But talking about how brothers and sisters may have shaped our lives is, for many, new and sometimes unsettling territory. Yet we spend more time with our siblings under the same roof than we do with our parents. In 2014, 92.8 percent of all fathers with children under age eighteen and 70.2 percent of mothers worked outside the home. Still, the majority of research has focused on the influence of parents in our lives, while the significance of siblings has been strangely neglected.
When the topic of siblings is raised, the operative response is “sibling rivalry.” A slew of books have been published on the subject, including Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s bestseller, Siblings Without Rivalry. In the authors’ introduction, they discuss the focus groups they ran and the questionnaires they compiled. They discovered that sibling rivalry was the number-one leading concern of parents. Mothers and fathers were often overwhelmed and at a loss at how to “help their children live together so they could live too.”
But the sibling relationship is deep and layered. It is potentially life’s longest-lasting family relationship and rarely static. It changes over time. Siblings outlive their parents on average by twenty to thirty years. What may be a contentious, competitive relationship with our siblings in childhood can become a close, important one later in life.
Our siblings can be the only intimate connection that seems to last. Friends and neighbors may move away, former coworkers are often forgotten, marriages end in divorce, but our brothers and sisters remain our brothers and sisters.
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