My bi-yearly card from my youngest sister came in the mail recently. It had a single, short, generic greeting followed by her name and that of her husband and son, whom I’ve met one time.
I finally decided to confront the yucky feelings that occur every time I get one of these cards.
Sound familiar? I’ll be it does.
Remember when we were kids? Every day had the potential for a new adventure. Bedtimes were filled with fun, flashlights, furniture forts and frolicking. We were best friends at times or at the very least taught by our parents to get along because we all lived together or shared a room.
Then IT happened. Adulting. We grew up and moved out.
Time flew by and it seemed like suddenly we became strangers. When we hear stories about family history we ask, “Where was I?! Whose family was THAT?!” It’s like we grew up in separate homes and had different parents.
The thing that boggles the mind is the apparent ease with which we all slipped into adulthood and out of each other’s lives.
Most of us have been taught that we’re supposed to love our family no matter what. “Blood is thicker than water.” is the phrase most commonly bandied about. Society has taught us to honor our mother and father and by association, our siblings. It feels like there is no choice in the matter… like it’s a blood pact from medieval times. We’re forced to accept this adult version of a person that might bear little resemblance to the kid we grew up with years ago.
Consider what would take to have a great relationship with your sibling(s) now.
It takes two to have a relationship — even a shitty one. Relationships with immediate family are prone to adversity because if we were not related by blood and shared history, many of us would not actively choose to befriend our sibling. This shared history does not guarantee that our personalities are naturally compatible.
I believe it was Harper Lee who said, “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.”
Most of us desire quality relationships and would invest ourselves emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically into maintaining them. The connection many of us share now with our adult siblings is superficial at best. There is the once-a-year Christmas card with the standard hallmark-type greeting or the cursory email update. There is no blame, shame or judgment in this — just an observation of fact. Life gets busy, careers and families grow and frankly, most of us were never taught how to do intimate connection well.
Siblings co-own a unique history that is rich with memories and feelings. You had each others’ backs at one time in your lives, so why not again? As children we succeeded in loving each other free of judgment. (Except those days when they were so annoying we wished they’d just disappear.)
Being in any relationship, whether it be romantic, friendship or sibling, is a choice. We can choose daily to love those in our life and in making that conscious choice, accept the responsibility that comes with loving someone well.
We are free to choose whatever we want while acknowledging the truth that we are never free of the consequences of our choices. If we were to work on creating a real, deep, intimate, loving sibling relationship it would need to be one that encompasses regular communication voice to voice, the occasional visit and then maybe some holiday or birthday cards for emphasis. We would want our newly adult conversations to range over a variety of subjects that, in time and with the rebuilding of trust, dive deeper into feelings, hopes and dreams.
Don’t expect an immediate outpouring of sorrow over lost time and opportunities, abject apologies, declarations of profound sibling sentiment or the sharing of deep, dark secrets. Initially it would only need some form of action on both your parts to demonstrate a commitment to working on building a connection of mutual value.
If this doesn’t appeal try not to engage in contempt, criticism or castigation. Often we have no idea who our siblings are as adults and cannot know how this request will land. If they’re interested they may have different ideas on what might be needed.
Be open to what you think might work. No one is ever 100% clear on exactly what an adult sibling relationship would look like. See how it grows organically and tweak as needed. If they do not want to engage in building a new relationship similar to what is outlined above you can wish them the absolute best in life and choose to move on without them.
If they choose to stick with their old, shallow connection and it’s too painful for you, it’s perfectly valid to ask that they cease contact. You don’t have to follow etiquette and stay in touch with siblings out of obligation. You can release them with love. Life is far too short to spend it on shallow niceties that society deems appropriate etiquette.
After all, the secret to life is that it ends…. Faster than we anticipate. Taking responsibility for how and where we spend our precious time is a conscious choice. Make that decision well.
Previously Published on Medium