Though many siblings experience a close relationship while growing up; many others find themselves in contentious relationships with their brothers and sisters.  One day it suddenly dawns the   brother thought to be an enemy is actually a friend.  How and when did that happen?  

There is no one theory about how siblings will interact as adults.  Some become best friends while others share little or nothing of their adult lives with their siblings.  Behaviors that were tolerated (or not) while growing up, may no longer take space in a sibling’s memory; but for others, past hurts scar deeply.

Mother's day clip of brothers fighting


Birth Order is Significant

Most therapists support the theory that there are specific characteristics indicative of the birth order of children.  Over and over these characteristics are displayed in families.  The oldest child is often put into the role of parent, the middle child is often ignored, and the youngest is often the one most protected.  Unintentionally, parents can thrust children into these roles which may create barriers for healthy relationships to develop between the children.  Children who have brothers and/or sistes who are much older than themselves have a distinct dilemma.   Though they may be the youngest child; if their siblings are much older, they may feel like and take on the characteristics of an only child.  

Positioning of the person’s birth order may develop characteristics and behaviors that carry on into adult relationships. Childhood battles between siblings often define how they will relate to others.  Like parents, siblings teach each other how to interact with others in different situations.  Family therapist Walter Toman suggests that birth order determines personality characteristics that shape the choices people make, the likelihood of success, and how they feel about themselves.[1]

Home Environment a Factor in Sibling Relationships

Children can be considered then, not only a product of their parents, but of their sisters and brothers as well.  Brothers and sisters offer each other the opportunity to explore and test their world; for example trust may first be established with parents; but, it is often supported or destroyed by acts of siblings.  Molest by siblings is more prevalent than molest by a stranger.[1]

The relationship of children with their parents greatly influences the relationships they will have with each other. While some parents knowingly manipulate their children’s behavior; other parents can unknowingly pit their children against each other in an effort to win favor or attention.  Families adding new members tend to see this occur with regularity; however, at times, the already established child or children may not overtly display their displeasure at being usurped of their position.

Economic conditions of the family can put stress on the children's relationships as well.  Whether or not children have two or one working parent, many children are left in the care of older siblings.  This sets up the role characteristics for birth order to play out.  Furthermore, the specific dynamics of a family unit may bring more cohesiveness to the sibling group in that family than in other families with different dynamics. 

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A good example of the intricacies of siblings.

Once an Enemy Now a Friend

Family therapists see the value of assessing the sibling dynamics of families.  Examining who sits by whom; who dominates conversation; and who takes charge of the session give many insights into how the family works as a unit.  Often perceptions of childhood that are carried into adulthood are faulty.    Perceptions are always different for people and siblings who are in different developmental stages definitely won’t see eye to eye on things. What may feel traumatic to one; may be barely noticed by another.

Ann Landers; Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Photograhper: Fred Palumbo, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Photograhper: Fred Palumbo, Source: Wikimedia CommonsPauline Phillips aka Abigail vanBuren (Dear Abby); Photo courtesy of Easter Seals, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of Easter Seals, Source: Wikimedia Commons











As people age and grow in maturity level, awareness and insight; they begin to experience siblings in a new way.   Most often it is these insights into their own behaviors and beliefs that allow siblings to connect with each other in a different way.  Sharing perceptions brings awareness and the opportunities to amend for past hurts.  “I didn’t know you felt that way;” or “I never knew that,” is often said when siblings are discussing their childhood together.

When insights are shared, open communication allows siblings to unburden themselves of childhood issues and build the bridge of friendship with each other.  Some siblings may never be able to do this; their own personal issues won’t allow the honest expression of emotions and perceptions, nor the ability to hear what their siblings are sharing.  Others may discuss their views and find that they continue to be miles apart from their siblings.  The fortunate ones will share information, work through past hurts and end up with a friend who also just happens to be their sibling.


The copyright of the article The Intricacies of Siblings is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Siblings: You're Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together (Laugh & Learn)
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Use this kid-friendly book with illustrations to help children learn how to navigate the intricacies of living with siblings. This book doesn't dwell on sibling rivalry, but on ways to have positive relationships with siblings.