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.