The mom of one of my son’s friends says that she doesn’t keep up with her brother or sister’s families anymore. “As we got older, we stopped making it a priority to get together. Honestly, we are just so different, and we just don’t care to see them anymore,” she said frankly. Not even for holidays? I ask her. No.
That feels sad to me.
But the opposite is true for my friend Kristi, who sees her adult sisters often as well as extended family at yea rly gatherings.
It didn’t happen by accident. It is Kristi’s mom who made sure she and her sisters remained close after they moved away and established their own families and homes.
“Mom would say, ‘Have you talked to so and so,’ and ‘Always take care of each other.” Kristi note that her mom would call to remind her of her sisters’ birthdays. Her mom hosted family dinners and summer beach trips where all were invited.
I so believe that it takes parents being intentional to help their children establish and nurture lifelong relationships with one another. It is so important to me, the emphasis of family and sibling closeness. After all, one day, we parents will not be here and our kids will only have each other.
With my children spread out between the ages of 16 and 29 and in different life stages, here are 15 strategies to help our kids remain close for a lifetime.
- Emphasize to your children the blessing that the other is as you add to your family. Whenever we brought our next new baby home, we always focused on the relationship the new baby has to the older sibling. We’d say something like, “You will be such a wonderful big brother or sister.” I’ve heard well-meaning moms, dads and grandparents say in front of siblings, “They are jealous” of their baby brother or sister.” I believe these kinds of statements are damaging to a healthy lifelong relationship between siblings. Instead, we should emphasize what you would like your kids to feel for one another: love and connection.
- Establish family traditions from the beginning. From nightly meals, to weekly dinners and game and movie nights to family summer vacations and holidays together. Family traditions help us grow together in love. Then, as the family grows and your kids have their own families, it will be more natural to continue these traditions.
Encourage – yeah insist on – siblings supporting one another in the activities they take part in. Tell your kids, “This is what we do, and this is what our family does.” Make it part of your family culture, your family’s DNA: We go to one another’s games, we support one another and we celebrate each other’s milestones. Especially as kids get older and busier with their own activities and friends, we as parents must continue to emphasize this in the life of our family. I
remember my friend Kate always had her older son at her younger daughter’s soccer games, and I would say how much I admired that. “I believe it’s important. My younger daughter was dragged to her older siblings’ events; now it’s time for them to do the same,” my friend Kate would say. Amen.
- Go on family vacations with just your family. I have heard that some parents allow their children to each invite a friend on vacation, but we intentionally didn’t do that. When others are invited along, the family dynamics change. The focus becomes the friend and not one another. You want your kids to experience positive things together without the distraction of others.
- Suggest that your children to include their siblings when they get together with other friends, especially as our kids get older. I think mixed ages and stages are healthy and nice. It fosters more of a community feel, and helps our kids stay connected beyond just our family.
- Starting from a very early age, make sure that siblings remember one another’s birthdays and Christmases with a card and gift. As your children begin this practice from a young age, they will more likely continue it into adulthood on their own. Make sure they are at one another’s parties. Tell them it is a priority. Tell them it is what you do, as a family. Honor one another. It will eventually become a habit.
- If your children say something unkind to their sibling, have them follow up with an apology and saying seven (or five or some number of) nice things. It’s a great rule. Teaching kindness – insisting on it -- within our family helps foster a lifelong pattern of being kind to one another. As we begin to think of positive things to say to one another, it helps us appreciate our sibling for who they are, and not just focus on their shortcomings.
- Don’t have your older kids parent the younger ones. Do your own parenting. Enough said.
- Don’t ever criticize one child in front of their siblings, which goes along with, don’t ever pick sides. Again, enough said.
- Don’t compare your children with one another. One child may be an athlete, one a musician, one a techy. Appreciate each for who they are. So many resentments among siblings begin when parents choose one child’s abilities and interests over another. Don’t do it.
- Pray that your kids remain close and become friends. That is always important and something that is part of every parenting list, but I just want to give it its own number. It’s that important.
Make a party out of everything sibling-ish, family-ish. Have fun together. It is natural as humans, to return to things that are fun and pleasant, so have fun together. Laugh. Don’t be in scold mode all the time with your kids. Make it fun.
- Take lots of photos of your kids together and frame those photos and post those photos. It helps solidify the relationship and remind them of all the fun they have had together.
- Keep on trying to make your kids close, even if they are not close distance wise or emotionally wise. Keep making an effort. As kids get older and establish their own families, it is easy as the parent to stop inviting all of the kids over and to stop doing things together. But, keep at it anyway. That is where Number 2 comes in. If you have not established those traditions, begin now. As your kids begin to have kids, keep traditions alive.
- Remind your kids that friends come and go, but that their siblings are there for a lifetime. They are actually lifelong friends. Yep. When we as the parents are gone, they will always have one another. After all, we are family and family is forever.