You may have fought tooth and nail with your sisters over bathroom time or tormented your little brother by dressing him up in your favorite tutu. Now you and your siblings are all grown up with your own families and careers. Mom and Dad aren’t insisting you “be nice” anymore, but maintaining sibling relationships is still important. Laurie Kramer, a University of Illinois researcher, asserts that positive relationships between siblings as children facilitate better outcomes for adults. An older study out of Harvard (reported in the New York Times) notes better health for older men who had good relationships with their siblings. You might find you like your brother now that you don’t share a bedroom. Here are some ways to strengthen your relationships with your adult siblings.
Celebrate and commiserate
Keep tabs on the important things going on in your siblings’ lives, including new babies, graduations, job promotions or kids' events. If you live nearby, make time to participate in celebrations. If you live far away, send cards or gifts when appropriate. For example, my oldest sister and her husband recently started a new business. I had a plant delivered so she knew I was thinking of her. It is simple to send an ecard or text to acknowledge a small event or milestone.
When your siblings are struggling for some reason, give words of encouragement and offers of help. Drop off a meal or take care of children if the situation warrants. If you live farther away, make personal contact with a phone call, and then follow up in the coming days. It’s hard to be away from family when life gets difficult. Your siblings will appreciate your concern. I also try to pray for family members during difficult times.
Make a private family blog with all the siblings (and maybe your parents) as contributors. Blogger, Wordpress, and Tumblr are three popular platforms. Ask everyone to post on a regular basis and include photos of outings, events and milestones. Soon you’ll have a fun on-going glimpse into your siblings’ lives. Many blogs can also be formatted into printable books, making a tangible memory of your online family history.
Texting is an easy way to have an on-going conversation with your siblings. Send them a funny reminder of something you did as kids. Check in with them on a weekly basis to just let them know you’re thinking of them. I enjoy receiving texts from my siblings. Their messages and photos always put a smile on my face.
I just called to say I love you
If you can’t get together in person, the next best thing is hearing the voice of someone you care about. In this day of tweets and status updates, it’s nice to slow down and pick up the phone. Calling a sibling takes a little more effort than a text, but gives you a chance to have a meaningful conversation and truly catch up on each other’s lives. If you have several siblings, make a goal to make contact once a month.
If time and resources allow, meet your siblings for a vacation. You could go somewhere new, revisit a favorite family vacation spot or have one sibling host everyone. Decide if you want to invite spouses as well. A few days away from the distractions of life will help you renew relationships as you relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Snail mail surprise
Send your siblings a small package for their birthday. My husband and his brother have started sending each other silly things. It’s a small gesture that reminds them of the friendship they began as children and are working to maintain today. You don’t have to wait for a birthday to drop a little treat in the mail. Most people like packages any time of year.
If your siblings don’t live close to one another, getting together for a family reunion every year or so might be the only chance you have to see everyone. This is the case in my husband’s family. We look forward to seeing families we haven’t seen since the last reunion. It’s a priority for us to go. I try to let my husband have extra time with his siblings while we are there. Even if your family all lives in the same town, set aside a day or two to spend with each other and your families. Time together as an extended family is time well spent.
If you come from a large family, you might be closer to some siblings than others. Sometimes it is also hard to let go of difficult childhood rivalries. Recognize that your siblings have grown up just as you have, and try to build a new relationship as adults. And if you are closer than ever with your siblings, be thankful for those relationships, and work to maintain them. We can choose our friends, but we can't choose our siblings. Thankfully, we can choose to be friends with our siblings.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.