Sibling relationship

Amal Chatterjee
11 min readJan 26, 2017


Source : Google photo

When a married couple has only one child, there are no siblings and all the attention is given to the child who enjoys all the privileges in such cases.This changes when the child has a brother or a sister and later perhaps more siblings. At first the child is baffled by the attention given to the newly born and resents it leading to jealousy because he is not used to sharing anything with anyone else. Later as the child grows, he comes to some sort of understanding that the siblings are there to stay so he must share the space, attention and toys with them. This adjustment comes gradually and grudgingly but it comes and the child accepts the siblings.

Later he or she becomes a baby sitter and companion to the younger ones and much later assumes the role of parents if the parents die or leave due to marital troubles .The first child in any family thus becomes very important to the parents who sometimes put too much load on his frail shoulders and expect too much from him or her without realizing that such responsibility on the first born comes with a price that he or she often ends up paying later in life.

There is a story about a pretty girl who was bright and very good in her studies but her father died all of a sudden in a heart attack leaving her the sole responsibility of raising her younger brother and sister. Her mother had died earlier. This poor girl then had to quit her studies and took tuition jobs to earn a little money .The pension and what she earned was not enough to meet all the expenses but she worked hard and kept the siblings going until they grew up, had some education and got jobs. By this time the girl had become middle aged and looked much older due to all the hardship she had suffered for the sake of her brother and sister.

Her boy friend of college days waited for her patiently all these years but she could not marry due to her responsibilities. However, when her siblings were on their own, she announced she was now ready to get married even if it was a bit late in her life to which her siblings dumped scorn on her saying she is too old to get married and should be ashamed of herself. In their society old women did not get married so they ridiculed her. This was once a beautiful girl who sacrificed her life for her siblings who paid her back in scorn and ridicule.

There is another story but it is a true story so I will not reveal the names. There was a beautiful girl whose elder brother called her boy friend a monkey who did not deserve to marry her so she was prevented. The young man very patiently waited and rose in ranks in his job until he had reached a high position and retired. Both were old now and retired still they loved each other. Then one day they decided to get married because the elder brother had died so it was a happy ending of sorts although their golden years were wasted because the elder brother was against them. Later she died of cancer but her loyal husband took care of her until her last breath.

There is a third story I will tell you although this is fictitious yet very common and was made into a very famous movie later on. There were problems between two neighbors due to some disagreements over pigeons so the offending neighbor arranged for the daughter of the neighbor to be kidnapped and killed. The goons kidnapped the young child and decided to sell her to brothel instead of killing her and got some money.

This young girl was the baby sitter of her younger brother whom she loved and took great care of. The bewildered girl did not know what was happening to her and why and could not escape the brothel . She grew up there into a beautiful woman who was trained to dance and sing and earned a lot of money for the brothel at the expense of her personal grief because she always wanted to return to her family. Her father searched for her everywhere but in vain and died heart broken.

Then one day she was dancing in front of a house during a festival in a small town when she noticed an old woman looking at her with loving eyes and she recognized her as her mother. They wept and embraced each other but guess who interrupted them and told her to go away as she was a prostitute and had brought shame on her family? It was her younger brother who she took great care of as a child. The younger brother was ungrateful to his sister who took care of him as a child and treated her badly although her mother wanted her back.

So again and again it all comes back to sibling relationships . The relationship between siblings in any family depends on many things. One factor that plays an important role in sibling relationship is the number of children a couple produces . If a family has a large number of children meaning 8 or 10 then the youngest child will have an age difference of 20 years or more with his eldest brother or sister.

Such a great age difference builds barrier to good relationship as children like to play with other children of their age just like the adults who like to keep company of others of their age group. So even if you grew up in the same family , you hardly ever shared time together playing, reading , listening to music or enjoying each other’s company in other ways.

The relationship develops and grows when people share with each other their time, their interests, their food, their likes and fears, their toys, their happiness and their sorrows. It is very common in any family with a large number of siblings to find joy and happiness with others outside the family . So kids make friends with their classmates in school who are of the same age and have similar interests, who share their secrets and learn from each other good or bad things.

Often you see them develop lifelong friendship that keeps them in touch with each other .They play together, take the same lessons, pass the same exams, have the same teachers . They join the same groups like scouts or go on summer camps together where they learn to swim or fish or just play. They greet each other with joy when they meet again after 50 years at a class reunion and exchange news and photos of their families. They recall with fondness all the good time they had as children and miss their favorite teacher who passed away due to cancer.

The age gap between the siblings is not the only wall they build between them. The older siblings leave the family to get jobs, get married or move to other cities that are far away so that it puts a damper on relationship. I know this because one of my sisters got married and left the family when I was only 4 years of age so I felt nothing for her and did not mourn her when she passed away many years later. You cannot mourn for someone or miss her if you do not develop empathy even if he or she happens to be your brother or sister. It gets worse if your father or mother marries a second time and has kids who are your half brothers or sisters. There is generally speaking no empathy between people and their half brothers or sisters because they live a world apart and do not share anything between them.

In the power struggle for accession to the throne, the young princes during the Moghul rule often killed their brothers, half brothers and jailed their sisters or half sisters but you do not have to belong to royalty to come to such terms. It happens in ordinary families when the time comes to divide the family assets after the death of the parents.Then you see bitter fights between brothers and sisters half or not to get the maximum advantage.

They say that the worst enemies are the relatives because they fight when they see an advantage in fighting in gaining property or money left behind by the parents. Often unwise people die without leaving a will so people fight over what is left and fight if the parents leave behind a mountain of debt and they tend to absolve themselves of any responsibility in paying off the debt.

In the patriarchal society or the male dominated society, the property goes to sons because the daughters get their share of dowry but in matriarchal society, the females married or not also claim the share of the property or money often leading to bitter fights among the siblings. The sibling relationship is sourly tested at such times. They all forget that they all are the children of the same parents and behave only in their best self interest.

I often make the analogy of a hand to show that although it is one hand, the fingers are all different and have different uses. Similarly the siblings of the same parents are all different from each other and develop their own personality as they grow apart in later years. The parents are the glue that keeps them reminded that they are brothers and sisters but once the parents are gone, they go their separate ways often quickly. The parental home is then sold and there is no home anymore where they can all come together even once in a while.

The marriage brings in in laws who are not blood related so there is very little empathy between the siblings and the in laws resulting in bitter family feuds that weakens the ties that were not strong to begin with. This happens anywhere in any country but I would like to focus more on the sibling relationship and not in laws here because that is what I want to write about.

In some cultures there are some mechanisms to make the sibling relationship smoother. In India among Hindus, there is a festival called Raksha bandhan when sisters tie a decorated ribbon on the wrist of their elder brothers which means the brother will always protect the sister and look after her welfare but in many families it remains a ritual without any real meaning due to the interference of the in law. A girl can also tie such ribbon on the wrist of a boy who is not her brother and cement a brother sister relationship. But a ritual remains a ritual without any real importance.

In other countries such as the Philippines people always boast about their families and arrange for grand family reunions but always at the expense of someone who pays most of the cost . A sister who works abroad is often approached for money. The sister or sisters then return with big boxes full of gifts for everyone and the horde of relatives can be seen waiting at the airport any day. Pity if someone returns without the box full of gifts. So it is the gifts and the grand reunion that is used as the grease to keep the family friction at a minimum. Whether there is any real loving relationship between the brothers and sisters is very hard to judge because the same siblings later fight over property and exchange hurtful words.

But a great deal depends on the parents and how they raise their children not to mention the number of children they bring to this world. Parents who plan their family and limit the size are in a better position to raise them with all the privileges and help the children get , give them better education and prepare them for a good life later. The cultural bias against girls in some culture where they are seen as burden instead of asset can play havoc with their lives so the hospitals are banned from ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the baby. Others secretly abort female babies if they somehow find out the sex .This is true in India but females are less favored in many countries which is very unfortunate.

So it is really up to the parents to welcome any child to the family and treat boys and girls equally and fairly. They are the ideal parents but how many parents are ideal in such culture where they are told that a boy is better than a girl? When girls and boys get equal treatment in everything they get from the parents, then they grow up without the feeling that they were unjustly deprived of anything and develop good relationship among themselves and keep it that way. Now suppose a family has only girls or boys then what happens? Then it is incumbent upon the parents to treat their children equally and fairly not choosing one over the other for any reason and give everyone the same chance and opportunity in life.

I know a case where the first born son of a person in his second marriage was so lavished with attention in front of other siblings that he became deranged later on. I also know another case where a brilliant girl of high IQ was so mal treated by her father that she too became mad. These parents could use some serious counseling that are offered in some countries by the social workers. People often do not understand autism so are harsh on their autistic child .They too can use counseling.

It is the parents duty to help their children in any way possible to enhance their feeling of self worth. Such children are happy children and develop good bonding with their siblings although it is not unknown that teen age sisters often fight over the same boyfriend in some countries causing rivalry and jealousy. But the kids who grow up self confident and develop an all round personality do better in life and have better sibling relationships than those who are selfish, do not like to share anything and secretive with low self esteem.

Now let us think about bonding. How does anyone bond with another person to develop good relationship if there is a huge age gap? Children bond with other children and adults bond with adults so that is mostly the universal rule. A child can not bond with his sister who is 30 or 25 years older. Without bonding, siblings stay apart within the family and go their separate ways when they grow up. Most of bonding requires a sharing attitude. You share your time, your toys, your coloring books, your trinkets, your happiness and your sorrows. You share your food, your clothes, your school work, your pennies that you keep in your piggy bank, your excitement , your failures as well as your success. Most of all you share your time to know the other person and ignore or forgive his shortcomingsso that gradually a bond develops between the siblings.

In an ideal situation this bond becomes long lasting and endures over difficult times in one’s life. But we live in an imperfect world with imperfect parents, imperfect siblings who throw tantrums when they do not get what they want, imperfect family where parents quarrel over petty things all the time, unruly school mates who come from broken families and have their own problems and become bullies so how does any child bond and develop good relationship with his siblings first and others later on ? This is where good parenting comes in to play a major role in anyone’s life.

If you feel distant from your siblings due to no fault of your own then do not let that happen when you have your own children. Teach them how to be loving, sharing, caring and mindful person giving good example so that they can bond with their brother or sister.