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The Sibling Factor
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of papers around Ontario. Here's this week's, on siblings, based on a blog post from earlier!

When we point to the factors that have shaped our personalities, we usually focus on our parents. They’re the ones who blessed us, messed us up irretrievably, or gave us our tempers. And yet, as I watch my own girls interact with one another, I wonder how much of the people that we become is ultimately shaped not by those who gave birth to us, but by those who grew up with us.

My daughters recently forced me to watch a clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos where the world ends for a 3-year-old boy. His mother, who is filming the moment for posterity, announces to this tyke and his 5-year-old sister that the baby in her tummy is a girl! The little boy bursts into tears, declaring vehemently that he will never “pway wif any girl baby in Mommy’s tummy.” He wanted it to be a boy, you see.

We laugh at his antics, because we know that he will eventually love his little sister. And yet I can’t help feeling a little sympathy for the poor soul. As much as he will adore his new sibling, a brother would have set his life on a very different trajectory. Children play with same-sex siblings in a different way than they do opposite-sex ones. That is not to say that opposite sex siblings can’t love each other; only that there is a special bond with same sex siblings, which affects how you experience life in those early years.

When my husband Keith was 3, he pulled out his baby brother Kurt’s hair. Kurt, in turn, used to beat up on little Kevin, who often punched little Kris. And yet all four stood side by side, an unbreakable line of silence, never ratting on each other with Mom and Dad. They stood together against the world.

That’s one of the benefits of having siblings: you have allies when the outside world threatens you. Laurie Kramer, Professor of Family Studies at the University of Illinois, has found that children deal with stress much better when they have a sibling walking through it with them. And siblings also provide good practice for social situations. Through siblings we learn how to resolve conflicts, share, and compromise, lessons I sorely lacked as an only child, much to the detriment of my poor husband.

Now that we are parents ourselves, we’ve tried to foster friendship, rather than competition, among our two girls. Of course, siblings do not automatically get along, and Kramer has also found that poor sibling relationships can lead to low self-esteem and even mental health issues. And yet I desperately want my own children to be friends, because there is something unique and special about sharing one’s childhood with another.

Whenever my children squabble, I remind them, “Rebecca, Katie is the best friend you will ever have!” I still remember the September day in 1986 when nurses wheeled my mother in for breast cancer surgery. Flanking her were her two sisters, one of whom had flown six hours to be there. My mother had plenty of friends whom she saw frequently. But it was her sisters whom she wanted with her in the bleak moments of her life.

That three year-old instinctively understood something we don’t. One’s siblings matter profoundly. This Christmas, many of us will sit with siblings around the turkey table, reminiscing about games and troubles and antics and foibles. Perhaps those relationships aren’t as close as we’d like them to be. Perhaps other friends have eclipsed our siblings in importance over the years. And yet no one else shares the childhood memories you have. No one else has walked through all your trials alongside you. This year, say a special thank you for your brothers and sisters. Those of you who have them are blessed indeed.

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At 1:19 PM , Blogger Melissa said…

I LOVE this. I love sisters! I have one sister, 3 years older than I am. We are complete & total opposites but the best of friends! I hope i have 2 girls just so that they can have a sister. :)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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