Family Dynamics with Siblings

Trying to make friends with brothers and sisters

How close are you to your siblings? Emotionally, not physically. Distance is usually of no concern when you care about someone.

Growing up a middle child between an older brother and my little sister, the three of us were homeschooled for the better part of our elementary and some of our middle school years. We had neighborhood friends and several cousins to hang out with, but usually it was the three of us against the world.

I know many people are not as blessed as I am to be able to connect with all your siblings, but I truly believe that if it weren’t for all those years we spent in the same house day after day together, we would never be where we are today.

I hear stories all the time of siblings who don’t get along, some are estranged, others fight constantly or even just don’t have anything in common with each other.

I am sorry if that is your situation. I can’t imagine life without being in the middle of these crazy people I call my siblings. 

Who do you go to for advice on school, friends, or food recommendations? Who do you annoy on road trips or just annoy in general? Who is there to tell you to shape up because you’re acting dumb, or to act dumb for no reason? Who is your companion at long family events when your favorite cousins don’t show up? Whose closet do you raid?

Siblings are literally built-in friends for some of us. When I need someone to bring to an event on short notice, I have two people to fall back on. I have someone to navigate the car for me so I don’t get lost. Or I can hitch a ride with my brother if I don’t want to drive.

Our relationship didn’t blossom overnight. This is the result of years and years of living together and spending time with each other almost every day of our lives.

Similar to any friendship, sibling relationships require maintenance, as well. I feel society normalizes sibling rivalry and generally dislikes one’s brothers and sisters. They are easier to dislike than friends, after all. You live together and learn all the little ticks that drive them bonkers. Sometimes they’re impossible to reason with.

But, unlike friends, you will always have to spend some time with them. Even after moving out and gaining lives of your own, they will always be around for holidays, weddings, family reunions, and so on. 

Instead of taking for granted that they will always be around and that there will be time to make up later, why not just take that first step?

Instead of getting annoyed at the small things, just roll with it. My sister has a fondness for music, meaning the ukulele, kazoo, accordion, guitar, flute, and piano are a constant noise. In our small house, there is no way to block this out, aside from earbuds and the volume on high. 

Sometimes it’s OK to ask (nicely!) for silence, especially under certain circumstances. But instead of getting annoyed, I have found it’s a lot more fun to join in by making up words for the songs I don’t know, or singing and dancing with the ones I do. Not only does this avoid tension, but it creates memories in the process and draws us closer. 

I get it – not all siblings are created equal, but there is a rough outline to follow to improve your understanding of one another. Dr. Kevin Leman addressed this issue in The New Birth Order Book, where he examined general personality traits according to whether an individual was born an oldest, middle, or youngest sibling. 

Oldest siblings, Dr. Leman concluded, were found to be “leaders”, “perfectionists”, “logical” and “may believe they’re always right”. These were concluded through the life situations that the older children find themselves in, much of it from being the “experiment” for parents, the role model for younger siblings (not to mention babysitters), and being held to a higher standard simply from being born first. They feel pressure to succeed more keenly.

For us middleborns, which is anyone between the first kid and last kid, we are summarized as “comprising”, “secretive” and “independent thinkers”. Middle children tend to see all sides of a situation because we are, to put it literally, in the middle of everyone and everything. They don’t enjoy conflict, which can lead to boxing up true feelings. Some are flexible as a result, but others become bitter at being pulled in all directions.

The youngest siblings? Dr. Leman sums them up as “people-orientated”, “affectionate and engaging” and “entertaining.” They are the “babies of the family”, often growing up feeling the need to prove themselves, because no one took them seriously when they were the littlest out of everyone. Many tend to enjoy others’ attention, and can appear self-centered, but are generally easy-going.

This is not absolute by any means. There is no “cookie cutter” for any sibling set. Often, siblings mix and match these traits, but the general outline tends to stay consistent for each sibling.

Among myself and my siblings, I tend to fall a little outside the box, but following a deeper dive into sibling psychology, I can personally attest that this information helped me understand not only my brother and sister but also the sibling relationships among my friends and family.

My advice is to take what you will from this info and hopefully you can understand your own family a bit better as the result. Take into account what they have been through, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and perhaps understand a bit better why they feel, think, or act as they do.

For my own family, our homeschool beginnings put us in the right direction. Even though we did wind up at public school, grew up, and made new friends, our overall bond has remained intact. We are all still living at home, and I have to say my sister is probably a better roommate than anyone I could get in the dorms. After all, we’ve been roommates for over sixteen years, and a new roommate would be hard to break in at this point. 

Siblings are complicated, but connecting with them doesn’t have to be.

I am probably most thrilled at our inside jokes – we have approximately seven billion of them. I won’t even try to describe them, because we all know inside jokes are a “you had to be there” scenario. I will say that from TV shows we can quote for hours on end (and still wind up laughing no matter how many references we make) to the hours we spend talking in stupid voices, I can imagine how crazy we would look to anyone on the outside.

Like most sets of siblings, we tease each other regularly. This is practically the first page of the Sibling Handbook. Almonds in my brother’s shoes, child-locking my sister in the car, and lately, they think it is so funny that I am the smallest in our family, so they decide to pick me up and drop me anywhere they, please.

Boy, do we have fun?

Even though we can be obnoxious, we still have each other’s backs. We help one another with homework, advise teachers, friends, and people in general, and back each other up when they’re in the right in an argument. 

Friends are wonderful, but siblings are special friends. They are around for life, like it or not, and people you share almost everything with, from childhood to adulthood.

Make friends with them if at all possible. If you don’t get along with your brothers and sisters, maybe taking the first step to mend your relationship will fall on you. It could be as simple as a text or planning an event together that you would both enjoy. Just connect and see where it takes you.

We’re just three crazy kids who happened to be smacked into the same family together. We don’t look alike. My sister is always mistaken for being older than I, or we get confused for each other (maybe we do look alike?) Of course, our personalities clash. We can pick fights that shake the neighborhood. Sometimes I ask my brotherless friends if they would like mine, just for a while anyway. 

But I’m grateful for them. We have a history together and a future to look forward to. Sure, we have close friends, people outside the family to confide in and spend time with, but we will forever have one another. The three of us are against the world. Now, can someone please tell both of them to stop drawing in the dust on my car?

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