A few weeks ago, I started a peer learning programme with fellow adopters around siblings. It’s an eight-week course where we look at the challenges in adoption on a particular area and learn from each other, as well as me giving some strategies to help.
It’s a new subject matter for me and even though I am one of a sibling with my brother and of course have three siblings as children, it’s not a subject I’ve researched much about. So, this has been an eye opener for me. There are so many facets to being a sibling and raising siblings that are coming up and occupying my mind.
So, if you are part of a sibling group yourself, are raising siblings or indeed working with children who have siblings then this might interest you too.
The book I’ve been reading to help with this is called Siblings without rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It isn’t focused on siblings who’ve experienced trauma necessary, which is what has made it helpful for me. Knowing that ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ siblings have an intense rivalry built within them has helped to see that the extremes we sometimes get in adoption are not exclusive to trauma.
Why is there such a rivalry there then? Lots of different reasons and of course not every family experience this. Here are some that I found useful to consider: –
- Deep desire for exclusive love of parents – we are all born with a need and drive for connection to our caregivers. We want exclusively to have the attention we need and it’s a case of survival. My youngest son is working on a farm right now and watched some baby goats being born yesterday. He commented on how they came out so easily and then these little kids started walking virtually straight away. Unlike us as humans that rely so heavily on our parents to sustain life for us. We cannot wonder off on our own – we need adults to help us to live.
- Threat of what is essential to well-being – “less for me”. As a follow on from the point above we need adults to supply us with the things we need to survive. If there’s someone else who also needs that adult, then there may be less for us. When we’ve had that undivided attention for a few years and then another baby comes along and takes that attention we can subconsciously, or even consciously, fear that there will not be enough to keep us alive too.
- Drive for closeness and bonding – we are all created for relationship. The ways our brains develop, for example, is based very much on repetitive patterned activity with the closest people to us – our parents. We need that closeness and bonding to develop properly. Again, if we must share then it can hinder us (or at least we feel that it will).
- Finally, a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. If my parents show my brother more attention than me then surely, they don’t love me as much – I must be unlovable. Comparison and competition can be rife in siblings and can damage our self-esteem and confidence.
So much involved in those early years let although the physical aspects of sharing our things, space, and time with another little human being. No wonder siblings fight so much and try to get each other into trouble so much.
That’s in ‘normal’ families – then add the trauma bond that can be there when siblings experience terrible home circumstances and must help each other to survive that. Many siblings in care struggle to have healthy relationships with their siblings and it’s no wonder. Ours, for example, their roles were confused from the start. Instead of being able to rely on adults to meet their basic needs they had to rely on each other and the eldest, typically, takes on that role without having the skills to meet those needs. Children trying to parent other children is not a good start for any of the children involved.
In our discussions in this group, we’ve talked about our own siblings growing up and how those relationships are now. It’s interesting to see the stages they go through and there were some common themes. The early years, when we all need things from our parents, are harder to navigate. As you get into the adult years those relationships change and some can be better, others can be worse. For me the loss of both of our parents has changed that sibling relationship again, as I’m sure is the case for others. Knowing that you are the older generation is sobering at times!
One thing we could all mainly agree on was that when the chips are down, we know our siblings will be there for us. Whatever we may have gone through in the early years, we know that we can rely on them in times of need. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and I’m sorry if that is your experience as you read this. I pray for my children as they get older that the bond between them will grow and not be a trauma bond but an unbreakable bond that will sustain them in difficult times as well as give them times of fun and joy together.
Whatever your experience is I guess it’s worth reflecting on how it’s changed and are there still ways you could help to bring those relationships to a better place? If you are working or living with vulnerable siblings – how can you help them to develop an unbreakable bond and to appreciate the differences and similarities everyone brings to a sibling group? I know I appreciate mine and what he brings to me and my little family now, and I hope my children will appreciate each other more as they grow too.