sibling relationships
February 17, 2005 1:07 PM   Subscribe

If you have siblings, do you think there's anything your parents did or didn't do that had a big effect on how you relate to your sib(s) today? My kids' futures hinge on your answer.

(probably not, but there's always an outside chance)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
4 brothers, 4 sisters - Regardless of the sex of your children, don't show any signs of being a male chauvinist pig.
posted by oh posey at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2005

Don't let the big one physically intimidate the smaller one, even if you think the smaller one is asking for it. Don't let them fight, again, physically, even if the smaller one, in your view, is the aggressor. It's not good for either of them. You think that'd be obvious, but the "boys will be boys" and "oh, he's just asking for it" mentality is disturbingly common. But then, I guess I'm a little biased.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2005

On the other hand don't let the smaller one get away with murder either. I'm good friends with my younger sister now but when we were little she'd take advantage of the size difference to get me in trouble. My parents knew what she was doing, they even admit it now, she even admits it now, but my parents didn't know what else to do.

So the equally bad other side to "boys will be boys" and "he's just asking for it" is the attitude that the bigger one should just "suck it up". The instigator has to learn some bounds as well even if they're not the physically dominant one.
posted by substrate at 1:40 PM on February 17, 2005

Do not have a favorite. The perception that one child is favored over the rest will strain their relationship well into adulthood.
posted by ambrosia at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2005

Oldest of seven; Do not complain about one to the other, no matter what. Also, do not get one of them to do your dirty work in terms of communications or apologies or whatever. If one of them is making you nuts complain to the other parent instead.

Also - have fun with them! They will entertain each other to a large extent but I see lots of parents severely cut down their casual interaction time after the second kid is born. Don't do that.
posted by pomegranate at 1:59 PM on February 17, 2005

My situation may not match what you're family situation is like, but you might be interested.

I have 3 siblings, 1 sister, 2 brothers. I was born 15 years after my youngest brother. One thing that I didn't have, that I think my siblings got much more of, is a strong relationship with my father. As a child, I would find things like Boy Scout Troop Leader trophies and fishing poles and camping gear that I never really knew about. It turns out this is stuff from when my siblings were younger and my father would take them camping and stuff like that.

I always felt horribly left out and honestly felt like I wasn't as loved as the others. I also felt like my father came down on me a lot harder than my siblings because I didn't perform as well as them. I wasn't ever that great in school. I've always been severely overweight. Things like that.

So, in a way, I fell like my siblings got to really experience my dad in a way I never did. It used to hurt me a lot. But, I did find that I did a lot of things with my dad that my siblings never did.

Now, as far as how I relate to my siblings... I used to absolutely loathe them. I was always the "baby" of the family and they were damn sure to let me know. I was picked on by them a lot. I used to fight with my sister every time I saw her.

Now things are a LOT better. But, this didn't start to happen until after I got out of high school. I guess it was just a maturity level thing, but now I wouldn't trade my siblings or the wonderful nieces and nephews they have given me for anything. I love them and my father with all my heart and don't have any resentment toward them for the way they used to treat me.

I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned is that no matter how jealous I was of them for all the attention they got from my dad, they were just as jealous of me for all the attention I got from my mom.

As far as what my parents did... I really can't fault them for any of their parenting skills. They spent 40 years raising children, and even though my rearing was much different from that of my siblings, we all love each other and would do anything to help out one another.

Sorry if this is a bit "rambly" but I just felt I had to share. :)
posted by JudoGno at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2005

Never compare one to another, in the manner of, "Why can't you be more like your sister, she always gets straight A's?" That merely causes resentment in the sib who doesn't get straight A's, who would benefit more from investigating why s/he is doing badly in school. I only used grades as an example, probably the most common, but I've heard parents say, "Johnny is such a great athlete but Joey is such a slug!" This does not help Joey, nor Johnny, IMO.
posted by Lynsey at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2005

My brother and I are 8 years apart. I do blame that on my parents (come to think of it). He now acts like a second, asshole father so I never want to talk to him. I never return his calls. So I would say that all people should have children close together.
posted by scazza at 2:13 PM on February 17, 2005

If you have a favorite -- and sometimes you can't help it that one of the chidlren is more like you and you gravitate more towards their way of thinking -- try to balance this with the other child so that you get to spend time with them also, even if you don't have as much in common.

If you and your spouse each have one child you each gravitate towards, try to make an effort to spend time with the other child as well. Each parent will have strengths and weaknesses and sometimes it's easy to just have one parent sort of focus on each sibling, try to mix it up.

Don't even get into favorites with your kids, just settle for something like "I love you both in different ways" or something and don't budge from it. Siblings often just want to know what makes them special/loved, not what makes them better than their sister/brother. Kids know when they're being lied to, so don't tell them they're as pretty or smart as their sibling if it's not really true. If one of them is smarter or better in sports they'll know that too. Focus on positives and having them not be competitive with each other by not prioritizing the strengths of one above the strengths of the other.

Sometimes you will need to mediate between the kids' disputes. However you do this, try to be fair and try to be consistent.

Try not not diss one kid in front of the other kid. This breeds distrust ["if Mom says that to me about her, what does she say to her about me?"] and is lame behavior generally.

If one kid is a higher maintenance kid, try to take time out to be with low-maintenance kid from time to time even if they don't demand it. This is easy to remember with a new baby, harder sometimes if one kid is often sick and/or in trouble later on.

I have a little sister that I didn't really get along with from my teenage years until I was well out of college. Part of this is just weird personality stuff but I think part of it has to do with the way each of us got along with my parents [she related more to my Mom, me more to my Dad, when my Dad moved out, my sister was backing the winning horse, I reminded my Mom of my Dad and thus became the enemy] and how that didn't get dealt with very well. We're great friends now and get along better with each other than we do with either one of my parents. We're 2 1/2 years apart.
posted by jessamyn at 2:17 PM on February 17, 2005

Prior to my father abandoning the family, he made it clear who stood where in his eyes.

1. He'd make promises to my brother, the eldest, and never follow through. If you promise something to your children, live up to your promises. If you don't think you can, be honest about it and explain why to your child.

2. He basicly ignored my sister since she was mentally retarded and he wanted to believe Mom had an affair that resulted in my sister. Fortunately, my sister doesn't remember him at all.

3. He doted on me. I was his favorite. This caused a lot of resentment from my brother because if our father promised me even something as simple as a bed-time story, I got it.

Unfortunately, we were all pretty destroyed when he disappeared. There was no resolution for my brother. It messed him up in so many ways that, 27 years later, we barely have any contact. About 10 years ago, I located my father and found my own closure. No, I have no contact with him now. However, just learning I had spoken to him sent my brother over the edge and he wouldn't speak to me for months.

On the other hand, Mom would intervene between my brother and me as much as possible. She would continually say "At least, pretend you love each other." As a result, people who see us in public generally cannot tell that we're ambivalent towards each other.

No matter how rough things were, Mom did two things that really were awesome. First, she made sure that each of us got a ton of hugs every day. She couldn't make everything right, but she made us feel loved. Second, she made sure that each of us knew she would always listen to us and not judge. She also NEVER, NEVER disclosed anything said in confidence to her. I can't remember how many times we all took her up on that. Her ability to listen to us and help us sort out our feelings made it so my brother and I could tolerate each other in the same house. It wasn't easy, but there were some good days.

Looking back, I wish I could say that had our father been a better person my brother and I would have a better relationship. Unfortunately, I cannot. We have such different personalities. It's really just an accident of birth that allows us to even be civil to each other.

As for my relationship to my sister, I am and always have been protective of her. She drives me insane sometimes. However, there's no doubt that I love her and would take her into my house if Mom could no longer care for her.
posted by onhazier at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2005

On preview, jessamyn's comment reminded me of a game I used to play with Mom. I'd ask "Why do you love me?", "Why do you love my brother?", "Why do you love my sister?" Somehow, she always found a different answer for each of us. To me, this showed that she found qualities in each of us that were worthy of her love and that she would gladly tell us. This game was usually played over dinner in front of everyone. If you ask Mom about it now, she'll tell you that it was very hard to play the game some days because we were on her nerves or she didn't want to repeat something. Kinda odd, but we liked it.
posted by onhazier at 2:24 PM on February 17, 2005

I have three sisters (all younger) and we're close as hell. If you want siblings who love each other more than anything else, you can follow my parents' simple guide to parenting: ignore the kids and make them fend for themselves (but I wouldn't recommend that).
posted by jodic at 2:32 PM on February 17, 2005

This is totally stupid, but when I was eight years old I wanted a ten-speed bike more than anything. My parents told me I had to wait til I was ten. When my tenth birthday finally rolled around, I got the bike. Yay! Three months later when my sister turned eight, she got one too. Boo. They gave me the whole "You already have one, so why should you care?" line, but even as a kid I knew that logic was crap. So if you're going to make rules, stick to them for everybody. The ten-speed bike still comes up at family gatherings to this day.
posted by web-goddess at 2:32 PM on February 17, 2005

A simple and seemingly obvious suggestion: make sure that the older children are not eclipsed by the arrival of a younger one. I craved attention when my sister was born/in infancy and didn't get it. I started sucking my thumb, pulling power trips on her, exhibiting other perviously unseen bratty behavior. Eventually I got over it, but it was tough on me, and on her.

As an aside, this...

My brother and I are 8 years apart. I do blame that on my parents (come to think of it). He now acts like a second, asshole father so I never want to talk to him. I never return his calls. So I would say that all people should have children close together.

...has nothing to do with age difference, there's something else going on here. I'm six years older than my sister and thirteen years older than my brother, and (now that we are kind of adult-like) we get along famously.

posted by Specklet at 2:38 PM on February 17, 2005

My four younger brothers and I fought physically and didn't always get along when we were small, but we to get along well now.

In some ways, my brothers and I have a lot in common -- we are all smart, introverted and good with computers.

Two of us were high acheivers, taking advanced classes in high school and going on to pretty good colleges. Of us, one became a writer and one is working to become a computer programmer.

Two had major mental health problems that led them to drop out of high school and take the GED. Social anxiety for one, major depression for the other. The social anxiety guy is now a system administrator for a successful company. The depression guy, just about to turn 18, doesn't handle stress well, and my parents are trying to help him find a path that will allow him to be happy and support himself.

My youngest brother is really smart, but also a slacker who's not very good in school. So coming up with a plan to tackle his academic problems my parent's top priority with him.

Mom and dad have never played favorites with us. They've treated each of us as individuals, even when we've gone through similar things to our other siblings. And at times in our lives when we've been less apt to keep in touch with each other, my parents have always done a good job at keeping us up to date about one another's lives.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:41 PM on February 17, 2005

I agree with scazza...
do not wait 7+ years between children. None of my siblings are anywhere near each others' ages so we have a hard time relating to each other. I'm another authority figure to the younger one and haven't really gotten to know the older one until recently.
posted by coolsara at 2:52 PM on February 17, 2005

I disagree with those who say that siblings need to be close in age to get along. My brother is 16 years younger than me, and we adore each other. I do act like a third parent, and sometimes that causes spats with my parents, but never any trouble with my brother. He loves having a cooler older person to look up to, and he gets to do things with me that my parents are too old to do with him. I also would say that if you have lots of children close together there is a danger of fatigue, with the parents not spending as much time with the youngest siblings, letting the older ones take care of it. That hasn't happened in my family, but I've seen it in large families (5+ kids).
posted by ohio at 2:59 PM on February 17, 2005

and I apologize for the excessive comma use in the above post.
posted by ohio at 3:05 PM on February 17, 2005

This has probably already been said upstream, or maybe it hasn't because it seems obvious, but whenever possible, don't withhold vital family information from one of the siblings only to let them find out from the other one (later on). Even if you are afraid to tell one of them (for instance the younger of the two), if you are going to tell one you should strongly consider telling the other. In my case, my sister and I are two years apart, this may work a little differently as the age gap widens.
posted by safetyfork at 3:09 PM on February 17, 2005

I'm almost 7 years older than my brother and I do resent that I was often asked to be more of a parent for him than a brother. We never really got along so well growing up.

Now that we're both adults, we get along fabulously.

My wife, on the other hand, thinks it was great that I'm so much older than my brother and acted in many ways more of an authority figure than a brother to him while he grew up, because I already have 'experience' with small children, like our own.
posted by u2604ab at 3:16 PM on February 17, 2005

...has nothing to do with age difference, there's something else going on here.

I beg to differ, I do think age factors into it, since I lived it. However I am not saying it is set in stone, and my brother does have a choice as to whether he lets it be a factor in our relationship. but the choice wouldn't be there is we were 2 years apart. The farther apart children are, the more chances there are for them to have nothing in common in terms of family experiences, and for the older one to amass experiences to hold over the younger one. Built-in distance. I think it is erronious to suggest that this age difference has nothing to do with a very older sibling feeling as if he is in the older, father figure position.

Yes there are other things going on here, but age is primarily what has separated us. I always felt like an only child since my parents were divorced and we were separated from each other. When we started talking again a couple years ago I thought it was remarkable that there was someone else in this world who knows my family. How strange! If we were closer in age and thus had been around each other more (8 years is an interesting gap: when I entered grammar school my brother went off to high school, when I entered h.s. my brother would have been graduating college and leaving school altogether; we never went through the same experiences together), actually participated in each other's lives there would be more respect between us. People are closer to those siblings who are closer in age to them.
posted by scazza at 3:29 PM on February 17, 2005

Four years separate my sister and I. We're best friends. Now.

Echoing others: I can't overstate how important I think it is to treat kids as individual people. Be fair, but be fair in ways which don't involve exactly the same things for each child. For goodness' sake, pay attention to what your kids tell you about themselves and take it to heart, and try your best to remember their differences as well as their similarities (even if they like the same things, there will be differences).

(And for the love of wossname, remember their birthdays and names, and don't run through the names of all the family pets, living AND dead, before you get to the name of the child you're talking to)
posted by biscotti at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2005

Continuing the derail: Okay, I take back my statement that age had nothing to do with your unfortunate situation, but I disagree utterly with this generalization:

People are closer to those siblings who are closer in age to them.

As I mentioned, I'm considerably older than both my siblings, and I have wonderful relationships with them both.
posted by Specklet at 3:44 PM on February 17, 2005

1. If you ask the older kids to babysit, do pay them or offer them some kind of return for the favor.

2. Along the lines of not comparing Child A to Child B... try not to label the children too starkly, even as you find separate reasons for loving them all equally. Though she's in her mid-30s, my sister still won't pick up a camera because she's not "the artistic one."

3. Offer the same opportunities you presented to the older kids to the younger kids. My youngest sibling got shafted on experiencing any sports at all because the oldest two tried basketball and gymnastics and didn't like them.
posted by xo at 3:47 PM on February 17, 2005

Any other MeFites have MeFite sibs? Maybe my brother the Fat Guy will weigh in here (no pun intended). Our older brother was the First Born and Good Son, and he did pretty much all the right stuff. I am the middle child. My dad and I shared a bond. He taught me to use tools - I still have a hammer, hand saw, block plane and some other tools that belonged to him - and we did projects together that my older brother was just not really interested in. I am just not real close with my older brother but I don't think it was anything my parents did or did not do. We are just different people. My younger brother and I are much closer, we share many of the same interests, we mess around with computers, etc. Again, nothing that the 'rents did or did not do. We're pretty equally spaced in age, too, BTW.
posted by fixedgear at 3:55 PM on February 17, 2005

Specklet, it's not "unfortunate," it's just what happened. You obviously make a better effort than I think is natural, would you mind elaborating on how you get along so well with your siblings? I think it would help others to explain how you can be so completely certain that age has nothing to do with anything.

You don't think that for example, in a family of say, 8 children spread over 10 years that it is most likely for people to be closer to the siblings that are closer in age to them? In all the people I have met that just seems to be what happens. There's more in common.
posted by scazza at 4:06 PM on February 17, 2005

scazza, I guess I'm just blessed with a very open and loving family. (Which is not to say we didn't have our share of squabbles and such...) But I didn't really have to make an effort to become close to my brother and sister, it was just the way it happened. *shrug*
posted by Specklet at 4:28 PM on February 17, 2005

My mom believed any bullshit I said about my 10-years-older stepbrother, who took the fall for every stupid thing I did as a kid. He still resents me, and her, 30 years later.
posted by LarryC at 5:50 PM on February 17, 2005

(The following is based on personal anecdote but I think they're important, and they tie in to xo's comment above.)

Pay attention to your kids' interests: my mother was determined that my younger sister was a singer and that I would be a great pianist. She got singing lessons, I got piano. All I ever wanted was to sing; I hated piano and sucked at it. I didn't get a chance to prove to my mother that I could sing until I was thirteen or fourteen, and at that point we couldn't afford formal lessons anyway.

Pigeonholing your kids can set them up for life, too. My parents always said that I was the brainy one and my sister and brother were sporty, so they weren't expected to do as well at school. That gave them justification to make less effort than they might otherwise make, as long as they succeeded at sport. Likewise, it didn't matter whether I was good at sport or not - failing an exam was the end of the world. Meanwhile, my youngest sister (there are three girls and one boy in my family) wasn't expected to be particularly good at anything, and had an incredibly average school career, leaving early, having a baby at 19 and now working in a slaughterhouse.

There's nothing wrong with focusing on their talents, but I guess the key is to try to help them become well-rounded adults by encouraging them in other things too.

My siblings and I are a lot closer now than we used to be (although I have friends and in-laws that I consider more "family" than my actual relatives) and as kids we fought constantly. I was four years older than the next-oldest so got stuck with babysitting duties later on, and that led to a lot of us-vs-them bickering where everyone would take sides -- it was very unusual for us all to agree on something, even the most basic thing, because someone would want to be contrary.

I have a son and another due in four months, and I've been thinking a lot about this lately.
posted by tracicle at 5:59 PM on February 17, 2005

I'm the oldest, my sister is 2 years younger and my brother is 10 years younger. I get along very well with both of them, my sister is one of my best friends (my brother is only 10, so it's hard to judge yet how our relationship will end up), and I think that has to do a lot which the similarities in humor and attitude that we all inherited from our parents. So while none of what I'm going to say scarred any of us permanently, but it caused resentment/stress that didn't need to be there at all.

What web-goddess said is exactly on the money. You must be fair and even in how you treat your children with regards to rules, punishments and especially "rewards and fun," you absolutely must be consistent. Not fair, just consistent.

Between my ages of about eight and twelve, before we started to really separate into our own interests, my sister always got to join whatever special activities I was involved in: horseback riding, gymnastics, swim team, everything. But every so often she'd get to do something on her own, even if I was interested in it too because "Your sister needs to be able to do special things on her own sometimes" as if I actually wanted to have her tag along in everything I did. Ohh, that burned me up so badly as a kid. And the problem was, I really loved my sister even from an early age and liked doing things with her, it just really made me resent that I didn't have something special that was just mine too, outside of the things we did together.

And, while I don't think they ever intended it, my parents put a lot of pressure on me as the oldest to be the sort of protector and leader of my siblings. I think they were trying to be encouraging of my natural inclination to take care of others, but my mom would say a lot of things about how my sister "really looks up to you" and asking me, her child too, for advice on how to deal with something my sister was doing. It put this weird divide between my sister and I especially during our teens that wasn't there naturally in any way. My whole childhood I felt like a little adult, like I had more responsibilities and so much was expected of me because I was the leader and my sister relied on me. Which was nice in some ways, but in other ways it made me feel like I had so little room to make mistakes. At the same time I think it made her feel like the imperfect one, like she was "lucky" to have me, when I would much have prefered us being able to think of eachother as equals, as buddies who could both look up to each other.

All in all, it was something that we could have carried on in our lives and had a really hard time getting over, if she and I weren't so naturally inclined to like each other and to recognize how we both have strengths and weaknesses as compared to the other.

There are siblings out there that will just never get a long, regardless of how their parents treat them. That's something very vital to realize: each of your children is an individual, and they can't be objectively compared or expected to be alike. This one of those rare times were "different but equal" is actually apt.
posted by nelleish at 6:11 PM on February 17, 2005

Echoing nelleish's second paragraph, do NOT assign assistant parenting duties to your oldest/most responsible child. It sets the "chosen one" up for an inevitable fall...they will be way too hard on themselves and it gives the younger one no expectations to live up to and makes them feel inferior. Basically to summarize, never be lazy and pigeonhole them into easy categories.
posted by tinamonster at 8:34 PM on February 17, 2005

Any other MeFites have MeFite sibs? Maybe my brother the Fat Guy will weigh in here (no pun intended).

I'm the youngest, third of three brothers. If you look at our parent's Super 8 movies, I'm not in any of them. There is also a dearth of photos of me in the family photo collection. By the time my parents had me, they weren't as interested in preserving those childhood memories as they were with my brothers. That's always kind of bothered me, but it hasn't affected my relationships with my siblings per se. I guess the novelty of having kids wears off by the time you get to the third.

On the plus side, my folks were all nice and broken in by the time I arrived. I got to do things, like go to concerts, earlier than my brothers because my brothers had already paved the way. Thanks guys!

An no matter how old we get, our other brother (first-born) will be the prince, fixedgear is the middle, and I am the baby.
posted by Fat Guy at 10:15 PM on February 17, 2005

I'm the youngest of four, with 10, 9 and 5 years between us. The single biggest thing my parents did that affected my relationship with my siblings was to send my sisters to boarding school when I was 3, and my brother to boarding school when I was 5. I didn't really get a chance to become close to them until I was in my twenties.

While I was very young my dad was working from home so he had a lot more to do with me when I was an infant than any of my siblings. I think that resulted in him fairly blatantly favouring me. My mum on the other hand favoured my brother. That combined with the fact that I as the "baby" escaped being sent away to school caused a fair amount of resentment. One of my sisters in particular has never really gotten over it, and will do things like spend family holidays counting and comparing how many times my dad speaks to each of us.

I don't really agree that age difference has much to do with how close siblings become. I'm closest to my eldest sister, while my 2 sisters with only a year between them never really got along while they were growing up. However, The fact that my older brothers and sisters formed this distinct family unit that I was never going to part of was something that bothered me for a long time.

I don't think mum and dad did too bad a job bringing us up, and we are all very close now. However they are incredibly driven individuals and I've never really had the impression that their children were ever the highest priority for them.
posted by arha at 12:18 AM on February 18, 2005

I'm the older sister and my sister is four years younger than me. We have never been close at all, even now as adults, and I have just spent the last twenty minutes thinking about this question and trying to figure out why.

I think my dad related to us very differently (my mom seemed kind of neutral on the whole having kids thing, and treated us both about the same). My sister was definitely my dad's favorite and he always treated her more like a daughter, teasing her and "flirting" with her and fitting her into a female role. I, on the other hand, was more like the son he never had, and I was the one who he taught how to use tools and mow the lawn. We bonded more on father-daughter camping and fishing trips than he and my sister did, and he and I used to argue politics when I was in high school and college.

It felt more like she was accepted as what she was and I was expected to be this tough guy who wasn't weak and should be held at a distance. Which is not to say that he didn't care - he was my Girl Scout leader, fer cryin' out loud - and on more than one occasion took time off work to substitute teach for my 5th grade class.

I imagine that a lot of this was due to our parents being more uptight and nervous about their first kid, me, and being more unsure about how close or far away to keep me. By the time my sister came along, they were old pros and were a lot more relaxed.

Still, it's funny, my sister is a stay-at-home mom and lives close to the rest of the family and I am the complete opposite. I don't think the way she turned out is any better or worse than the way I turned out, they're just different. No relationship (parent-child or sibling-sibling or otherwise) is perfect, but as long as you spend time with your kids and let them know you love them and accept them they'll turn out fine. You can only (somewhat) predict and determine your own relationship with your kids, and much less so their relationships with each other, the way I see it.
posted by bendy at 1:53 AM on February 18, 2005

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