Relating to adult children — 03 December 2011
Cherish your adult sibling relationship

Some adults continue to be plagued by an unsatisfactory relationship with their siblings that may have begun in childhood. Others have become distant from their brothers or sisters and find it hard to reconnect. Yet, the benefits, advantages and joys of healthy, close sibling relationships are so enriching that they merit cultivating and maintaining it for life.

As our life span extends, more adults will have a longer connection with their siblings than with any other human being. These relationships that started very early in life could last for seventy, eighty or more years and can be a source of strength, support and unmatched unique love worth creating and preserving.

In childhood, a natural competition for parental love may put a wedge between siblings. The quest for the “favored child” designation erroneously sets some siblings apart and marks them as adversarial competitors. Many children eventually learn that they can have their parents love without feuding with each other, and do develop a sisterly/brotherly attachment.

In her often-cited research, Deborah Gold interviewed adult siblings between ages of 67 and 89.  She identified and quantified five types of sibling relationships: Intimate (14 percent), Loyal (30 percent), Congenial (34 percent), Apathetic (11 percent), and Hostile (11 percent).  Seventy eight percent had a positive relationship with their siblings and reported that as they aged they found the mutual companionship and support rewarding and self-enhancing.

Researchers Laurie Kramer, of the University of Illinois, and Katherine Conger of University of California at Davis, described the role of older siblings in a youngster’s early life as being one’s “agents of socialization.” Kramer adds, “We know that having a positive relationship with siblings is related to a whole host of better outcomes for teenagers and adults.”

Knowing that your brother/sister is there for you during times of celebration or need provides you with a solid base of support, safety and comfort.

On an experiential level, my brother, Dan, describes the trust and understanding between siblings as “deeper than one can possibly have with others and unique only to the two or more of you. ”

As siblings mature they often face the challenge of managing the needs of their aging parents. The better their relationship is, the smoother is their coordination and care of their seniors and the greater comfort they can gain from being devoted adult children.

If you have a good sibling relationship:

¨    Stay in touch. Be open and sharing and curious and caring about your brother/sister’s life.

¨    Take time to be together during good times and hard ones.

¨    Share your childhood memories and learn from your sibling’s recollections more about your family and yourself.

If you have a strained relationship with your sibling:

¨    Disavow old hurts, childhood competitiveness and jealousies.

¨    Forgive your sibling and yourself for early adulthood faux pas.

¨    Rededicate yourself to caring about your sibling anew. Both of you will be better beings, more secure and whole by your restored family connection.



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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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