My mom was crystal clear, “You will be friends with your siblings.” As she saw it, other friends would come and go in your life, but your siblings will always be there, and you’re going to want them to be your friend. We moved a lot as kids and there were four of us, so all of those things were very true.
Kids can’t understand how big that will feel later. Being friends with your siblings is a gift. One of the biggest gifts my parents gave to us, and one of the most important things I want to do for my kids.
Since not everyone in my family is dead and I don’t have unlimited, worldwide rights to their dirty laundry, I won’t name names. So, let’s just say the “you will be friends” model isn’t universal in my life experience. I’ve seen plenty of pain caused by the kind of alienation you can only experience with family.
For some parents, it seems odd to think of siblings as friends. There's more of a, "Why would they be friends?" kind of framework through which they view the inevitable battles of brother- or sisterhood (because of course they will fight, as any friends would). They're not friends with their own siblings, so why would their kids be friends with each other? Siblings just aren't like that in many families, and it can be passed down like an unlucky inheritance for generations.
We’ve had dozens of family friends and I’ve had more than one boyfriend who has been inspired by the closeness I have with my siblings to at least attempt reconciliation with theirs. I’m not bragging and I’m not saying all four of us lock arms and sing “Kumbaya” every day of every year. I’m just saying that we were raised under with the assumption that we would be friends and we are.
As a parent, I’ve learned that this is not common as an underlying understanding of the way the world works. Siblings rivalry is expected and assumed to be the default relationship between kids who share parents. It’s assumed that they won’t get along, that when they do it’s loaves and fishes and that it’s not a problem when they don’t. It’s normal.
The other day, we had two sisters over for a play date. In the car ride to our house, the girls started working out what they were going to play, and it was clearly not meant to include my son, even though one of the girls is closer to his age than to my daughter's. To their surprise, I think, I made it clear that he was to be included.
Don’t get me wrong—girls can and should have alone time. And siblings should be allowed one on one time with their friends. And if my son is being disruptive or the older girls are playing in a way that’s beyond him, I will swoop in any carry him off to do some “work” with me (which is usually what he’d rather do anyway).
But the default is inclusion.
A sibling is a built-in-friend. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a built-in best friend. I wanted to have two kids so they would have each other. No one else for the rest of their lives will understand them in quite the same way as they understand each other. No one but a spouse will ever have that I-know-who-you-are-everyday kind of closeness with them.
I’m feeling really lucky right now. My kids love each other. They love to play together. They kiss and hold hands and giggle and want to be together. Maybe I'm getting cocky. I don't expect a smooth ride forever--or even today. And I don’t know if my desire to make-it-true will come-to-be in the same way that my parent’s insistence came to be for me and my sibs. But it’s a place to start.
At my kids’ preschool, they teach the kids to approach other kids with the question, “What are you playing?” They don’t want them to ask, “Can I play?” Because that question has a possible “No” answer, and that’s not an option. The assumption is they will all play together.
And that’s how it should be with brothers and sisters. The default is to be together. The default is to love each other. The default is not sibling rivalry.
Or it doesn’t have to be.