Recently I read a news article stating that having siblings may be the key to enjoying a long and satisfactory life. Some of my Facebook friends shared the article and tagged their siblings. As an only child, I wondered, “Should I be concerned?” Perhaps my life won’t be as fulfilling.
I grew up in a time when having an only child was still questioned, and many myths about only children abounded, the primary ones being that they were spoiled and couldn’t share. My mom was always on the defense when anyone criticized having an only child.
As for me, she always made sure there were plenty of playmates around, so I did have to learn how to share. And as for being spoiled, I never felt I was spoiled with material goods. But as for being spoiled with attention? Yes, definitely. And I did have many opportunities for travel and education that I possibly would not have had if I had siblings.
Did I miss them? A little. I used to lie to my friends at church and tell them I had to pick up my brother from Sunday school. Beyond that, I can’t say, because how do you miss something you never had?
When it was time for Greg and me to have kids, people asked us how many we wanted. I always said one or two, mostly because I worry a lot and can’t handle too much chaos. Some people are just better suited personality-wise to handle bigger families. I cherish my quiet and alone time, and without it, I would not be pleasant to be around.
But after having one, I decided I wanted to experience something different.
There is much to be learned from siblings in the way of competition and compromise, but to this day the childhood sibling relationship baffles me. The other day my two children sat on opposite ends of the couch, doing nothing but goofing around. It started innocently enough but ended in a fight. Mitchell can do something minor, just to get under his sister’s skin, and she retaliates.
They fight daily, and sometimes the competition is so intense that I just can’t wrap my head around it. Not having had a model for parenting siblings, sometimes I feel at a loss for how to handle issues between my kids. When friends and family tell me that they used to fight like crazy with their siblings when they were young and now as adults they’re close, I feel so relieved.
But then other times, they have each other’s backs. Julia always wants Mitchell’s sports teams to do well. According to my mom, when Greg and I are away, Mitchell feels responsible for Julia and tries to parent her himself.
And then there was the time this past Halloween when Mitchell dressed up like Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seahawks. We went trick-or-treating in some friends’ neighborhood, where another friend who is an Eagles fan lives. When Mitchell went up to his door, he jokingly said he wouldn’t give candy to a Seahawks fan. The friend posted the story later on Facebook and wrote that Julia then came up to the door and said, “Deal with it, Eagles fan.”
I told her that he posted it on Facebook and she said, “That’s not what I said. I said, ‘In your face, Eagles fan!’”
Luckily, the Eagles fan had a sense of humor.
Then just a few weeks ago I witnessed another moment of support between them at a swim meet. From my vantage point as a timer at the end of the pool, I saw Julia and her friends cheering loudly for Mitchell during his backstroke event.
Afterwards, I commented to her how nice it was that she and her friends cheered for her brother.
“Yeah, I bribed my friends with donuts to cheer for him,” she said.
Although these moments of support are rare at present, one of my greatest hopes is that they will increase with age. After all, who else will have these shared memories of childhood?
For now, I’ll try to remind myself of this when Mitchell and Julia bicker, and when I feel I’m at my wits’ end. The years are speeding by, and before we know it they’ll be adults. Let’s hope the research is right.
Photo by James McKenzie