What Siblings Teach Us

My brother, my mother, and myself at a celebration for my mother’s birthday. I tried to find a picture without red-eye, and I tried to correct for red-eye, and I succeeded at neither. Houston, Texas, October 2018.

My brother, my mother, and myself at a celebration for my mother’s birthday. I tried to find a picture without red-eye, and I tried to correct for red-eye, and I succeeded at neither. Houston, Texas, October 2018.

My niece and nephew get along a lot better than my brother and I did.

Before my brother protests, a correction: My nephew (the eldest) tolerates my niece a lot better than I (the eldest) tolerated my brother in our childhoods. It took me a long time to overcome the resentment I felt about my parents bringing another kid into the mix.

Parents often—not always—have a better angle on life than their children do. As an adult, I’ve thanked Mom and Dad for bringing my brother along for the adventure.

My brother and I have been closer, and then less close, and then closer again, and I figure this pattern will continue throughout our lives. Once we got past the punching stage, we created memories together that I don’t share with anyone else, and we can reminisce about things no one else fully understands. And I appreciate him as a person, unique and amazing—and different from me. I don’t think we would have known each other if we hadn’t had the same parents, and that would have made my life far paler. I find the notion too terrible to consider. Let’s not.

Many siblings don’t have the closeness my brother and I share. Some don’t speak. Some actively detest each other. Yet I’d venture that even siblings who never got past the punching stage—barring the extreme examples—gained a lot from the more-than-one-child family dynamic.

You’ve Got to Share

Though people credit having siblings for teaching kids to share, they usually mean the sharing of stuff. (That said, I never got to touch my brother’s Transformers. I haven’t forgotten this.)

More importantly, early in life, siblings teach us that we don’t form the center of the universe. Siblings force us to share our parents’ time, attention, affection, and financial resources.

As a small child, nothing matters more than your parents’ affections. Having to share them hurts more than having to share your toys or, later in life, praise from a teacher or your boss. If you’ve had to lick your wounds over your parents’ not noticing your first successful cartwheel because they had to help your brother tie his shoes, you can more easily handle your boss not noticing the extra hours you put into a report as an adult.

Someone Has Your Back

As a child, though you might have to do it elsewhere, you will most regularly and most coercively need to cooperate with your sibling. Even if you think you can’t stand him, your sibling often makes for your only partner in your stance against the world.

Or, at least, your sibling makes for your only partner in your stance against your parents, other adults, and, often, your peer group (which wants to pick on you on the school bus). After all, in your youth, these people make up the only world that matters.

Learning early in life how to get support on these sensitive situations with someone you ostensibly hate pays off from the beginning of college, when you share a living space with strangers not of your choosing, through to the workplace, when you need to team up with people you’d rather avoid.

And sometimes, even when you don’t ask for support, your sibling shows up on the scene and provides it. Even if he rolls his eyes and won’t talk to you afterward. When you need to believe in superheroes, look to your sibling for examples.

You Have a Partner When it Comes to the Parents

Though you may not have liked sharing the spotlight in your childhood, you’ll value having a partner in handling your parents, particularly once you pass the primary-school age.

From childhood through adulthood, your sibling will shoulder with you the responsibility for your parents, from their rough divorce (in my family, anyway), to their grandparenting stages, through to what comes next as the parents get older. (Oh-so-thankfully, my brother and I haven’t had to address this stage yet.)

We All Need Someone Who Knows Us

Other than your parents—and in an entirely different way than your parents—your sibling is the only person who has known you from your nascent self through the time when you left your shared family space.

(Though I hope you know each other far beyond that time.)

No One Else Gets the Household Culture Like Your Sibling

The only person in the world who understands the singular and specific culture of your household, how your parents raised you, and what growing up was like in your familial microcosm? Your sibling, who lived it with you in lockstep.

Your sibling will have a different perspective on your shared experience, sure. Yet you won’t have to explain everything to him from scratch for him to get it.

And just like you, his mom will have brainwashed him to never chew gum.

Siblings Can Provide Opposite Sex Insights

If you have the luck of an opposite-sex sibling, you will spend a lot of time around all his or her friends, none of whom will see you as much more than a neuter.

Hanging around like wallpaper among a bunch of similarly aged kids means you get to see the opposite sex in its wild, natural state over the course of all stages of growth and maturity. Like an anthropologist studying a different species, I learned how boys really spoke to each other about girls in their peer group (you don’t want to know), about what they worried over during puberty (PG-rated example: who got arm-pit hair first), and what boys did in their downtime (PG-rated example: lots of Nintendo).

This helps you understand men and women later, trust me.

Siblings Teach How to Take Meanness

Siblings can wound you like no one else.

My brother trended toward the sweetheart over the meanie, yet even he had his moments. Most parents don’t intentionally hurt their children. Schoolmates will try to hurt you, and often they succeed, yet none of them will know how to really wound you to the core like your sibling does.

Sibling meanness toughens you up for the real world. The real world isn’t nice all the time. And sometimes, even the cruel world can’t hurt you like your sibling has hurt you.

Siblings Force Conflict Resolution Skills

As we have no choice other than to coexist with our siblings, at least while under the parental roof, our siblings teach us how to resolve conflicts. Sometimes shoving works, yet it won’t work all the time (and especially not once the younger’s size eclipses the elder’s; I learned this through experience).

Once you realize that shoving doesn’t solve all that annoys you, you’ll realize that you have to work together toward a middle place.

Even if the middle place turns out to be an imaginary dividing line in the back seat over which no one can cross, not even with just a finger.

For Each Sibling Group, A Set of Specifics

In each unique sibling group, a unique set of lessons.

As for what having my very specific brother has taught the very specific me, well, I promise that I’ve learned plenty. When it comes to examples, I don’t even know where to start.