“They say that no matter how old you become, when you are with your siblings, you revert back to childhood.” ― Karen White, The Memory of Water
EVERY FAMILY IS UNIQUE. I grew up in a fairly large one, with five active, rowdy brothers. I was the only girl, born smack dab in the middle of the pack. We were spread apart in age though, so that by the time I was old enough to understand the concept of “family” my oldest brother had gone away to college. And I was in high school when my youngest brother was born. Still, surrounded as I was by all that male energy, I longed for a sister — someone like me, someone to share my girl-soul with.
The boys, full of untamed energy, expressed themselves by fighting each other (and me), throwing rocks, and waging battles with sticks. I held my own but, like Jane Austen, often thought: “What strange creatures brothers are!” I spent a lot of time alone, reading, playing pretend games like “house” and “school” (I was always the teacher), climbing trees, roller skating, and exploring the neighboring fields.
As the only girl I held a privileged position in the family: I was the only one who had a bedroom to myself. On the other hand, when my father took my brothers camping or hunting, leaving me behind, I felt left out. And we all wore second-hand clothing — In my case, it was boys’ clothing instead of girls’.
My brothers and I had relationships mostly characterized by competition for attention and confrontation with each other. My next youngest brother and I were the closest in age, only two years apart. Consequently, we played together more than with the others as we grew up. Yet, as adults, we all drifted apart and live very separate lives.
I credit the rough-and-tumble nature of my early interactions with my brothers for both an inner lack of self-confidence (from the incessant and cruel teasing we inflicted on one another) and an outer toughness that has served me well in my academic and professional life.
Journaling about my brothers, our mutual yet different upbringings, and how we interacted as children has helped me to better understand our adult relationships as well as how my relationships with my siblings have affected other areas and relationships in my life.
- Did you grow up in a large or small family? Where were you in the birth order and how do you think that position affected your perceptions of your siblings?
- Did gender influence your relationship with your siblings?
- Would you characterize your relationships with your siblings as close or distant (or a mix)? What are the factors that influenced your closeness with them? And has that distance changed over the years?
- Which sibling were you closest to when you were a child? Have you maintained that closeness? Why or why not?
- Which sibling did you have the most difficult relationship with when you were a child? How did the nature of that relationship change as you grew to adulthood?
- List at least eight characteristics you and your siblings have in common. What do you like and dislike about these characteristics, and why?
- Do you feel drawn to or repelled by people who resemble your siblings? Why do you think you react the way you do?
- Do you have friends that remind you of any of your siblings? If so, what qualities do they have in common with your siblings?
- Write the name of each sibling at the top of a fresh page in your journal. For each one, freewrite for 5 minutes using the following sentence starter: “What I remember most about [Name] when we were children, is . . .”
- If you could go back in time and change anything about your relationships with your siblings, what would you change?
What’s your sibling story?
And with which of these prompts will you start writing?