We have so many expressions that teach us about family bonds or devotion that is familial. “Blood brothers,” “blood is thicker than water,” and “blood kin.”
The implication is that relationships among family members will always be stronger and more important than our other relationships. I haven’t found that to be the case in my own life, in certain instances, but most take blood ties as a given – that parents will be there for you, that siblings will support you through tough times, that even distant relatives will step in and stand by one another when the going gets tough.
This may not be the case.
In college, I realized that I was forming friendships with other women that might endure a lifetime. Many of these relationships were close for 20 years and longer. While distance and the conflicting priorities we all deal with in life have strained one or two of these friendships, these women remain in my heart forever.
One woman I’ve known for 25 years is, for me, a sister.
Why Do Adult Siblings Feud?
Strangely, siblings are not there for us more often than we may realize. We hear about sibling rivalry of course, and we hear about rifts in families that may persist for decades. The sibling relationship can be particularly delicate: societal expectations of “family” run high, misunderstandings from childhood leave wounds, or siblings simply dislike each other and time doesn’t change that fact.
This article in The Daily Mail speaks to the long-standing silence between actress Julia Roberts and her brother Eric, refers to “squabbles” between siblings, and mentions other famous brothers and sisters who have virtually no relationship.
Dr. Pat Spungin, child psychologist, is quoted in the article. She says:
… it’s unusual, though not unknown, for some siblings to hate each other from the moment they first set eyes on each other – in short, a personality clash.
More commonly, there is a reason for the dislike many adult siblings feel for each other. Usually, it has its roots in how they were treated as children.
Psychology of Sibling Relationships: Do You Treat Your Children Differently?
My own sons are close in age and very different in terms of interests and nature, but they seem to enjoy each others’ company and have respect for their varying skills.
To a large extent, I treated them in similar fashion as they were growing up, though they may say otherwise. One was more responsible very early on, and mouthier, too. He was given more freedom. The other had his head in the clouds, was more challenging to understand, and I was slower to accommodate his requests for independence. I did not, however, explicitly compare the two. You know the sort of thing – “Why can’t you be more like your sister when it comes to…” or “Your brother can do this, why can’t you?”
Dr. Spungin reminds us that “comparing makes your children into competitors rather than allies.”
When adult siblings don’t get on, what commonly happens is they have a major ‘falling out’ over something apparently quite trivial. In fact, the trivial thing is just a cover for a much deeper issue, usually to do with favouritism, that still hasn’t been resolved from childhood.
Betrayals by Blood
Squabbles and dislike among family members are one thing, but I’ve always been fascinated by betrayals that run far beyond personality clashes or miscommunication. Haven’t we all seen the soapy dramas on television involving a man having an affair with his wife’s sister? Don’t we find the sister’s role in the trio more appalling than the errant husband’s?
Our expectations of blood are set from an early age: family should be absolute; blood ties ought to guarantee loyalty or at least, decency; family is “always there for you.” And in the example of a woman sleeping with her sister’s spouse, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that sort of violation.
Occasionally, I read online about family reunions, and I ache for a large family, for the days I remember in my grandmother’s home, for siblings I wished I had, able to pick up the phone and call, for the sense of belonging that I imagine is taken for granted by many. Naturally, I’m well aware of families in which rifts and fighting are the norm, ties are severed, and the resulting wounds are deep and difficult to bear.
Reliance on family members is what “blood” ought to be – oh, not without its issues as in any relationship, but family should stand together, help each other, never walk away in indifference much less knowingly cause pain.
I wonder if Julia and Eric Roberts will ever make amends. I wonder how common this phenomenon truly is – squabbling and silence. I would like to think that were I in a similar situation, I could wish my siblings well no matter what and mean it, although experience has taught me time and time again that “blood is thicker than water” does not necessarily apply.
Yet when I think of my sons, I’m encouraged. They seem to embody the notion that being bound by blood is important, and I take heart in that.
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