If you grew up with siblings, you know that these relationships can be complicated. Your siblings are likely among your longest relationships. You share a history, you know where the skeletons are buried in the family closet, and you know how to make each other feel good, or how to push each other’s buttons.
Growing up, your siblings might have been your best friends or your worst enemies. Probably for most people, this depended on the sibling. But generally one of the most rewarding things can be an adult relationship with your brothers and sisters, in whatever way works for you. So what’s your relationship with the sibs?
First, I just want to acknowledge that for some of us, there is one or more sibling relationship that is so toxic it’s best to have little or no contact with them. As they say, you do you. Don’t force a relationship with someone who is abusive.
But for the rest of the sibling gamut, here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about how to interact in a more healthy manner as an adult.
Break out of your childhood roles
The first thing to be aware of is that many of us tend to re-enact our childhood roles even as adults. This includes acting in our assigned roles: the brat, the smart one, the pretty one, the trouble maker, the bossy one, the baby, etc.
For example, I’m the oldest and served in a parental role towards my siblings. Even though my youngest sibling is 40, I still find myself assuming leadership of the sibs when we are together. And what I call “assuming leadership” my siblings call “being bossy”. They’re wrong of course, because I’m always right, but I’m willing to hear their feedback. This results in conversations like this:
Me: “Be careful, get away from there!”
Sibling: “I’m 40 years old, not 5. I can assess the danger of standing here all by myself now.”
Me: “You’re going downtown? Do you know where you’re going?”
Sibling: “I think I can figure out how to use Mapquest by now.”
Me: “Did you wash your hands?”
Sibling: (huge sigh)
Get over childhood hurts
I get it, no matter how close you were to your sibs growing up, there was probably something terrible that happened. An injury. A cherished possession ruined. Someone blaming someone else for what they actually did. A feeling that a parent liked one sibling more than the other. A stolen boyfriend. Normal sibling conflict.
Either let it go or talk it out. Do you really want to hold a grudge for something that happened 30 years ago? Why continue to blame people for something they did when their brains weren’t fully formed? Seriously, remember how stupid you acted when you were a kid? Do you want to be held accountable for that now?
My siblings and I mostly tease each other about that stuff these days, like “remember that time you hit me in the face with a cup?” or “remember that time you scammed each of your sisters out of money?” or “remember when I ran you over with the car?” (That last one’s a joke by the way).
Keep in Touch
Try to maintain regular contact with your sibs so you not only have that connection, but know what’s going on in each other’s lives. Try things like regular phone calls or group texts. Call each other for your birthdays (Not good with dates? Use a calendar – there’s one right there in your phone.).
If talking or seeing each other live feels difficult, embrace technology like e-mail and texts. It’s a good way to communicate especially if you have sibs who are prone to hurt feelings or easily offended in live interactions.
In addition to direct conversations my sibs and I have a running group text. We usually text our little group several time a week with news, jokes, pictures and other things that catch our interest. And I individually text with my sibs almost daily. That may be more than you want to interact, but try to check in at least once a week if possible.
And also, be sure to celebrate milestones like a promotion or a major birthday or a completed half marathon. Celebrate your siblings!
Do group challenge or virtual group activity
Depending on the relationship you have, sometimes it’s fun to do a little challenge that will have you checking in regularly, like a “plank a day” challenge, or dissecting the latest episode of Game of Thrones. A quick conversation like, “I ran my 2 miles today” can lead to more significant communication.
Get a family tattoo
On a recent trip to Hawaii to celebrate my 50th birthday, we all got tattoos with a symbol for “perserverence” and decided that would be our sibling motto. Now every time I see my tattoo, I think of my sibs.
Create some dedicated sibling time
Regardless of whether you live close or far away, try to carve out some “sibling only” time, either one on one or in a group, or ideally both. I know there are times when it’s fun to get all the significant others and kids together, like on Christmas for example, but make some time to create an adult relationship with the sibs that’s separate from your individual families.
Many years ago my sibs and I implemented “Brother Sister Weekend”. At least once a year I get together with both my siblings who I still have a relationship with, and we do something that’s just the three of us. And I also do one-on-one weekends with each of them. We often go to a sporting event, like a Bears game, or an event, like a half marathon in Las Vegas. Sometimes we do something at a beach somewhere. We usually binge watch movies or episodes of “My Name is Earl”, eat way too much junk food, and tell crazy stories about our dead parents or stuff we remember from childhood. And we have serious conversations too. The important thing is it’s a time to have an adult relationship with each other.
What kinds of things do you do to stay connected with your siblings?