Enduring Sibling Bonds

Love is a four-letter word. This Valentine portrait of my preschoolers captures its initial innocence and promise. As early childhood lustre faded, love introduced its many faces. Love sparkles, dulls, tarnishes, pouts and hides. Most importantly, love endures. Yes, even when buried under anger.

My preschoolers grew, claiming their own identities and embarking on unique life journeys. As typical with sibling relationships, Matt and Kate routinely weighed in on each other’s choices. Voicing objections became the norm as age, opportunities, independence, and possibilities intertwined. Judgement of each other was always at the ready.

Fairness and balance are hard to maintain in any family life. However, when disability is added, juggling becomes more complex. Matt yearned to have more friends, opportunities and freedom. He was keenly aware that these things seemed to fall in his little sister’s lap. Meanwhile, Kate became acutely aware of how Matt’s disability heightened his vulnerability on many levels.

Matt took his big brother role very seriously, citing risks and stressing caution about what his little sister should do. Not surprisingly, resentment and frustration blossomed on both sides. That was particularly true during the teen and early adult years. I suspect many parents can relate to feeling like a referee.

Determined, rooted and kind, Kate has strong memories of those turbulent years. Maturity and motherhood broadened and softened her perspective related to life with her brother. She still vividly recalls an array of tense, funny, and risky situations that arose. Now in life’s rear-view mirror, Kate doesn’t hesitate to revisit. She excavates old memories, gleans insights and laughs about how our family worked it through. With hurts shared and forgiven, her empathy runs deep.

Unconditional love is lubricated with endurance and resilience. As with parental love, sibling love persists through thick and thin, winding through the river of life. Sometimes the love gushes, swirls, flows gently, retreats or gets stagnant... depending on the changing environment. While gushing typically retreats early in long-term relationships, the other phases stay for the long haul.

Travel on life’s river is ever changing, risky and rewarding. My husband, Neil and I remain vigilant at our son’s side, while knowing there will be a time to step back. We’re comforted knowing that our daughter won’t hesitate to assume our pivotal role in supporting her brother. Having worked through sibling angst, they’ve clearly earned each other’s respect. Kate has reminded me that a few residual hot button triggers remain on both sides. But isn’t that true for all of us?

Fiercely independent, Matt wisely seeks input from trusted sources whenever he feels a need. His sister is someone who he routinely consults. But to be clear, he’s seeking input, support and reassurance, not unsolicited advice. Equally wise, Kate opts not to “should” on her big brother.

I salute all siblings who travel on life’s river together. Tarnished or not, sibling bonds are lifelong. Overdue for a polish?

Susan Dunnigan

February 2023