When I think more deeply about my brother and sister, I have also seen the unbelievable value and connection of siblings when there is a crisis in the family. Suddenly, nothing else matters and we are just there for each other.
The history of siblings goes back to biblical times. However, things didn’t work out so well for Cain and Abel or Esau and Jacob, did they? Not to mention Joseph’s brothers who sold him down the river. On the other hand, Moses and Aaron usually supported each other. And Rebekah and Leah married the same guy, for crying out loud! Thankfully, most of us have relationships with our siblings that are at least somewhat less tempestuous.
My mom grew up in a large family with two brothers and two sisters. She was raised in a busy household in Detroit; she told us how she sometimes retreated to the front closet of her home to read in peace and quiet. We observed her interactions with her brothers and sisters as adults, which included frequent conflicts with one sister. Of her sibs, only my Uncle Gary is left, thankfully still sharp and still the coolest guy in the room. My dad had a fondness for his older sister, but he often seemed befuddled by the marked differences in their personalities.
I am blessed with two younger siblings. My sister Shana (nee Sheila) is three years younger and my brother Michael is eight years younger. My sister was soft-spoken as a child, rebellious as a teen, but she is now an adult with an easy ability to express her ideas and beliefs, always in a kind way. My brother, who we teased a bit when he was small, has grown into a well-spoken empathic man who can more than hold his own in a conversation with his siblings. We share a strong love of music, expressed in slightly different ways
Although my siblings and I have distinct personalities, we share many common beliefs and values.
My standard joke about siblings is that they are fellow “witnesses to the scene of the crime.” That didn’t seem quite as funny once I became a parent and saw firsthand what a tough job it was from the other side. Another wonderful phrase I frequently find myself saying is that we are all “the imperfect children of imperfect parents.” That homily comes in handy when someone is looking to cast the first stone about a conflict in his or her family.
Examining Our Roots
My sister, brother and I have a common need to examine and re-examine our roots. Whenever the three of us get together in person or on Zoom, (my sister lives in Seattle and my brother in Philly) we almost immediately begin talking about the good old days. For the most part, we share a feeling of how lucky we were to have been raised by good, kind people who loved us through thick and thin. But that rarely stops us from analyzing every aspect of our parents’ parenting style and laughing at their idiosyncrasies. We laugh at my dad’s pet phrases, like “How are you fixed for socks and underwear?” and my mom’s tendency to give unsolicited advice, even to people she had just barely met.
My siblings have mentioned to me once or twice about how I tended to ignore them once I hit my teen years. I have asked for and received forgiveness from them, and we’ve maintained a wonderful bond once we all became adults. We remember learning about family conflicts and caring, while watching TV shows together, such as Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons and Father Knows Best. Of course, all the conflicts were resolved in 28 minutes.
We often recall early years of playing board games like Monopoly and the Game of Life and word games such as Password and Scrabble, which have now morphed into ongoing internet battles of Wordfeud (where both my bro and sis usually kick my butt). We remember childhood road trips to Niagara Falls and Tawas, which featured endless games of License Plate geography and too many choruses of “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” We have also shared many trips as adults, often filled with music, games and more talking about our family.
My sister is a therapist, and my brother is a professor of organizational behavior; so, when you add a child psychiatrist to the mix, you get a spirited discussion about “What were our parents thinking when they…?” We mostly agree that we lucked out big-time compared to most families of people we know. But that doesn’t stop us from engaging in endless discussions about the long-term effects (mostly good and occasionally challenging) of how we were raised.
From A Parent’s Perspective
My three children (now adults), I’m sure, have only wonderful things to say about their mom and me as parents. But, seriously folks, I know they love to talk about our little foibles in the same way my siblings and I share (mostly) fond memories of our parents.
I recall those “wonder years” when our kids were small. There were certainly many conflicts to resolve, often with two kids teaming up against the third. The issue of “fairness” was a frequent point of contention.
Sometimes, family game nights would serve as an outlet for these conflicts, but often, mom and dad had to referee an argument in a hotly contested game of Aggravation.
Years from now, when our then much older offspring reflect and reminisce together as my siblings and I do, I’m sure they’ll recall growing up in Beacon Square and learning to swim at the neighborhood pool. They’ll remember our family trips, including yearly trips to Camp Michigania. They’ll laugh about the famous dinner in Las Vegas where their dad (me!) for some reason ordered pancakes and soup. They’ll also recall our own versions of games and songs in the car to pass the time on road trips. We already never fail to laugh hysterically when we watch a karaoke video from Disney World that features my eldest two kids when they were 12 and 9, rolling their eyes as their mom and I busted some great dance moves. Our youngest, who was 4 at the time, was wise enough to opt out of that singing, dancing fiasco preserved forever (as long as we have a working VCR)!
Thinking about my children and my siblings gets me to wondering about that age old “nature vs. nurture” debate. Our whole family shares a love of music and games. But of course, each of us sees the world in his or her own unique way. I am proud of how we usually find a way in our family to tolerate our differences. We certainly have had a few heated discussions, but, so far, nobody has tried to sell his or her siblings down the Detroit River to Toledo. Instead, we all continue to explore what it means to be a sibling and how it feels to be a part of this crazy London clan.
When I think more deeply about my brother and sister, I have also seen the unbelievable value and connection of siblings when there is a crisis in the family. Suddenly, nothing else matters and we are just there for each other. At more mundane times, we have our occasional disagreements, but mostly we share concerns about our struggles with life’s day-to-day challenges and remind each other to celebrate the joys.
My world has been enriched by the presence of my siblings. And I know my kids feel the same way. I see them talking, laughing and teasing each other, and I also have observed them responding to personal and family crises with caring and support for each other and for their parents.
Witnesses to the scene of the crime? Perhaps. But also witnesses to the messy wonderfulness of family. As I once wrote in a song to my dad, “When it comes to poker games and families, it’s pretty hard to beat a full house!”