you, as an already rebellious kid even when I was young, that just pissed me off. Now we're pretty close, but it took a lot of work for us to get there.
posted by good day merlock at 3:40 PM on April 28


I'm the oldest of four (girl, girl, boy, boy), and we're all really close. We like each other and we look out for each other, and we sort out any disagreements civilly and never with hard feelings. But since I am pseudonymous, I'll admit that the older of my two little brothers is kind of my favorite to hang out with. He lived with us for a while recently while he was on a sabbatical from work, and I missed him like crazy when he went back, and still get these pangs of "If [brother] were here..." He's working toward retiring early (we're all in our late forties-early fifties now) and it's a very good possibility that he'll move nearby so we can hang out more, which I really hope he does.

He's not the closest friend I have, but he's the only person I know whose media recommendations I really trust, we never get bored or run out of things to do and talk about, and we always end up working on projects together. Sometimes, there are things I'm trying to explain to people that nobody else gets except my brother. (That sounded kind of dramatic--I'm talking about usually kind of goofy ideas, not big emotions or intellectual stuff.) And we are such a hilarious comedy duo that whenever anyone else sees us coming their way looking smirky, they groan in anticipation.

I have a lot of other overlapping interests with my other siblings, and I actually see my sister more frequently than I do that brother because she lives closer and I help her out with things more often, but we don't often unintentionally stay up all night talking way my brother and I do.

My family's always been a team, often to the point that people thought we were weird. We did fight as kids sometimes, but the vast majority of altercations we had were in defense of each other. (Actually, it was mostly my sister and me defending our little brothers, because we are cool and they are nerds.)

I really don't think gender matters much in sibling relationships unless you make it matter.

(Other data point: I don't know them well, but my son has a couple of friends who are brother and sister, adults, each with their own families, and they're still besties.)
posted by ernielundquist at 3:50 PM on April 28


I'm in my 50s, with 3 brothers and a sister. I'm closest with my sister: she lives a mile away, and we spend a lot of time together -- exercise, dog-walking, movies, family dinners, etc. But my middle brother is the closest to me in age--just two years older. And although we weren't super close when we were kids (he would drive to high school and leave me to take the bus!), we got closer when we were in college, since we went to the same school. And a few years after college I moved in with him and a bunch of his housemates in a big shared house, and we lived together for a few years before I went to grad school.

He taught me to climb, encouraged me to go to Thailand, introduced me to mountain biking and sushi, stole my favorite sweatshirt when I was 20. I've traveled internationally with two of his long-time girlfriends. He called me when he met the woman he married. I called him after my first meeting with the oncologist.

I don't know what exactly makes him closer than my other brothers. Except he never had to babysit me (which tarnished my relationship with my much-younger brother), we have a lot of the same interests, and when our older siblings left New England, we hung on for a few years before we both went to grad school. So we had time together as kids on family ski trips, and as adults.

We still talk, although not as often as I'd like. He has a wife & 2 kids and a very busy schedule. But both our parents died in the last 4 years, and through all of that he's been entirely supportive and as helpful as he could.

I'm unutterably grateful for my parents doing such a good job in building a strong family bond between all of us. Because now they're gone, and it's just us, and without the "this could be one of Dad's last holidays, you should come out" element, it's going to be harder to all get together and keep that bond going.
posted by suelac at 4:53 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


In my experience, it seems to be easier for opposite sexed sibs to get along than same sex ones, particularly when close in age. I (female) have always been very close to one brother (16 months younger). We were best friends when little. Even though we have different personalities and by high school had very different interests, it was just always easy to be with him. My other brother is 7 years younger - too much of a baby to be interesting until he got into college and then I discovered that I liked his adult-self and we gradually become close too.

My own kids (one girl, one boy 3 years apart) had some stages they played together well, and other times the age difference seemed to be too big. Regardless, I always insisted on respectful behavior within the family - no teasing, no bullying, respecting other people's property, the right to say "I don't like that". While they may have gotten upset with each other at times, I think they always knew that there was a special relationship between them. And as a mom, they knew that I took real joy in seeing them do things together. One of my favorite memories is watching from the other room as the older one carefully constructed a fort from the couch cushions, giving the younger one "special jobs" to keep her from messing up his plans. They were both so proud when he led me to in to see the fort and she popped out of the special secret room he had created "just for her".

The best book that I every found on raising siblings to have a good relationship was Siblings Without Rivalry by Mazlich and Faber. I thought I didn't compare my kids until I read that book and recognized some of the subtler things that I had been doing that I wanted to change. Read it now. Re-read it every five years. It is that good.
posted by metahawk at 6:45 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman in my 30s, and I'm close with both my 'little' brothers (late 20s and 30s). In addition to the things mentioned above, I think my parents did a good job of fostering a family culture. We're athletic nerds, smart worriers, who can run a 5k without training, read too much, love to travel, etc, etc. It doesn't actually matter if it's true all the time. It creates a sense of shared identity and understanding that's a constant. My relationships with them have definitely changed over the years, particularly as we moved around geographically (neither of them are great at phones).

As other people have mentioned, probably because we're similar in a lot of ways, we've picked up shared hobbies that we can do together when we see each other.

We also respect each other as adults. I've always 'big sistered' them, which frequently takes the form of advice or encouragement, and they tolerate it really well (and sometimes even take my suggestions!) and always have, even when we were kids. My parents fostered that too, by telling me how much they looked up to me (again, true or not at the time) and encouraging me to see myself as helpful and supportive. I'm sure I'm annoying sometimes, and as they've gotten older, I take quite a bit of their advice as well and toned down my own.

But yeah, I think storytelling and narrative from parents really helps.
posted by oryelle at 7:49 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Oh and I wanted to add that my husband just got back from spending the evening taking care of his sister and her kids because they have been sick. He's really close to both of his sisters and is the first one to jump in a car or a plane the minute either of them need him. He's the youngest too, but they take good care of each other. Brothers can be great!
posted by oryelle at 7:51 PM on April 28


My brother is awesome! He's 2 years younger than me; we're currently in our 20s. We played together a lot as kids, we always were in the back seat together on roadtrips with stuff for the both of us to do. The one time I can remember activities being split it wasn't by gender at all; it was a vacation where there was a two day outdoor event that we each did one day of with dad and the other day we spent with mom. So he did the event the first day and I went to a museum with mom the first day and then he went to a museum with mom the second day while I did the event with dad. But mostly we did a lot of things together. Now as adults we talk on the phone when we get a chance, or if we don't get a chance to talk on the phone we tend to spend like 3 hours catching up, usually staying up later than we should, when we next see each other in person.
posted by azalea_chant at 9:58 PM on April 28


Re: your follow-up, our family always did lots of stuff together, all 5 of us. I'm sad to hear yours tended to break down along gender lines. Probably our best memories are our family vacations, which were almost always road trips with a pop-up trailer towed behind us, camping in state/national parks and campgrounds all over the country. We also just played together a lot day-to-day, building things with Lego or running around in our backyard or throwing a baseball around or whatever. Obviously we did get into fights but our parents did intervene and make sure we calmed down and apologized as necessary.

So yeah, I think you guys have got this! Nothing's a guarantee, but you seem to have the right ideas about fostering a good sibling relationship. I'm happy for you and your kid(s).
posted by misskaz at 6:27 AM on April 29


but I genuinely do believe it's significant that my parents did not invest any energy (that I'm aware of) in fostering our sibling relationship

I'm a 40-year-old woman, and my 36-year-old brother is one of my favorite people in the world. In large part because we have very similar senses of humor, and that was, I believe, largely cultivated by the two of us just hanging out with our parents a lot, and talking as a family (my parents are/were hilarious, too). My brother and I just still like to hang out and talk, sometimes about deep stuff, often about politics, often about just the random silly things happening in our lives.

When we were kids, the family definitely all attended each other's performances and games together. I remember tearing up at one of my brother's basketball games when he was in 7th or 8th grade, because I was just so proud of his skill (which I did not in any way share!). He came to my drama performances with my parents, even when the only compliment he could give me was that he kind of understood the Shakespearean language. We just did a lot as a family, so as adults, we have a lot of shared references and values and experiences.

We live across the country from each other, and we go through periods of not talking as often if work or whatever gets busy, but we're trying to get back to weekly-ish phone calls, which are almost always 60-90 minutes and we only have to hang up because I need to eat dinner or he needs to go to bed. His girlfriend has said multiple times that she finds it amazing that he'll spend that much time laughing so hard on the phone with me. I'm trying hard to encourage them to move out to my coast.

And both my parents have/had complicated relationships with their siblings and families of origin in general, so I don't know that that's a prerequisite. My brother and I also didn't always get along totally well when we were kids (though my parents always expected mutual respect and consideration), so that may not be totally predictive, either. I would very much agree with others above that our parents avoided comparing the two of us in toxic ways, and encouraged each of us to be our own person and encouraged each of us to respect the other's unique personality and skills. Which I still very much do!
posted by lazuli at 8:29 AM on April 29


There was a huge transition when my (older) brother left for college, and then when I did. We were close as kids, and we're close as adults; things were a little rocky as teenagers, but that comes with the age. There was probably a make-or-break point once we were both out of the house, where he and I were both obligated to call home from college and talk to our parents, but there was nobody telling us we had to call each other. Maybe that would be different in the modern age of social media and texting, and surely will be different with whatever thing it is all the rage in 18 years when your kids are in college, but there's probably an art to telling one kid just enough of the others news to make them curious and then claiming not to know any more and maybe you should just pick up the phone and ask him yourself. At the time I suspected my mom was really clueless (I was 18! of course she was!) but more likely she was unbelievably wily, I'm well aware she's never been dumb. But my original thought was, he and I were treating each other like adults at 21/18 and while my parents did catch up pretty quickly, I believe our sibling relationship was the real groundbreaker there. As parents you may have to sacrifice the "we're a family" vibe in favor of the "you two are siblings" closeness, and let them be a pair that is separate from you, especially when they're in their older teens and 20's. Some of our best sibling moments were when I'd come home from college (far away) and not stay the whole Christmas break with either (divorced) parent but stay with my brother who lived within an hour from each of them. It was in retrospect very generous of them to not demand more of my time, and showed a lot of their respect for our sibling relationship.
posted by aimedwander at 11:20 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Late to the party, but I am the little sister in a family of two older brothers, who are 10 and 12 years older than me. Guess who was an accident? Yay!

I'm in my 30s, and I've always been really close to my middle brother growing up, despite the 10 year age gap. I am not as close to my eldest brother, (for personality reasons, probably because our flaws are too similar) but we're a tight knit family in general, and my middle brother is close to my eldest brother-- given they're only two years apart. It's funny though, once my eldest brother hit 40, he somehow became more family orientated and came over a lot more. Having his own kids helped too.

For a long time in my teens, my middle brother was probably one of my closest friends, my confidant when I was depressed, sound-board for ideas, partner in crime, and cheerleader. He was endlessly patient, often played games with me as a kid, like 'Barbies' when I was 4 and he was 14, babysat me, etc. Although to alleviate the boredom, he often turned the 'Barbie' games into He-man and Mego-stunmen extravaganzas with elaborate storylines. (Ken, unlike the Megos, had no articulation in his joints due to numerous stunts gone wrong apparently.) He used to wake me up with a sock puppet in the mornings because I was a really cranky baby; a lasting effect that gives me the giggles even now, if he dares put a sock on his hand and even hints at a funny voice.

I remember being flabbergasted when I first went over a friends place at 13 and realized that not all siblings were as close (nor as funny) as ours. That sometimes people hated their siblings and couldn't stand them, or thought they were kinda 'meh'. This was unfathomable to me. And when my Dad died, at 16, having my brothers so close to me and my mother, kept us all together. Made things bearable. And even now, knowing they'll be there, that they have my back-- it makes the bad things in life feel less harsh. Of course, it's important to note that for my family, being tight-knit is partly cultural, also.

In our 20s, I wanted to travel but my mom was over-protective (again, partly thanks to my culture) so a compromise was reached and I traveled partly with my middle brother, partly alone. I realized I didn't really enjoy traveling by myself, so after this, we planned international trips occasionally together. We've been to a bunch of places since then, we occasionally still travel together, as my fiance has more limited time off than me.

Things kinda got a bit weird when we each started dating at first, because being so close, I won't lie-- there was an air of possessiveness there. It's not just that, but also, wanting the best for someone you're close with. And also, It's a little tough when you have an example of someone pretty awesome, you get along with, and you're kinda dating someone awful that doesn't 'get' you at all. It made my standards kind of ridiculously high, which isn't a bad thing and worked out for me in the end-- but it was hard in the interim when I was dating around. There was a lot of big brother protectiveness and disapproval. On the plus side, when I found the 'right' person, those kind of hangups totally went away. My family really likes my fiance, and he slots in kinda effortlessly with us all. This meant a lot to me when he met them. In fact, my middle brother and fiance get on SO well, that they started getting in-jokes between them, and occasionally exluded me! Geez. Still, us all getting along means a lot to me. On the other hand, my brother didn't really find someone he felt matched him, and has been in and out of kinda meh relationships his whole life. Right now he's single again. So because of this, he's easy to get ahold of. I'm not sure what's going to happen if he meets someone he sees a future with though, and I imagine I'll see a lot less of him. I sometimes worry it will be someone controlling, belittling and awful, like my other brother's ex wife, and that I'll never see him, but I suppose I'll worry about crossing that road when it comes.

At the moment, my brothers and I still make an effort to meet once a week, for a tradition we call 'sci-fi night' -- this started when I was a young kid and we were all still living at home, and my eldest brother made us endure really really boring (to me) Star Trek TNG episodes. We moved on to Stargate, then ToS after that, by then, I was less young and had an appreciation for sci-fi. We still meet once a week to this day; although I'm going to be moving countries to live with my fiance in the next year, but I hope to be back within two years. Every once and a while, we all meet up to watch something nerdy at the movies, and we even went to comic-con one year (and got our pics with William Shatner). I would have to say that I got really nerded up thanks to the influences of my brothers.

I'm in a LDR, so I am often away but when I'm living overseas, I'm a bit crappy at skyping my family, honestly, (we do text/IM a lot though) but when I come back it always feels as if no time as passed at all.

Our relationship isn't perfect by any means, and we all have our issues and flaws, and weird dynamics-- and I'm sure some people think our closeness is weird, but my brothers are pretty great, and I'm so incredibly grateful to have grown up in this family. Oddly enough, my parents weren't especially close to their siblings, so I'm not sure why we're different. And interestingly, my fiance also has a sister 10 years his junior, but they aren't really close on the same level-- and he's expressed sadness that they don't get along like my family do. In fact, ok, this seems ridiculously sappy but seeing us interact on Christmas touched my fiance pretty deeply, because he said he finally 'gets' family after seeing us. He's a sensitive guy in general, though, so make of that what you will.

I don't imagine we'll really ever lose touch or drift apart; its been 30 years and we're still pretty close. We're the kind of family that we may not always see each other or interact, but when we're together again, its as if no time has passed at all. All I can say is, I love my siblings very much and I do wish this on everyone.

Hope that helps somewhat.
posted by Dimes at 3:16 PM on April 29


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