I’m an only child. As a direct result of this and popular media when I was growing up, I have always wanted to be part of a big, noisy, busy family. Got my wish, didn’t I? Careful what you wish for, right? No, really, I often enjoy the insanity at our house.
I grew up with what I call sibling envy. As a matter of fact, I learned a little about sex for the first time as a direct result of pestering my parents for a sibling. “Why do you want one?” my mom had the sense to ask me. “So he could take me places and teach me stuff and do things with me!” my 5 year old self explained. Which led to a concise explanation of how reproduction does not work. Specifically that I was incredibly unlikely to get an older brother.
So I studied families as I grew up. I gravitated towards friends with a bunch of brothers and sisters, doing my best to get adopted in as an honorary sister. I watched Eight is Enough and Little House on the Prairie and, later, 7th Heaven. All this led me to the conclusion that sibling relationships are unique.
Unfortunately, I have a completely idealized view of brothers and sisters. Like people who have lost their parents must feel about those of us who (only rarely Dad!) complain about our parents, I can’t understand people who don’t enjoy having siblings.
This is bad news for my boys. When they fight I am so…offended! Don’t you understand how lucky you are? These are people who will always be connected to you. Treat them well now and you will have a friend and supporter for life. Someone who shares your history, understands you well, will cross oceans to find you if you need help! Shouldn’t they be running through the heather, arms outstretched, to greet each other with joy?
Yeah, not so much. Like cubs in the same pack, my sons do not question their loyalty to one another. Neither do they question the role they each have in raising and teaching each other. And their methods are sometimes brutal. Mimicry, insults, teasing, isolation, they would easily hit and bite to get their point across if we let them.
I struggle every day to let them have their own relationships with each other within the rules of the pack. Always with an eye toward their adult selves and the time (hopefully in the distant future) when they will have a family unit without us, my husband and I try to guide without micro-managing. I still study families, but now I pay most attention to the relationships of grown up brothers.
When I get to know a man who has a strong relationship with his sibs, I ask what is was like growing up. “Oh, we fought a lot I guess,” I always hear. “But we did stuff together too, and hung out.”
In our wolf pack the pups are constantly connected even when they’re apart, and I see the relationships evolving. So we will do our best to keep the group cohesive and try to provide an environment in which the bonds can strengthen. And I will try not to be a third wheel in their attachments, since I want them to grow up and have relationships that don’t depend on my presence.
Though I would like to be there if they ever see each other across a grassy field…