My sister Wendy, before my time.
My only sister is ten years older than me. She left home at a young age, so during most of my childhood I described myself as an only child. I wasn’t disowning her or anything, that’s just how life felt.
Growing up, my mother assumed the ten year gap between Wendy and I was too much to bridge and did little to encourage bonding between us. Quite the opposite in fact. To add to the rift, my sister (who’s grown up nicely, by the way) was a cantankerous teenager. There was no way to relate to her in a positive way. I did try. Eventually I figured out I could either ignore her or tease her.
Being the angelic girl I was [insert angelic choir singing here] you can guess which way I went.
For example, when I was in the fourth grade I developed a taste for cottage cheese mixed with ketchup. I’d stir the two together until it looked like a concoction from Fear Factor.
I thought it was delicious.
My sister’s word for it was “disgusting.”
She was pretty dramatic about it too. Every time I’d have some she’d go on about how gross it was. I made a big show of each bite. Her reaction to my taunting did not disappoint. Months after I lost enthusiasm for this culinary delight I continued to request it just to get a rise out of my sister.
Like I said, angelic.
Fortunately, my sister and I are a lot closer now. She’s responsible, is a good listener, and knows just when I need a dose of big sisterly advice.
But we both feel like we missed out on something when we were younger. Buying birthday cards is a challenge, what with all their talk of “secrets we shared” and “laughs we had.”
We don’t have those kinds of memories.
Now, if Hallmark would make a card praising the torturous joy of ketchup and cottage cheese, we’d be in business.
Years later, when Wendy had her two sons, they’d bicker and get on each others nerves like brothers sometimes do. When the oldest would complain that his younger brother was bothering him, my sister would reply, “Well, that’s what younger brothers are for.”
I’d cringe every time I heard this.
She laughed when she said it, but she really meant it. Over the years her children acted more and more like the great purpose of one sibling is to pester the other.
In all fairness, my sister came by this philosophy honestly. I’m not sure I would feel any differently if it weren’t for watching my husband and his brother. I was surprised to discover just how deep the sibling relationship can be.
These two were tight. More than brothers. They were best friends.
When it came time for me to start a family, I made a conscious choice. I wanted my children to be close.
When I was pregnant with my second son (I have three boys, each two years apart), I prayed again and again for Heavenly Father to send my first son a friend. I have a testimony that he did. I’ve shared this with my children countless times.
From the time my children were born we encouraged a sense of belonging. The new baby didn’t just belong to mom and dad. The new baby belonged to big brother too. We encouraged them to play together. To have fun together. To comfort each other if someone got hurt or was sad. To share toys and treats. To be willing to help each other. To remember that while it’s good and important to have friends, that their brothers are their best friends.
I’ve said this over and over again.
I believe it.
So do my children.
I remember once asking my oldest child, “What’s your favorite toy?”
In all seriousness he replied, “My brothers.”
My boys playing in the rain.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops over here. I’ve broken up my fair share of arguments and I’ve resorted to banning my children to separate rooms because I could not stand the bickering for one…more…second.
They’re children and just as likely to get on each others nerves as they are to get on mine.
Still, at the heart of it all, the foundation of their relationship is love, compassion and friendship.
Disputes come and go. Love remains.
I believe that’s what’s meant by that line in The Family Proclamation, the one that tells parents that among our many duties includes the responsibility to teach children to love and serve one another.
I don’t think we do that with Family Home Evenings or lectures or what have you. I think we do that with the way we live. The way we believe.
If we believe, truly believe, that sibling relationships are deep and rewarding, and if we regularly and spontaneously share those sentiments with our children, they will pick up on our conviction and tend to believe it too.
I realize some children may be at odds regardless of what parents do. My sister’s boys are very different from each other. “Complete opposites,” she used to say. She attributed their poor relationship to their opposing personalities.
This may sometimes be true. Still, I wonder. Because in the last few years I’ve witnessed a change.
Wendy stopped saying negative things about sibling relationships. She didn’t seem to expect contention between them and I no longer saw her make a big deal about how shocking it is when they actually got along.
Something settled in her. She became more positive.
And now her children are getting along much better.
These relationships are divine. There are few things more holy than the family. We’re meant to love one another. Blessings always, always flow when we embrace that truth.
I believe The Family Proclamation empowers us in this way. In those moments when our children are bickering to the point where we’d love to pelt them with a ketchup and cottage cheese concoction, we can be reassured.
If we teach them love, ultimately love will win.
I’m a mother of three boys and became acquainted with the scouting and LDS youth programs a little reluctantly. The phrase “Baptism by Fire” leaps to mind. It didn’t take long for my reluctance to blossom into enthusiasm when I saw all those programs have to offer my sons. Visit my site American Jane or my blog America Jane Speaks.