by Jeremy Delancy of Writings Of A Midlife Man
Siblings–they can be your best friends or unavoidable enemies.
Print and electronic news media love to cover stories of sibling rivalry run amok. Stories where the urge to kill overtakes the need for a hug. If you have brothers or sisters, you know that the two emotions can run concurrently.
During my 40+ years on this planet, I’ve seen too many instances of families torn apart. Sisters refusing to speak to each other, brothers at war over property, and sadly, the all consuming passion: “What’s in Dad’s Will for me?” or its corollary, “You shouldn’t have Mom’s _______!” Fighting like cats and dogs when you’re a child is, for want of a better word, childish. Fighting like cats and dogs when everyone involved has gray hair is pathetic.
My brother was six years older than I; my sister is 10 years older, and my cousins are old enough to be my parents. To be the baby in a family of three is not so bad, but imagine being the “The Baby” of 30 people not counting aunts and uncles. It’s enough to push a man over the edge. So I’ve come up with two principles that I’ve devised for dealing with siblings–Acceptance and Resistance–and I offer them here to you.
Even now, with gray hair and achy joints, I have a long line of people trying to tell me what to do. Chief among them is my older sister. After the death of our mother, my sister became my sole guardian. Our daddy was alive but he never seemed to have reached adulthood. My sister helped me to finish high school, paid for me to go to university and when I got sick or needed an operation she handled the details. I’ve witnessed my sister verbally drop-kick two doctors right out of their God Complex and into rational behaviour.
However–the biggest problem with a sister who is more like a parent than a sibling is getting her to stop. This is where Acceptance and Resistance come in. Youngest children need to: Resist the urge to be babied. Self-reliance is the greatest weapon in your fight for independence. Rebellion against the “establishment” of your family gets hackneyed quick if after every rebellious act you have to ask an older sibling for a handout. Your urge to be financially independent should be so powerful, that if there was a choice between sleeping in a cardboard box under a freeway and handouts from relatives, you’d choose the box.
The older siblings need to question the belief that they are always right. This is called Acceptance: yes, you have more life experience but do yourself a favour and shut up about it. Some things your younger siblings need to learn for themselves. You don’t always have to offer the helping hand. In some cases it will only make your younger siblings needy and irresponsible. The word “NO” is just as powerful to a 40 year old as it is to a four year old. Practice saying it. In the short term, it will cause resentment, but if the reason is logical it can be forgiven.
Some times, older siblings just don’t “get it” because they belong to a different generation altogether. In my case, my sister is a Baby Boomer and I’m Generation X. We experience the world from different cohorts, which is why our viewpoints vary. Birth Order is what it is. It’s okay to rebel against your status in the family but don’t expect everyone to play along.
Accept the personality flaws of your siblings, the same way you do with your friends. Understand that given the opportunity everyone will revert to their default state of, victim, victor, big bro, lil sis. In the interest of long-term harmony, consider refusing to accept the default setting of your family.
My sister and I now live miles apart. After years of training, I’ve become more self-reliant and she has gotten more tolerant of my happy-go-lucky attitude. Our extended family no longer assumes that I’ll be irresponsible and she’ll speak for both of us on family matters. We are friendlier now than we were as children. The process didn’t happen overnight. It won’t happen overnight in your case either, but the outcome is worth the effort, because at the end of it all, you’re family. .