Tag Archives: sibling rivalry

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Siblings

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Earlier this summer, my daughter began reading the Harry Potter series. Like most kids who discover these amazing books, she was instantly drawn to both the plot and the characters. As a result, she now spends most of her imaginary play in the role of Hermione Granger uttering “Oculus Reparus!

But no sooner had she completed Chapter One of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, my son (who read all seven of the books – more than once – two summers earlier) promptly turned around and read the entire series back to back. While I’m sure that her enthusiasm for these stories reminded him of how much he enjoyed them himself, I’m fairly certain that there was also an element of sibling rivalry at play.

It’s not the first time that I’ve witnessed this sort of dynamic between my kids. And there’s a wealth of literature out there backing up the idea that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave.

Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

To wit, here are five recent findings about siblings:

1. Close sibling relationships are good for your health. At least, so says a Harvard University study showing that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65. I’d read about this study a couple of years ago when it came out. What I hadn’t realized is that the purported benefits of close sibling relationships extend not only to mental health, but to physical health as well. According to relationship researcher Mark Morman of Baylor University, siblings who maintain close relationships in adulthood are less at risk for depression and they maintain lower heart rates as well.

2. But only one third of siblings remain close into adulthood. According to scholars in Europe, another third remain relatively close. And while few adult siblings sever ties completely, about 33 percent drift apart entirely, sometimes describing their relationship as distant or rivalrous. (Earlier studies based in the United States offer more favorable percentages.)

3. Despite sharing similar genes, sibling personalities often differ. This is perhaps not all that surprising, given that in an environment of limited resources (read: parental attention and affection), you would expect siblings to differentiate themselves in order to get noticed. Still, siblings who share the same gene pool do tend to resemble one another markedly both physically and intellectually. And yet, their personalities diverge 80% of the time.

4. The effects of maternal favoritism persist into adulthood. According to one recent study in the United States, recollections of maternal favoritism in childhood were more important than perceptions of current favoritism in predicting tension among adult siblings, regardless of age. And children of mothers who favor or reject one child are also more likely to suffer depressive symptoms as middle-aged adults. (Whether and how this extends to paternal favoritism strikes me as an avenue ripe for research.)

5. Being an only child confers some real benefits. There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of birth order  in shaping personality. I also feel like I keep reading essays by only children who want to give their own children siblings, whether to shoulder the burden of caring for an ailing parent or to relieve the burden of being the only one left when one parent dies. But despite the bad rap being an only child sometimes gets, new research suggests that only children tend to exceed other kids in terms of academic accomplishments, sophistication, vocabulary, and even social skills. Precisely because they have to learn skills outside the home – whether at school or day care and the like, they tend to have a greater ability to make and maintain friends and to resolve conflict. Hmmm. Wouldn’t have expected that.

 

Image: Sibling rivalry by esther gibbons via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Skills For Ten Year Olds

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

At my son’s school, they periodically teach the children what they call “life skills.”

I’m not exactly sure what they cover in that curriculum. I suspect that it may have more to do with social/emotional development. But I like the term “life skills,” as it captures something practical about what kids need to do to get on in life, as opposed to just learning facts.

When your kids are little, there are plenty of “life skills” milestones. Potty training is, of course, the first giant hurdle. Sleeping through the night on their own is another one, if you go in for that sort of thing.

But as your kids get older, they also need to acquire certain life skills. And if you’re like me, you wake up one day and realize that your ten year-old doesn’t know how to tie his shoes and you think: Yikes!

To that end, and because April in the UK this year was basically one giant, extended holiday, I decided to devote that month to helping my son master some basic life skills.

To wit, here are ten things all ten year-olds should know how to do:

1. Tie their shoes. I can’t say I’m proud of this. But I looked down one day and realized that with the advent of Velcro, my son didn’t know how to tie his shoes. This concern had actually been rummaging around in the recesses of my mind for quite some time. (And apparently, I’m not alone. More five year-olds today can operate a Smart Phone app than can tie their shoes. But it wasn’t until I took my son to his weekly soccer practice and noticed that all of the other boys were wearing lace up cleats (boots) that I realized it was time to pull the trigger. The good news? He mastered it in about 24 hours. (Seeing a friend tie his shoes without even looking down was a big incentive.) The bad news? It’s really hard to explain, especially when you’re facing your kid as it means explaining it backwards. (Here are some useful tips for how to teach this skill.)

2. Ride a bike. Once again, I know that I was way behind on this one. And my advice to anyone else wondering when the optimal time to teach a kid to ride a bike would be: earlier is better than later. I think that when they are lower to the ground the whole thing is less scary and dramatic. But now that he’s mastered this skill, he begs me to take him for bike rides. Next up? Riding our bikes to school. Can’t wait.

3. Cut with a knife and fork. This was another life skill I added to my list once I realized that I was really tired of cutting my son’s meat up for him every time we ate. I’m not sure if I’m alone on this, but I think that learning to cut properly with a knife and fork is actually pretty hard to teach. (And to learn. Lord knows I’ve seen some adults who struggle with this particular challenge.) Here are some handy tips I found on the Internet. I love #10: be patient. Not exactly my son’s forté. (Nor my own.) Sigh.

4. Employ Good Handwriting. Oh, how we have struggled with this one. For the longest time, my son insisted (and not entirely without reason) that in the age of computers, handwriting is totally passé. (Oh and by the way? Those of you who are nostalgic for the lost art of handwriting? The typewriter has gone the way of the horse and buggy as well.) But over the Easter holidays – and with the encouragement (and insistence) of his English teacher – we went back and actually re-learned cursive (joined up) from the ground up. I can’t say it was always smooth sailing. But boy, did he improve. I also realized that my own handwriting is complete rubbish. (Life skills for 45 year-olds, anyone?)

5. Get along with their siblings. Yeah, that’s more of a work in progress. I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

What am I missing?

 

Image: tying by vistavision via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

Sibling Relationships: Are They Still Crucial in Adulthood?

I was in a bookstore the other day and told my kids that they could each purchase a small book. My eight year-old son came back with a book containing a 1000-question quiz about J.R.R. Tolkien. My five year-old daughter came back with a book about sea creatures.

“It’s a non-fiction book, Mama,” she said proudly, “non-fiction” being a term recently incorporated into her vernacular.

“Great! Why did you choose it?” I asked.

“Because I want to learn lots of facts,” she answered. “So I can be like Isaac when I grow up.”

Her comment went through me like a knife. It was one more sign – like her cross-dressing – of just how much she idolizes her big brother. Whereas he could quite happily live without her.

My husband and I keep hoping that this will change as they grow older. We often tell our son how we both fought a lot with our siblings when we were young, but are now good friends with them. But inside I’m not so certain.

Much of the literature on sibling relationships seems to focus on childhood. Things like birth order get championed as crucial determinants of personality type, and there are loads of books and advice out there for managing sibling rivalry.

But what about sibling relationships in adulthood? Do those matter, too?

The evidence would suggest that they do. A recent study of Harvard grads found that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65.

Which isn’t surprising, of course. For many people, sibling relationships are the longest ones they’ll have over the course of a lifetime. And in America, at least, 96% of all people have at least one sibling.

Anecdotally, we all also know that sibling relationships continue to matter in adulthood. I was quite taken with this article by Emmet Rosenfeld in the Washington Post last month. It tells the story of twin brothers, one of whom (the author) is struggling to make ends meet as an educator (married to an educator) living outside Washington DC, while his brother (a lawyer married to a psychiatrist) lives a rather high-pressured, high-priced lifestyle in New York City.

It’s a very frank account of how the brothers – who grew up in the same family and had very similar undergraduate educations – diverged so markedly once they hit adulthood. And in it, you feel all that familiar mix of jealousy, competition, regret and admiration that so often characterizes adult sibling relationships. (Truth in advertising: I know the brothers in question, though only in passing).

Twins, of course, present a very special case of everything. I’ll never forget one twin friend – a successful businessman, whose brother was a doorman. When asked whether they ever competed as children he answered, “Of course.” Then he paused and added: “And I won.” Ouch.

But if these sentiments sound harsh, it’s because they’re also very real.

And so when I look at my daughter painstakingly copying down the names of all the sea creatures in her little book so that she can one day recite them from memory – as her brother now does with the characters who populate the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I do feel a pang. And I wonder if she, too, will one day feel the need to write a personal essay dissecting the early competitive/imitative dynamic with her brother and how it’s shaped her as a grown-up.

Undoubtedly, she will. I can only hope that they’ll be best friends by then.

*****

If you’re interested in the whole head scarf/women’s rights debate in France, have a look at my piece in PoliticsDaily today.

Image: Sibling Rivalry by Ucumari via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Sibling Rivalry: Is Cross-Dressing the Answer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about sibling rivalry lately. It started with this post in the arch on-line parenting magazine, Babble, which I must confess I found deeply reassuring.

My kids fight all the time. It began when my daughter was born and my son, then not quite three, confessed that he’d “like to throw her in the garbage.” It pretty much went down hill from there. And although as she grows older, they play together more and more, I still spend easily 75% of my time with them breaking up fights (lately, he’s been teaching her how to swear, and I think it says a lot about our household that my husband and I consider that to be progress).

Then I got a hilarious email from a friend with whom I’d shared the above link, who confessed that her kids fight all the time and that she’s not sure what to do about it. Like the author of this article, she lives in a place – she calls it “Stepfordville” – where, as she so eloquently puts it, you hear the “my kids are best friends” bulls#*t all the time (along with, “That b*tch used my recipe and didn’t give me credit,” and “Did you notice Michelle’s boob job?”). Ah, the joys of American suburbia.

I’ve always been a big believer in birth order (here’s a quick primer) and the way in which sibling relationships (or lack thereof) have an enormous impact on who we are as people (Remember that book, Born to Rebel, that came out like 10 years ago claiming that sibling relationships have driven all great historical change?)

I always recommend the book Siblings Without Rivalry to anyone struggling with sibling issues. It provides some great, hands-on advice for how to deal with sibling conflicts (though, as with all parenting books, I seem to forget the “5 Easy Steps” as soon as I put it down…)

I think one of the hardest parts about parenting – and growing up in general –  is learning not to foist your own sibling issues on your kids. In my case, for example, because I was the youngest of four, I find myself naturally siding with my daughter whenever my kids fight, simple because she’s the youngest. I have to fight really hard not to assume that my son is bullying her unfairly.  But when I can stop myself from siding with her automatically, I find that it really helps him not to be as defensive and angry about whatever provoked the conflict (even if he did something wrong).

In the meantime, perhaps I should also take heart in the fact that my daughter seems to want to be a boy. One of her favorite activities these days is to come home from school and put my son’s clothes on. Most days, I simply don’t know what to make of this and chalk it up to a phase of some sort. But perhaps I should take it as a sign that rather than compete with him, she just wants to be him? Hmmmmm…..

******

And speaking of which…On the way to school today, my 5 year old daughter asked my husband if he knew the difference between boys and girls. His initial thought was “uh-oh” (we’re a bit behind on the whole birds and bees discussion, even with our 8 year old son). But just as my husband was about to start sputtering something politically – and anatomically – correct,  she interrupted him and said proudly, as if letting him in on a big secret, that girls have…wait for it…longer hair.

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