The Sibling Effect

By Nancy Wurtzel

Who knows you better than your siblings?  After all, you grew up together, share half of your genetic make-up, and had many of the same life experiences.

Eighty percent of Americans have at least one living sibling.  Unlike friends or partners, we don’t choose our siblings, yet there is an undeniable intensity to this familial bond.  The relationship with our siblings is usually the longest in our lifetime, and certainly one of the most powerful.

“Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life,” said Jeffrey Kluger, author of “The Sibling Effect.”

As young children, our siblings teach us vital social and emotional life skills, like how to interact with our parents and make friends.  Interactions with brothers and sisters demonstrate how to play, get along with peers, strategize, negotiate with others, work as a team, and manage conflict.

However, the relationships between siblings are not always easy.

During childhood especially, siblings compete for parental attention and approval, and kids often perceive that parents favor one child over others.

For their part, parents either consciously or unconsciously, pigeonhole their children — “she’s the smart one, always reading a book,” “he’s the driven, athletic oldest son,” or “he’s the spoiled baby-of-the-family.”

These labels can have an impact, often causing resentment, rivalry and divisions between siblings.

Maturity and the passage of time can help heal these wounds.  As siblings move into adulthood, age differences and birth order become less significant, allowing the brothers and sisters to be on more equal ground and see each other more objectively.

During these years, it’s typical for sibling connections to ebb and flow, mainly because everyone is busy with careers and families of their own.

Proximity also plays a role in adult sibling relationships.

I’m the youngest of three daughters. While my middle sister and I live only a few miles from each other, our oldest sister resides more than 1500 miles away.  The physical distance between the two of us and our older sister is challenging.  We work hard at staying in touch, but we can’t just call her in the afternoon to suggest a last minute dinner and movie.

Sometimes siblings take different paths in life but come together during a family crisis.

Judy Freedman (at right in photo above), a retired communications executive from Southern New Jersey and midlife blogger, says that she and her older sister Nancy (at left in photo above) didn’t have the same interests or friends when they were children growing up in New York City.

Nancy entered college at age 16, later becoming a social worker and making her home on Long Island.  Judy took a different route, joining a large company and steadily moving up the corporate ladder.