Seeing your brothers and sisters over the holidays can add yet another layer of stress to these family get-togethers. But in fairness, suggests Jeffrey Kluger author of the new book, "The Sibling Effect," this might have nothing to do with sibling relationships.
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The stress of travel, baggage, logistics, and fatigue can add a lot of chaos to an environment that may already have childhood tensions and old wounds simmering just beneath the surface. Seeing a flicker of these behaviors in a brother or sister can spark familiar reactions and resentments in grown-up siblings who have long ago stopped living under the same roof.
But even though a sister's bossiness or a brother's stubborness can drive you nuts, you don't have to respond to them in the same old ways. Like fine wines, some sibling conflicts may mellow with age — and time apart.
"There may be no relationships that can run quite as deep or survive quite as long as those among siblings," says Kluger.
His book offers an in-depth look at how sibling bonds influence us — covering birth order, only children, twins, gay siblings, divorce, fights, favoritism, blended families, and more. It's also a personal tale, as Kluger, a Time magazine science editor, weaves in stories of being the second-born among four brothers, with a half-brother and half-sister, and two former stepsisters.
"For plenty of us, the only ones left at the end of the dance [of life] will be the brothers and sisters who have been with us the longest, loved us the hardest, and, by a wide margin, know us the best," writes Kluger. We interviewed him recently about the sibling ties that bind and mold us.
Q: Any tips as the holidays approach and we may see our siblings?
A: When families fall back together, we fall back into rhythm: Being among your siblings or in a childhood home can trigger familiar habits — even if we're 10, 20 or 30 years older. While old feelings of resentment, anger and hurt are very real, recognize that perhaps old scripts are playing out in a new era. Also, drink less and be mindful of what you say.
Q: Why do we often revert to our childhood roles around our brothers and sisters?
A: It's the comfort of old familiar patterns. When you're around one another, you're more inclined to re-adopt the earliest software encoded. These are the childhood imprints you took with you that will never fade. Someone once told me "Of course your family can push your buttons, they're the ones who installed them."
Q: Why do siblings have the ability to get under your skin like no other person can?
A: Bad habits get magnified when we're together so often and there all the time. Having siblings means you have in-home sparring partners, and kids are hard-wired to fight. It helps them learn real-world skills, such as standing up for themselves and competing. It's in kids best interest to compete for their parent's love, attention and time.
Q: Who fights more: brothers-brothers, sisters-sisters, or brothers-sisters?
A: Brothers tend to thrash things out physically, and it's the most common kind of sibling combat. Fights between sisters tend to be more verbal and louder and do more emotional damage. Since girls tend to be more candid and open, you know someone's weak spots and can use it against her. Surprisingly, it's the brother-sister matchup that has the most physical provocation. Typically it's the younger brother who flails quite readily at an older sister. She'll react either by rolling her eyes or stiff-arming her sibling away.
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