The last few months have been extremely stressful to me. And support came from a much unexpected quarter. My normally irritating younger brother. Now that I’m better I’m amazed at the sensitivity and concern he showed. Having grown up in a joint family it was 8 of us growing together of whom four of us being few months apart from each other were extremely close. We functioned as unicellular entities. Looking back I owe my aunt an apology because it was this very bonding she had with my father we resented.
Sibling relationships are very important, while friends come and go; it’s our siblings who are with us for the longest period of time. I know of my friend whose daughter and sister vie for her attention. Its one relationship was honesty is taken for granted particularly because of shared history. Of course as young Turks a sibling is always a blister on the bottom someone who we love and hate at the same time.
Of course estrangement does occur if you remember the movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, where Pratik Babbar asks Genelia to name his friends, he didn’t have any because she was his best friend. This is the case with most siblings. However the first rupture occurs when the older sibling becomes an adolescent and engages with the world outside. The younger one feels abandoned or left behind.
Often siblings conflicts occur offer the different accounts of shared family history. Actually depending on the personality of the child every child has a unique set of parents, sometimes single parent despite of both the parents being in the same house. There internal conflicts amid the children. Since we were 8 of us we had our own particular bonding.
Think of this, we work at improving friendships, romantic relations, but we take siblings for granted. However if we were ever to resolve sibling rift, a good space might to be take rupture moments and ask each sibling their version of it, in the presence of the other. But the fact is we are verbally more aggressive with our siblings than we are with anyone else. Understanding our family dynamics might help us forge better relationships with our sibling.
My brother and I always argued and squabbled, it annoyed my mom no end. But when I decided to get married he was suddenly very protective he wanted to check my then boyfriend out. After marriage when I did not raise to the bait of his teasing he quietly asked my mother if I was alright and he was worried that I was not myself. That is something that only a sibling can do. If a sibling provides us a safe space to vent, it is also mandatory that we extend politeness and courtesy to our sibling.
Of late I see that there are more single children so sibling rivalry is quite a rare thing. However there are siblings that describe their relationships as rivalries or distant. Among children who are single parented there are younger children who resented the “bossiness” of the older ones and the older ones resenting having to be the ‘caretaker’. Many times it is that siblings are trapped in old behaviour patterns without realizing that the other has grown too. The way it is supposed to be is no more the old pattern.
While western culture is obsessed with Cain and Abel we are preoccupied by Ram and Lakshman. I remember my cousins who decided to play Vali-Sugriva instead had all the old aunties shaking their heads. Often the behaviour pattern of the younger child is based on the observation the child has made of the mother’s interaction with other children. Parent’s relationship with each of the children reflects into the interpersonal relationship between the children and every child’s self-image.
Ruchira, lost her father at the age of 13, suddenly her mother became the sole breadwinner and had to take two jobs leaving Ruchira to take care of her younger brother and sister. She became the default mother. her sister was the princess to be pampered, brother who was the youngest the prince to be looked after while they went about playing and having fun Ruchira had to ensure that the siblings homework was done and they had dinner. Her sister resented Ruchira giving her instructions and Ruchira resented having to be responsible for the three of them. When she approached her mother her mother would respond with “you are older you should be more understanding.’ With adulthood Ruchira’s relationship with her brother no doubt healed though the discord between the sisters still exists.
Studies have shown that the bonding between sisters is the closest and strongest. While brothers tend to be more rivals. Identical male twins are the most competitive. This could be because of their sensitivity to be compared, particularly by outsiders. Girlfriends were the biggest issues. In a social set up where men are supposed to be achievement oriented and aggressive, the comparison between brothers happens and somewhere it turns into a default competition.
In a manner of putting it, our siblings are our ‘first marriage partners’ we invest a lot of emotional stock in them. So when a sibling gets married the insecurity of will we get along or will I lose my investment comes along. Along with this is the anxiety of whether the newcomer can become ‘one among us’ of studies done, on adult siblings 2/3 of the siblings interviewed said that marriage of one of the sibling drove a wedge between them. In several cases the newcomer was ‘not like anybody else in the family’ so getting along with someone different became difficult. This difference was perceived as an effort to keep the siblings apart.
Sibling gets dislodged from being the most important ally and spouse becomes the new cheerleader.
During the lockdown, the govt. India’s mental health outreach brought forward in practise many cases of sibling incest. The effect of which is devastating. A study shows about 16% of the women was abused by a sibling. Though of the women who reached out to me I saw a pattern of joint family, low or middle income small town northern India, the girl child being much devalued. The perpetrator was often an older brother from voyeurism to frank physical abuse. When the girl did complain it was either ignored or the girl was asked to keep quiet to prevent notoriety. In a more urban set up it is the vacuum left parental absence, and a frank preference of the son. One of my patients Abby finally confronted her mother first and then her brother. Her mother refuses to believe that her son could do anything so terrible and took Abby for pertinence in the church. Her brother refused to even accept that he did it.
Abby just wrote her brother, her family off and worked on her anger.
Sibling rivalry does exist, but brothers and sisters who get along well are not weird. Getting along well with our siblings is our birthright. Any rivalry is largely a parenting issue. Where the siblings vie for parental love and attention.
Having said all this I thank the universe for two amazing brothers and two amazing sisters.