I love my big brother Wayne but you wouldn’t have known it when we attended DeSoto County High School together back in the eighties. He was a 6’5, good-looking basketball player determined to maintain his persona as a cool upperclassman when I strolled in as a naïve freshman persevering to make a name for myself.
For his last two years of high school, I was a constant reminder of our family bond —at school and at home. My brother was a varsity athlete, great singer and break-dancer. Not to be out done, I joined the cheerleading squad, sang in talent shows, became
vice president of Future Authors of America, and work on the yearbook staff. From what I can remember about that part of my youth, I was constantly encouraged to cheer for my brother at games or take his photo around campus. And for him, having a little sister known by all of his teachers, coaches, and friends was one of his worst teenage nightmares.
Sometimes I wonder how the two of us survived the teenage angst being two years apart in age. I guess when he was accepted to Bethune-Cookman University and I went on to graduate from Gainesville High School our relationship finally got the space it needed.
Today, we’ve moved far from childhood to full blown adulthood. We’ve dealt with the demands of our careers, raising children, and
managing responsibilities. Life has changed us in ways we never knew it could, and our relationship has matured because of it.
Now before you ask. No one ever sat us down and explained that our childhood views of each other would have to change. But somewhere along the way I decided I couldn’t go the rest of my life seeing him as a 'know-it-all, Mama’s boy' just like he decided to stop viewing me as an 'annoying, meddling kid sister'. When I look back on the changes in our relationship it makes complete sense. It’s funny how people consciously work to improve our friendships and romantic relationships but take our siblings—people whom we didn't choose to be around—for granted.
Some people can be VERY aggressive with their brothers and sisters, more so than with anyone else in their lives, but often simple awareness of this tendency can strengthen sibling ties. I guess it took my adult years to really learn that it takes only one person to improve a relationship. I heard that bit of wisdom all the time as a teenager but now I totally get it. If I'm argumentative every time I see you, you will get defensive every single time. But if I stop being belligerent, you can't get mad at me. :-)
You can also improve your relationship by changing your expectations of how your siblings should act with you. You might love talking every day for an hour or two but your sibling may prefer to talk for two hours once or twice a month because of their schedule and responsibilities. Put yourself in their shoes.
The following behaviors seems to work well for me and my big brother over the years, I hope they will work for you:
* Be more affectionate with your siblings, and try to treat them as politely as you treat your friends. Spiteful acts based on past jealousies is a big NO NO.
* (This one is hard but worth it.) Shed any idealized notions you have about how close you should be with your siblings. There aren’t any hard rules for family closeness, you’re not starring in a sitcom here. Do what feels comfortable for the both of you. Don’t let your parents, other siblings, or spouses’ dictate what your bond should look like. If both of you feel you have a normal healthy relationship then you probably do.
* Be aware of any knee-jerk reactions to your siblings and tweak your behavior to allow your family to see you in a different role. If you don’t want to be everyone’s caregiver then say ‘Sorry I can’t’ more often.” Change your reactions and don’t complain about people that are just being themselves.
* Instead of stubbornly sticking to your own memories, try to learn how your sibling experienced your shared past. Let’s face it a family Christmas experienced by a fourteen year old is a lot different than one experienced by a ten year old, even if they are happening at the exact same time.
We have to see each other in a multidimensional way. Don’t wait for the holidays to roll around to develop a mature view of your siblings. If you can love your friends during the different stages of their life, you can do the same for family.
***This blog post is lovingly dedicated to my daughters. As you walk closer and closer to full adulthood, remember to give each other room to mature and redefine your relationship many times over.***
And if you get a chance to read this big brother. I love you more with each passing day.
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