What kind of gift are siblings, if we fight with them and if they hurt our feelings?
How could we come from the same family and have such different values?
Who needs a brother or sister who isn’t there for Mom and Dad when they are old and need our help?
Ambivalence is at the heart of our sibling relationships. These positive and negative feelings are natural, and unavoidable. When we were kids and our parents were not around, we behaved like children to each other, which means we weren’t always nice. As adults, many of us recall those childhood experiences; they often become our iconic memories, and they can make us feel good or bad. I have learned that it is possible to reframe the childhood moments we cannot forgive or forget. We can begin to see our brothers and sisters through an adult perspective, if we so choose. Brothers and sisters who are close have already done this—they don’t idealize their siblings, and they can accept and laugh at the very behavior that drives other people crazy. It’s also possible to rebuild most broken relationships—if you want to. It takes a thread of love and lots of effort and determination, but over time you will be amazed at the results.
So if your relationship with brothers and sisters is complicated, welcome to the world. Once you relax into the reality of mixed emotions, you’ll stop suffering so much from the past and stop feeling so guilty about whatever you might have done. Maybe you can enjoy more of the positive, laugh at some of the negative, and make peace with the fact that human experience is something in between.
So what is the gift of siblings? It’s the life-long quest for compromise, acceptance, and humor.