Brothers and sisters are one of the few people in our lives who will be with us the longest. They are there when we were children and they will likely be around when we’re old and gray. Nearly 80% of us have a sibling, and for many of us, the bonds—whether good or bad—formed in childhood follow us into adulthood. “We often think there’s a demarcation line between our childhood and adulthood,” said Dr. David Hawkins, director of The
Recovery Center in Seattle. “But sibling relationships don’t stop when we leave home.”
Growing up, I didn’t have a close relationship with my five siblings, mostly because of the age gaps between us: three of my siblings are 11, 13 and 15 years old than me, while the two others (twins) are 14 years younger than me. That meant there weren’t a lot of shared families memories from childhood adventures and scrapes. In adulthood, I’ve had to make new connections with my three sisters and two brothers. It hasn’t always been easy, but the rewards of having a closer relationship with them has been well worth the effort.
“There is a unique camaraderie that comes with having that shared history,” said Sarah Phillips in Richmond, Virginia, of her two sisters, three stepsisters and one stepbrother. “It’s irreplaceable and often supersedes differences and difficulties. I’ve come to see sibling relationships as the natural ‘school’ God uses to teach us what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.”
But for many families, navigating the waters of adult relationships with brothers and sisters can be tricky. For example, stories of brothers and sisters fighting over wills and having unresolved childhood hurts that harm present-day interactions abound. “We have a nation of siblings who have regretted not staying close,” said Hawkins, himself one of five siblings.
Sarah* in Denver described her current relationship with her three brothers as “loving but a bit distant. While we enjoy each other, it doesn’t seem like we’ve known how to adapt and accept the very different individuals we’ve all become.”
Whether you have a fantastic relationship with your siblings as adults or one that needs improvement, here are 10 ways brothers and sisters can help their interactions with one another flourish, instead of flounder.
1. Recognize the importance of siblings. Our brothers and sisters are an integral part of our lives, and even if our interactions as adults hasn’t been healthy, they still had a great impact on making us who we are today. “These are our first relationships—and thus some of the most formative—of our lives,” said Sarah. “No one will know or understand like our siblings where we came from and what shaped us.”
“Your siblings know the real you,” added Ginny Hamlin in Corona, California. “There isn’t anything quite as comforting as being loved for who you are versus who someone thinks you should be or could be.”
2. Acknowledge God’s hand in your family. Whether you grew up in a Christian home or not, accepting that God placed you in your family with your siblings is very important. “God placed us all in families, so these relationships should always be more important than non-family relationships,” said Lynellen Perry in Dumfries, Virginia. “Christian families are to model God’s relationship with humans, much as the church should. So when non-Christians see siblings that treat each other badly, why would they want to know Christ?”
3. Keep the bond strong. Like any relationship, we must take care to nurture ours with siblings. Frequent interactions will help to keep us connected with our brothers and sisters. “My sister and I come from a broken home where there was a lot of trauma, both emotional and physical,” said Hamlin. “There is a bond my sister and I share of having survived that environment that no one else can relate to. Today, we can talk about anything and for that, I’m thankful.”
4. Embrace the differences. Some characteristics will never change, and while we should expect growth—and experience it ourselves!—we shouldn’t presume a total personality change is going to happen, either. “There are some dynamics that might never change,” said Phillips. “I am a sensitive Type B who might normally take offense at too much straight talk from a stranger, but my little sister rarely offends me with her plain speaking because I am so familiar with her style of communication and ways of thinking.”
5. Accentuate the positive. We all have our good qualities and our not-so-good ones. When thinking of your brothers and sisters, focus on the positive, rather than the negative. “Look for the positives in them, even if it means going back to early childhood to find them,” said Jennifer* in Tampa, Florida. Phillips added that she describes her relationship with siblings overall as “positive, supportive and enduring.”
6. Work together. As I’ve found out recently, having brothers and sisters can lighten the load when helping your parents in their twilight years. “As our parents grow older, I’m thankful to know my brother and sister will be available to help make decisions and absorb changes as they come,” said Elizabeth Spencer in Battle Creek, Michigan.
7. Address any problems. When a sibling relationship needs repairing, we shouldn’t hesitate to do the work necessary to get things back on the right track. “Be willing to communicate with your sibling, even though it may be painful,” said Tricia* in Fort Myers, Florida, who has gone through some difficult times with her two brothers and twin sister. “Be willing to try to understand your sibling’s point of view. Realize that even though you have been wronged, there is probably some wrong on your side as well.”
Spencer added, “Honest conversation in a safe environment with clear ground rules may be productive. Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds but it can provide perspective.”
8. Learn to let go. Sometimes, we hold on to things that happened in childhood and allow those hurts to color our current relationships with our brothers and sisters. “I think humans tend to hold on to hurts from childhood no matter who inflicted them,” said Perry, who has one younger sister. “Non-family members can be ignored when we’re adults, but family relationships usually keep us in contact with those who hurt us. That means the wounds keep getting irritated unless we take action to intentionally forgive.”
“It seems to me that human nature is to recall the painful, difficult, heartbreaking or otherwise negative experiences more than the pleasant and uplifting ones,” said Jennifer. “We must choose to dwell on the good but it is easier to recall and dwell on the bad.”
Living out our forgiveness can be hard but it’s vital to moving past the offense and continuing the relationship. “God teaches us grace and forgiveness, but even then, you have to remind yourself that the past is over because insecurity and hurt feelings can run so deep,” said Cheryl Hammond of Fairfax, Virginia.
9. Know when to walk away. Sometimes, a sibling is on a self-destructive path that might require stepping away for a time or limiting contact. “For years, I tried to engage in a relationship with my brother, who had a gambling addiction. However, even though my efforts at communicating with him were out of kindness, he often responded by lashing out at me,” said Tricia. “The relationship became emotionally abusive, and I’ve had to limit my communication with him to birthdays and Christmas—but have left the door open for him to contact me if he desires.”
“There are times when you might need to put a sibling relationship on hold,” pointed out Hammond, who had to step back for a time while her older brother wrestled with substance abuse and paranoia. “He wasn’t safe to be around, but we made sure we were there for his wife and children.”
10. Hope for the best. Don’t completely write off your siblings even if you have to take a break from contact for a season. “Friends and other relationships will come and go, but siblings have a deeper bond, even if they don’t actually like each other,” said Spencer.
presses us to shower them with kindness, rather than retaliate for wrongdoings. “Continue to pray for God to intervene in their life, but keep the door open for reconciliation,” said Jennifer. “Keep realistic expectations and hold out hope that with work and prayer, some sort of relationship can be established.”
Overall, we should keep foremost in our mind the call to love one another, especially those God has put in our lives as part of our family. “Be intentional about having a relationship with your brothers and sisters,” said Hawkins. “When all is said and done, you want to be able to say you did all you could to have a healthy relationship with them.”
* Some sources requested only first names be used to avoid harming their sibling relationships.
Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and her book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, is available now. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.parentcoachnova.com for more ways to get along with your adult siblings.
Publication date: June 18, 2015
If you’re like most parents of more than one child, you are probably tired of hearing, “He touched me” or “She’s on my side of the car.”
You may also be weary of the bickering, blaming and name-calling that can be so prevalent with siblings. Remembering that God is the one who can change hearts, keep praying for your children while you practice some (or all) of these strategies for helping siblings get along.
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1. House Rules
Establish house rules about acceptable behavior and be prepared to follow through with agreed-upon discipline if they break the rules. When your children know what is expected of them and that you will dole out discipline when necessary, they may be more willing to adhere to the rules better.
2. Divide and Conquer
When the bickering starts, separate the children so you have a chance to talk with each one on their own. Ask them to slowly explain, without calling names or blaming the other child, what caused the disagreement.
Acknowledge their feelings and try to understand what is underneath them.
Explain to your children that even though you understand their feelings, the way they handled the situation is not acceptable.
- Are they jealous because their younger sibling gets to do something they were not able to do at their age?
- Are they angry because their older sibling took something away from them?
Suggest that they think about what was said and done, how things could have been handled differently and how they can make amends.
Once you have determined the underlying cause, and the children have had a chance to think about things, you can help your children make peace and get along better – until the next time.
3. Focus on Strengths
Try to focus on each child’s strengths rather than on their weaknesses.
Try giving your child tasks that allow them to show their accomplishments. Give them a reason to feel good about themselves without having to compare themselves with the other children in the family.
Celebrate their uniqueness and ask them to cooperate rather than compete.
4. Celebrate Uniqueness
Obviously you know that each child is an individual, but sometimes it is important to verbalize it. While you may enjoy Mary’s singing voice, you also appreciate Todd’s willingness to help cook.
Be sure you let them know that you love each of your children as much as the other and that you don’t have favorites, but that because God made each child different you may appreciate different things about them.
Encourage them to praise the positive qualities of each other as well.
5. Praise Good Behavior
Encourage them when you see them doing something nice for their sibling or when you catch them playing nicely together.
Sometimes it helps to hear thinks like:
- “It was very good of you to let your brother play the game instead of continuing to play by yourself.”
- “Thank you for reading to your sister while I was cooking dinner even though you wanted to watch television instead.”
6. Teach Them to Love as God Loves
Knowing that it is God who ultimately must change and renew their hearts and help them love each other, we have recently started a family Bible Study written by Kim Sorgius called My Brother’s Keeper.
Each day we’re reading from God’s Word how he loves us, and has a perfect plan for us, including putting us in the family we’re in. And we’re also discussing positive things about our brothers and sisters and family as a whole.
Though we’re still at the beginning of the four week study, we have really enjoyed it so far and the positive discussions it has created in our home. You can get both the youth and junior versions of My Brother’s Keeper from Kim’s site: Not Consumed. This list of strategies for helping siblings get along are by no means exhaustive. You may find some strategies work better for your family than others. Remember to use what works and toss the things that don’t.
When your children understand that you are serious about their behavior and their getting along, when they understand God’s plan for brothers and sisters, it may be easier for them to follow the house rules and finally get along with each other.Are you struggling with this in your home right now? Leave a comment below or in our FB community and let us pray for you.
from guest poster, Julie.
Sibling relationships are… unique.
Some consider their siblings to be their best friends. Some have to work hard to tolerate theirs’.
As parents, we want our kids to fall into the first category. We dream of how blissfully our kids will get along and the glorious laughter that will sprinkle their every conversation.
Then one of them inevitably turns two.
Dreams dashed. Toys trashed.
Most siblings have squabbles, and then some. As a parent it can be extremely disheartening, ESPECIALLY because it seems to be so far out of our control.
This is where calling out to a sovereign God makes all the difference.
But WHAT should you be praying beside the obvious, “Please don’t let them kill each other“???
Here’s some specifics to pray for…
They would appreciate each others’ differences
You know your kids are different than each other. Often, those differences cause the friction in their relationship. Pray that as they grow, they’ll learn to value those unique qualities in each other. When they know how to love their polar-opposite sibling, they’ll be better able to love people in the diverse world around them.
They would support each other through struggles
The sibling relationship typically lasts a lifetime. And every lifetime is going to have hardships. Pray that your children will support their sibling in those rocky times by pointing each other to the Lord and his mercy. Having a friend that has been with you though all the crud of the past and is committed to being there to the end is invaluable.
They would bolster each others’ growing faith
Aside from praying for your children’s individual salvation, ask God to let the siblings be influential in each others’ spiritual lives. I cannot tell you the impact my brother has made on my walk with the Lord. He’s not afraid to ask the tough questions. He sets a HIGH example. He cares and he’s not about to let me throw in the towel on God. I desperately want that same sort of relationship for my kids.
They would get along with each others’ future spouse
It may seem a LONG way off, but your kids are going to grow up and likely get married. Want the sibling bond to remain strong? Better pray that the siblings get along with their new brother and sister-in-laws. My own mother (who’s a ridiculously great lady) would tell me all the time growing up that she was praying my brother would be great friends with my future husband. I’d laugh it off, but now that they are BFFs, I see the incredible blessing of it.
It’s so hard to focus on the bigger picture when dealing with sibling relationships. But praying with these things in mind will help your kids ultimately have a God glorifying relationship.
Julie Nixon is a frazzled mom of two tornadoes. As a dorky second-generation homeschooler, she writes over at “My Mundane and Miraculous Life” about learning and play, natural living and matters of the heart. She serves an astounding God that radically saved her.