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Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Today is Erev (or the eve of) Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year—rosh meaning head and shana meaning year. (Super literal, right?) I’ll be heading home for the holiday, but this year is different. It’s the first time I’ll play the role of only child since my siblings are living large—my sister abroad in London and my brother on the national tour of a show.
Knowing that they won’t be in their usual seats beside me in synagogue or next to me at the table makes going home for the holiday a little sad. Sure, it’s home. Love to Mom and Dad. But I feel like a lone wolf without her pack. It’s this reflection that made me realize how lucky I am to feel bound to my siblings—to feel like I’m not quite complete without them. My sister challenges me like no one can. My brother is truly my best friend; no one understands me like he does (or makes me laugh quite as hard).
It’s actually this unbreakable sibling bond, the inexplicable connection, that is the driving force of the movie The Skeleton Twins that just came out September 19. This isn’t a family flick, so plan this one for date night—better yet sibling’s night out. Watching the serious side of comic geniuses Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a pair of fraternal twins whose lives-gone-awry can only be saved by each other evokes that tethered feeling that only siblings know.
This movie and my half-empty feeling reminds me how important it is to make an effort to keep the sibling bond strong. It doesn’t just happen because you’re share genes. My parents sent us the message that family is the most important thing in the world. Growing up, my brother and sister and I clung to that and to each other. We are the secret-keepers (from who stole the cookie from the jar to how a date went). We are the trouble-makers (still not-so-secretly poking fun at our parents). We are the entertainers (making each other laugh when we would rather cry or singing in harmony). Parents are the captains, guiding us through clear skies or rough waters, but siblings are the anchors that keep us strong and feeling safe. Around the new year I typically resolve to appreciate my siblings more and be a bit kinder. While there is always room to improve, I can actually look back on this year and think to myself Good work. Now let’s raise the bar.
Does your parenting style foster a tight family unit?
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Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
For as long as I can remember, my little sister and I have been close. When we were little, we’d always play together, whether it be trying on costumes for dress-up or building forts outside. Now that we’re older, I rarely go more than a few days without talking to her, even if it’s just a text about the latest episode of Downton Abbey. I realize that not everyone gets along with their siblings, so I feel lucky to have a sister who is also a good friend.
So I was particularly interested in this new study about sibling relationships published in the journal Pediatrics. Research suggests that younger children who are close with their older siblings may develop better vocabularies. This is especially true in large families, where the littler kids might receive less individual attention from Mom and Dad. But an older “cognitively sensitive” child—who uses simpler sentences or slows down without talking like a baby—can be a huge help.
My sister has always been smart, and I have no doubt that she’ll be one of the top in her class when she graduates from college in the spring. While I’d love to take all the credit for her extensive vocabulary and academic abilities, I’m sure plenty of other factors were involved too. But I like to think that even in our small family, maybe I gave her an extra boost at some point. Plus the research is a nice examination of how family bonds can bring about all sorts of unexpected benefits.
No matter the size of your family or the depth of anyone’s vocabularies, a strong friendship between siblings is crucial. Here are some tips to build bonds that worked for my parents:
- Let the kids work as a team, whether they are completing chores together or tackling a challenging jigsaw puzzle.
- Encourage respect. Teach your kids how to consider each other’s feelings, and how to voice polite disagreement.
- Have regular family discussions in which everyone can speak up.
- Emphasize the importance of family, and spend plenty of time together doing fun activities.
Image: Girl playing with little brother via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
For those of us with siblings — I’m the youngest of three — it’s perhaps not too surprising to read about the benefits of having brothers and sisters. Who else could ever know you as well, for better or worse? But according to a new study done at Ohio State University, an unexpected advantage of siblings is a decreased likelihood of getting divorced as a grownup. Have more than one sibling? Your chances of divorce will fall even lower — with each sibling up to seven, the study found that the probability of divorce fell by two percent.
Why would having more siblings decrease the probability of a divorce? Perhaps those years of squabbles and resolutions teach a lesson that it’s possible to still love someone deeply and wholeheartedly even when there are disagreements and frustrations. Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, a co-author of the study, speculates that “growing up with siblings provides opportunities to develop those kinds of skills, like conflict negotiation, that helps us form and sustain meaningful relationships into adulthood” while also cautioning that having a sibling is of course not that only factor that leads to divorce. As one of my coworker points out, several of her mom’s many siblings are divorced — having a brother or sister is not a magic solution for future relationships.
My soon-to-be husband, a younger sibling himself, is firmly convinced that siblings are essential for developing social skills and coping abilities, and when we talk about family planning, it’s always children — and not an only child — that we’re hoping to have. What do you think: Did your early years with a brother or sister help you develop the relationship skills that you still put to work in your marriage today? And when you think about family planning, do you keep the benefits of siblings in mind?
Image of two brothers via Shutterstock
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