About a year ago, my younger of our two sons started to reach a point where he was old enough for a real, interactive relationship with his brother, then five. An only child myself (actually, I have a grade-school-age half-sister, but in terms of upbringing I still think of myself that way), I began to discover a whole new set of fascinated/worried/scared emotions that I thought had departed with the parenthood’s first go-round. This time it was things like: Will they get along? Will they be close? Will they drive each other insane? Will they cause each other permanent physical damage?

My wife, who has a younger brother, shared my interest but much less of the concern. She’d done this drill herself, after all, with two repaired front teeth to show for it, courtesy of a punch during a teen-years fight. (She and her brother get along reasonably well today; no violence on my watch.) But despite her example, I can’t help being immeasurably—and, to be quite honest, irrationally—thrilled when one of my sons shows open affection for the other, and equally disturbed by each cruel or inconsiderate action.

I think only children, when we’re not reveling in not having to share our toys and attention (then) or lamenting the solo burden of our parents’ foibles (now), are always fascinated by all those siblings around us. I remember checking out some of my closer friends’ relationships from afar back when we were all kids: the three brothers, separated by four years, who were as close as identical twins; the more traditional disdain another friend always had for his four-years-younger sister. Other friends—strangely, they’re mostly people I’ve come to know as adults—have outright antagonistic relationships with their siblings, speaking of them in terms of extreme irritation, even contempt.

Of course, as parents, we hope our own kids will always be inseparable, or at least there for one another when it counts. We try to encourage that kind of connection—“Look out for your little brother,” we say—but in truth, there’s probably not much we can do to shape it. As our children take full ownership of their own personalities, which happens almost as quickly as they can express themselves (in fact, almost certainly well before that), they find that they bond with that older sibling, or they clash with him. The bonds may end up deep and lasting, or shallow and easily dissolved; the clashes may be angry and everlasting, or somehow morph into even stronger bonds as the pair age. We’ve all seen every possible permutation, just within our own circle of friends.

So we watch, and keep hoping. Does the watching come easier to those who’ve been through this themselves, I wonder? I’d be curious to hear what parents who do have siblings of their own—that is, most parents—have to say on this subject.


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Comments (5)


  1. Posted by: Tracey

    As someone who is NOT close to her brother, i do worry about it. My parents, however, showed extreme favoritism toward my brother, so they really fostered a crappy relationship. My proudest moment was when my boys argued over who was my favorite and each thought it was himself. :)

  2. Posted by: Linda

    I have three sisters, and it has taken us a long time to outgrow our childhoods, but now at least three of us are close.
    Watching my boys fight (constantly, it seems at times), I pray that they will appreciate one another when they are older.

  3. Posted by: katie h.

    Great article Myles. I’ve always been stuck in the middle: Dave and his sister have a very hot/cold relationship, my best friend and her sisters have an extremely close relationship, but my relationship with my 5yrs younger brother has always – always – been cordial and pleasant, but nothing more. Neither close pals, nor bitter enemies, it’s almost sadder than not having a sibling at all. I wonder with Declan, who is still an “Only”, how having a sibling might affect him if that’s a choice we make in the near future. Would he be resentful having to share our love with someone, or would he be grateful. Would he be resentful if we never do add to our family, wishing he had that great co-conspirator – someone he can show the ropes to and to whom he could lament all of his frustrations over mom and dad. As you say, it’s a total coin-toss. We just do our best I guess and sit back.

  4. Posted by: Linea

    I am very close to my sister, but only in the past few years. Prior to that we led such vastly different lives, we had the shared bond of childhood and an underlying love for each other, but not much in common in the day to day of our lives.
    As far as my children go (a boy, 6 1/2 and a girl, 4), my husband and I try to really foster the “we’re all in this together” viewpoint. We want our kids to know that they are both respected and loved as individuals, but we also want to instill the importance of looking out for one another and family loyalty. It seems to have worked so far! They have their moments, but when the chips are down, they are fiercely protective of each other.

  5. Posted by: olivia

    like another poster, I also have an awkward relationship with my sibling [younger brother] and for that reason am very much on the fence about whether or not to have another kid.

    I do think that, maybe, if our parents had intervened less in our disagreements, we might have better mastery of them now than we do…. on the other hand, it seems that in this day of little to no community we lean heavily, maybe too heavily, on familial relationships.

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