I swear, my heart doubles in size every time I see my children connecting with one another in a meaningful way. Eye contact, an authentic smile, a shared inside joke. Snorts and gulps of hiccupped laughter as they try to catch their breaths. Sibling relationships are layered. They’re complicated and intricate like a patchwork quilt. Yet, when that connection happens, I know in my gut that that’s the good stuff — the thread that weaves our generations together and will ultimately be my legacy.
I’m part of a pair, so to speak. My sister was often the answer to my questions, my constant companion, the one with whom I laughed and shared secrets, who tolerated me when no one else quite understood. We spent hours together making up songs, sharing jokes, riding our bikes all over our community, swapping good books, baking and playing with dolls. Times were simpler, and with hippy-ish parents who didn’t allow much television, we were each other’s constant companions.
When I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, I prayed with fervor for a girl. I yearned for a sister for my daughter, just as I had. Their relationship too has been symbiotic. A chaotic give-and-take full of backyard adventures, arts and crafts (SO much glitter), dolls and board games. Their bond has been one of my life’s true delights.
Fast forward many years — two miscarriages’ worth, to be frank — and my son joined the fold. He was a bundle of warmth and wiggly pink limbs, flesh the color of conch shells, his tiny hands grasping at his sisters’ long blonde or brunette hair.
He would squint, squirm, yawn and squawk within their little girl grasps, and when each of them looked into his eyes, their unique brand of love was visibly palpable. While my girls’ bond with one another is magical, each has a special relationship with her brother. He is 10 years younger than my oldest, and seven years apart from my middle. He’s the caboose, the bookend. I’d hang the moon for that little boy, and so would my girls, even if they would deny it.
Sibling relationships can be challenging at times. Differences in gender, birth order, temperament and interests complicate matters. In the honeymoon phase, each of my girls wanted to assist with feeding, bathing and entertaining her little baby brother. Later on, when he was more mobile and determined, the girls seemed disinterested, bored or downright annoyed. There’s a certain degree of conviction and annoyance that an exuberant, curious toddler can wield that simply sucks the oxygen out of a tween’s lair.
Yet, once he became 4 or 5, there seemed to be a more of an effort, or perhaps a curiosity. A meaningful connection started to form, where a mutual sharing of books, stories, adventures and experiences began to bridge the gap. My son chortled with glee when his older siblings shared with him books or shows that they once loved as little kids (and that he believed were only created to please his peer group, like “The Backyardigans” or “Charlie & Lola”).
The girls shared stories about “when they were little” that never failed to entrance and entertain him. I loved when they took the initiative to teach him how to bake brownies or frost a cake or patiently showed him how to draw a dog or shuffle a deck of cards. My oldest daughter and my son share a love for magical stories — Harry Potter, the Hobbit series, movies such as “How to Train Your Dragon” or the Pixar classics.
They bonded over “The Princess Bride” and Paddington stories. Despite the decade that fans between them, their love is steeped in loyalty and affection. He idolizes her, this master of video games, a fan of storytelling and one quick to enjoy rides, roller coasters and pretty much anything that moves fast and seems semi-dangerous.
In turn, I cultivate this connection by fostering any activity that brings them together. If I walk into a room and she’s recapping a particularly funny experience from “way back in her youth,” my son will be hanging on every word. If they’re baking something delicious in the kitchen, I back away, peering instead around the corner and relishing in their easy chit-chat. Nurturing sibling relationships when you stumble upon magic moments is paramount. These connections are difficult to orchestrate, so when they emerge organically, you have to step back and let them flow.
I’ve learned to catch my kids in moments of love and kindness and to praise them later about their initiative, patience and kindness. I try to create and enforce boundaries for the older siblings so that their brother doesn’t rock the boat too much (it’s all fun and games until a toddler starts playing with your makeup or stealing your slime). I wrack my brain for activities that both ages can enjoy together — assembling puzzles, watching movies, baking treats, participating in art projects and outings.
My family has gone to great lengths to pick a vacation spot that has something for everyone. We repeatedly visit a popular beachfront water park because the rides offer enough stimulation and exhilaration for my oldest, while the beach and lazy river are joyful for my youngest. We watch movies, eat meals together and devote a few minutes each day to focus on something that each kid enjoys.
Sibling relationships are a type of blind faith — nurtured today to hopefully blossom tomorrow. I always remind my girls, much to their annoyance, that although their brother may at times seem immature or annoying, someday he may be a young man with parallel interests, a keeper of secrets and a friend by choice.
He won’t be “The Baby” but rather a guy, a peer most likely bigger physically than either of them, who remembers the love they gave and the patience with which it was given. Especially in this day and age, with the climate of discord hovering about, when I see my children genuinely caring about one another, it’s a glimmer of hope for the future. JN