Saarbrucken/Graz Being inseparable and fighting like quarrels: Siblings can do both. This sometimes drives parents to the brink of despair. A plea for the value of sibling relationships.
You can’t choose siblings. You’re just born into these relationships and stay big sister or little brother forever. “As a rule, the sibling relationship is the longest we have in life,” says psychologist and psychotherapist Carola Hoffmann. “It is longer than all friends and love relationships and longer than the relationship with parents.”
Hoffmann herself is the sister of a brother and the mother of four children. “You could compare it to a component adhesive: Once you have it on, it’s difficult to get it off again,” she says, laughing. “Siblings are like gummy bears,” wrote the authors Ursi Breidenbach and Heike Abidi. “I experienced with my sisters that siblings really stick together and now I experience it with my sons as well,” says Ursi Breidenbach.
After the umbilical cord is closed again
“But sometimes you get tired of them,” she says, drawing another parallel with gummy bears. “Especially during puberty, when you not only have to detach yourself from your parents, but also from your siblings.” In the end, however, the following usually applies: “You love them for life and after detachment, there is often more closeness again .”
Heike Abidi is the sister of two younger brothers. Even if they didn’t stick together so closely as a girl and two boys, she sees siblings as a community of destiny. “You live close together and have to get along with each other, even if scraps fly sometimes. And when the going gets tough, you’re there for each other.”
Disputes as practice fields
When rags often fly between their children, parents can quickly become annoyed. The fact that such situations are important training grounds is perhaps a small consolation. “Children need friction,” emphasizes Carola Hoffmann. “They look for them in their parents, but also in their siblings, to practice arguments. If we as parents intervene too early, we take this training ground.”
And friction generates heat, the psychologist points out. “When there is friction, the other person refers to me, a relationship develops and ultimately something like a sense of family.” If children fight each other, parents should of course intervene. “But not because I don’t want to fight about the matter, but because it’s about the way you carry it out.”
Heike Abidi has also had good experiences with staying out. “When there was discord between us siblings, my parents never took a position, but were always neutral.” They also set an example for their children to have a good culture of debate. “For example, cutting someone was never an option. As long as you can talk about things, everything is fine, even if the conversation is conflicted.”
You’re missing something without siblings – the authors found that out in many discussions for the book. It is true that siblings often wished they were their parents’ only child in order to get their undivided attention. “But when you get a little bit older, it’s quite nice to be able to stay under the radar and not get all the adult attention,” says Abidi.
“Invisible Bond” cannot replace friends
Even with many friends, siblings could not be compensated. “It’s not the same,” says Ursi Breidenbach. “Only children couldn’t imagine what it’s like when you share your parents and grandparents and can draw on a common pool of memories.”
The authors call it the “invisible bond”, consisting less of the common genes and more of the “do you remember” memories. “It welds together,” says Heike Abidi and Ursi Breidenbach adds: “There are times when other things are more important, the band is stretchy, but it rarely tears and can actually always be repaired.”
That’s exactly what most parents want: for their children to stay connected for life. Can you specifically encourage that? Probably not, believes Ursi Breidenbach. There had been a lot of quarrels and jealousies among her sons, despite the efforts of their parents. If you leave room for the relationship, a lot will be solved. “When the older one was out of the woods, it went away overnight and now they’re very close at 15 and 18.”
Do not fuel competitive thinking through comparisons
Perhaps more advice on what parents should avoid: fueling jealousy and competition among siblings. This is often based on comparison. “The worst thing parents can do is compare. Please don’t do that!” says psychotherapist Hoffmann. “Treat each child as an individual.”
Anyone who has siblings also has allies, for example against their parents. The psychologist knows this from her own childhood. So she always got together with her brother on Friday evenings to be able to watch “Derrick” or “The Old One” for longer – even if they might have argued beforehand.
Incidentally, from three children, they outnumber the parents when it comes to making decisions. “Then you, as parents, can pat each other on the back,” says Hoffmann and can’t help but smile. “If the children want to get something done and realize: ‘We can only do it together’, then you have done everything right!”