Growing up, we watched my parents’ and their siblings go through the ups and downs of sibling relationships. The paternal side just didn’t talk to each other for no apparent reason. The maternal side was always getting into heated arguments with long periods of “I’m not talking to you,” which usually involved spouses and offspring who were forbidden to talk to whoever was cut off. It was traumatizing being a little kid and having your uncle (who lived one street over) drive past you and completely ignore your enthusiastic waves just because he wasn’t talking to your mother. This was how my mother’s side always was. In fact, I easily remember several long stretches of time where an aunt or uncle or even grandmother wasn’t in the picture.
As I got older, I knew I didn’t want to live in this gross cycle of family bickering and epic grudges, but I didn’t really get along with my brother or sister either. Especially my brother. I didn’t even go to his wedding. There was no game plan as to how we would break the doomed fate of our family curse, nor was there any overt interest from other family members to do so, but I knew subconsciously that I just didn’t want to deal with it forever. My parents didn’t provide much guidance in this department. I can’t really blame them; they didn’t know how to get along with their siblings. Simply telling us to “get along” and yelling every time we bickered didn’t really cut it.
Then I had kids. I got to “meet” my siblings all over again through my children’s eyes. My kids don’t know that my brother and me fought like cats and dogs and he called me fat and I called him a girl. My kids don’t know my sister and me got into an epic battle in London which involved us not talking to each other for well over a year. They don’t know any of the stories of our sibling rivalry and personality conflicts. They just think their aunt and uncle are awesome, and my brother and sister love my kids.
Today I found myself waiting at my parents’ house with my son and daughter, waiting for my brother to arrive by car from his home 6 hours away. My mom announced he arrived and the kids raced to the front door to greet him, acting as if a celebrity had arrived. My younger self would have never guessed in a million years I’d be sitting there waiting to see my brother, encouraging my kids to throw their arms around him and revel in his company.
The thing is, somehow I figured out how to break the doom of our family curse. It’s called forgiveness. It’s called a blank slate, and not keeping score. It’s important not to be judgmental and to calibrate your expectations. It’s extremely difficult to do. I’ve never been good at biting my tongue. However, when it comes to families, keeping trivial opinions to yourself can save everyone a lot of grief.
I want my kids to have a trusting relationship with each other and with their parents. I want them to be open and honest with each other but also considerate and empathetic. I want them to enjoy each other’s company and to make it their personal responsibility to take care of each other–forever. This doesn’t mean one can be a freeloader, but it does mean they need to lift each other up instead of put each other down.
I can’t guarantee that my kids will always be subscribers, but as long as I’m living I figure my job is to be the glue of the family, and to teach them how to keep it up.
That’s the goal, anyway.