When my wife was young and she was first learning to talk, she called two other women “mom” in addition to her mother. Polygamous family? No. The other women were her then-teenage sisters. Given the often large families that Mormons have, I suspect her experience of being well over a decade younger than some of her siblings is not uncommon. I’m interested in how these large age differences affect sibling relationships when everyone is grown.
I’m at the older end of my family of origin. I’m closest to my sisters who are closest to me in age, I think largely because we shared more age-specific experiences growing up. Certainly we fought and argued, but I think the fact that we were close in age meant that similar things were important to us at the same time. We were (largely) going to the same schools at the same time, for example. We even had overlapping sets of friends and sometimes went to the same parties. So given our shared experience, it’s been fairly easy to maintain our relationships into adulthood.
But with my younger sisters, it’s been more difficult. We were far enough apart that we didn’t care about the same things at the same times. When I was a teenager, they were in elementary school. My interests were almost always different from theirs. Sure, I sometimes indulged them and played with toys with them, or they indulged me and tried chess and basketball, but we didn’t connect in the same way that I did with my similarly-aged sisters. And now that we’re all adults, I’m not as close to my younger sisters.
A major obstacle to my getting to know my younger sisters better has been my not taking them seriously as adults. I didn’t even realize this was the case until my wife pointed it out to me. Coming from the younger end of her family, she has had that struggle with her older siblings as she has gotten older. fMhLisa expressed a similar concern when we were chatting about family relationships recently at Sunstone. She said that as the youngest of eight (I think) she’s found it difficult as an adult to have her older siblings take her thoughts or concerns seriously.
Assuming that this is a common issue, and I would guess that it probably is, the cause seems pretty straightforward: old patterns of interaction, learned when one sibling is 20 and the other is 5, for example, can be difficult to unlearn later when a decade plus age gap doesn’t mean as much.
So what I’m interested in is how other people have worked through this obstacle. How have you gotten to know your much older or much younger siblings better once you’ve all reached adulthood? As my title suggests, I wonder if the process is similar to parents and their children having to learn new ways of interacting once the children are grown. I’d love to hear any thoughts or ideas from that situation too.
- 4 September 2009