Sibling relationships are one of a kind. They’re our longest lasting relationships in life, since both our parents and children are of different generations. Moreover, the amount of time spent with siblings during childhood is commonly more than time than spent with parents or peers, or even time alone. Thus, our siblings influence to a great degree who we are, how we think, and what we become. Just think, it’s often through siblings that we learn how to fight and negotiate, and then how to compromise and love.

The Shift

In many families, sibling relationships make an abrupt shift when individuals enter young adulthood and leave the home. Some adult siblings find themselves spread across multiple states. Distance can be further complicated with differing life stages – college, work, marriage, and children. Many find they don’t spend as much time connecting with their siblings as they would like.

Benefits of Nurturing Sibling Relationships

Having a close relationship with a sibling in adulthood is associated with better health outcomes, including better physical and mental health. Adult sibling relationships may also have a large impact on happiness. A 2019 study by Jensen, Nielson, and Yorgason found that mid-to-late life adults who had more contact with their siblings are likely to report greater life satisfaction.

And then there are the perks for the next generation. Whether it’s your children or your nieces and nephews, close sibling relationships gives the next generation added love, support, and mentoring from aunts and uncles. This can be especially true when children leave home and are living away from immediate family but close to extended family. In addition, relationships with cousins are often a source of consistent friendship during a time when other friendships can be transient or insecure.

Having close sibling relationships also sets an example for the next generation, encouraging them to value and invest in such relationships as they grow older. This is especially important for younger siblings who may not exactly be getting along, and who can’t imagine being friends when they are older. If they can see their parents getting along with aunts and uncles who they once used to despise, it can give them hope and keep them from burning bridges when things heat up.

Things You Can Do to Start This Year

Ready resolve to make your relationships with your siblings more meaningful? Here are a few ideas.

1. Start new methods of communication.

This may involve the use of smartphone apps such as GroupMe, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Another good example is the Say app which allows you to have asynchronous video conversations with one or more family members. Common video calling apps such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype are also great to see each other despite being separated by long distances. In a given week, a family group chat might feature one sibling’s baby hitting a milestone, another with a work accomplishment, and another sharing a clip from their child’s concert performance.

2. Create standing dates.

In today’s busy world, if it’s not planned it often doesn’t happen. These standing events could relate to holiday traditions (e.g., cousin gift exchange), key birthday milestones, or watching big sporting events together. For siblings who live further apart, the occasions may have to be less frequent and include activities such as a once-a-year siblings-only lunch date or an every other year joint vacation.

If travel time and expenses make physical get-togethers too difficult to coordinate, consider having regular times to call or videocall, such as a monthly group video call. Those who are able to meet for dinner may even decide to include the missing sibling over over a video call. Whatever your situation, find what suits your family and do your best to keep those important dates.

3. Use events to reach out.

Whether it’s a family vacation, graduation ceremony, religious milestone, or the birth of a baby, these events can be shared with siblings whether they are able to attend or not. Sharing photos or videos along with some of the highlights of the even is a great way to invite love and support from family members who couldn’t attend. A family that loves to cook may choose on Father’s Day to participate in a group chat exchange to show what each had on the grill. Wishing each other happy birthday and sharing some kind thoughts or fun memories (over the phone or in a card) is a great way to show love and express appreciation. Sending an unexpected letter or greeting card to a sibling can often have a much greater impact than anticipated. Such letters and cards often become part of that siblings keepsakes for years to come.

4. Revive old rituals.

Family rituals and traditions bring with them a lot of warm memories. Think about the unique traditions you had growing up and consider ones that might be worth resurrecting. If you always went together to pick out the Christmas tree or light the menorah, you might send a far-away sibling a picture of your own holiday setup accompanied with a message about that memory. If you lit lanterns together at Chinese New Year, or put up your ancestors’ pictures on Dia de Los Muertos, consider ways you might renew such traditions by involving your siblings. If your siblings are local, invite their families to join you in participating in an old family tradition. For example, if you always played Turkeybowl (backyard football) with the cousins on Thanksgiving morning, consider starting that up again when the cousins are old enough. Focusing on positive shared memories and keeping these memories alive in your family can help maintain feelings of connection.

In all of your efforts, remember to start with something small. Call a sibling to reminisce about an old shared memory. Send a text saying you’re thinking of them and express love. Once you start, you’ll know more about worked well and what didn’t, and can then build on the small successes.

Throughout life, different family members may need to take on the role of “kin keeper” to lead out or organize specific events. If your family has someone in this role, identify them and express appreciation for their efforts. Even better, offer to help out in planning and carrying out the next event. If your family doesn’t yet have one, you may want to step into that role. Little steps and deliberate moments of kindness can help siblings feel loved, have a greater desire to stay in touch, and lead to deeper, more satisfying relationships in years to come.

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