How to help brothers and sisters connect through shared memories to build strong sibling relationships.
Image purchased from iStockphoto
It’s become a passion and priority of mine to help nurture my kids’ relationships with each other. It often has not been easy, but has always been worthwhile! Now at ages 28 (boy), 23 (girl), and 17(girl) I see their closeness and feel I’ve done at least one thing right.
To be honest, it has taken determination and even financial cost to help them draw and stay close, especially as young adults. But I realized when my kids were small that one way to help create strong relationships between them was to make sure they were part of each others’ special events in life. Whatever was special to that child, or teen, or young adult would be attended, if at all possible, by the other siblings. I wanted to help them build memories of each other’s successes, so that when they experienced failures or struggles they would turn to each other then, too.
It pains me to think of special events and even crises I missed with my own siblings. I either didn’t hear about them, couldn’t get there, or was too self-preoccupied. My biggest heartbreak was not getting to be at my own father’s funeral with the rest of the family as I was delivering my first child that week, so forbidden to fly. There were multiple practical reasons for our drifting apart: gender, age, personality differences and moving away to school/work. Much separation can occur naturally, unless parents are determined to curtail that drift somehow.
I became determined when I became a parent myself to make special efforts to glue our kids together through shared critical memories, sometimes whether they liked it or not. Don’t like to watch wrestling or listening to violins? Tough. Be there to support your sibling. I didn’t force all events, but made sure they were there for at least some, to create shared memories.
That has often meant setting aside funds specifically for family events and coordinating calendars like a ninja. And sometimes firmly telling school officials or coaches our kids would miss school events to be at critical sibling events. I actually laughed when a cheerleading coach complained when our youngest missed practices to attend her sister’s wedding. But most were supportive and highly respectful of our nurturing our kids’ relationships.
Here are a few ways we’ve nurtured our kids in recent years:
- Flew the family from IA to RI to our eldest son’s graduation from naval officer candidate school, and took our youngest out of school & sports practices for a few days for that purpose.
- Bought an airline ticket for our teen to do a 3-way trip this past summer to see her brother in CA, and sister in WA.
- Timed it just right so brother and sister could run a half marathon together.
- Flew our middle daughter from WA to CA show she could see her brother before deployment and the two of them could visit grandparents together. Brother used his own airline mileage to get his sister there.
Practically speaking, we’ve had to budget for some things by pinching pennies in other ways. We have always bought used cars — and kept them forever — to have at least a small travel budget. We pay for big items (home repairs, etc.) with cards that get us airline miles. We eat out less when we want to save for more important things. And if travel is not affordable, there is always Skype: for free.
Also free and easy is continually encouraging communication. “You might give your sister a call, she’s having a rough time.” “Sister is in a race right now with a live video feed! Here’s the link!” “Brother will be packing up, this is a great time to give him a call.” But what I love now is when I make suggestions like that they are have often already talked or texted each other.
For those of you with multiple little ones, it may seem a no-brainer keeping your kids close. They are always together anyway, either playing or fussing and fuming. Where you go, they all go.
But at some point they grow up. Brothers and sisters with the most distance between ages can naturally grow apart. Older ones leave home for college and careers, younger ones are left behind. Right now they may fight like cats and dogs and you wonder if they will ever get along. But as teens and young adults, they will have fresh opportunities to draw close to each other.
I can’t tell you how many times I told my kids this (especially when they were fighting): “Friends will come and go — but you will have your siblings for each others’ lifetimes. Cherish that.” Sometimes they said, “Yeah, right.” As young adults they all get it.