There are common (and unhelpful) stereotypes about how much siblings normally get along. We take a look at how to encourage 'family friendships' and nurture strong sibling bonds that last.
By Kelly George | fearlesshomeschool.com
"Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way." - Pamela Dugdale
“Wow, you guys spend ALL your time together? Don’t your kids just fight non-stop?”
Most people get asked the socialisation question regularly. With five children close in age I rarely get asked that. Instead, I get asked how we’ve possibly managed to homeschool for a decade without my children murdering each other.
The unspoken assumption is that siblings aren’t meant to be close friends, that significant conflict is a normal and unavoidable part of being related. Outside friends are preferable to family, hence the constant ‘socialisation’ concerns most homeschoolers encounter.
Schools reinforce and perpetuate this idea. Segregating ages splits siblings apart, and creates the idea that friends are meant to be the same age as you. Many schools even have a policy of putting twins in different classes, so they don’t spend ‘too much’ time with each other. For anyone with twins such as mine, who are closer than any two people I’ve ever met, this policy seems cruel.
Why are there socially accepted rules that aim to weaken the bond between siblings?
The strength of siblings
When our children were young, my husband and I spoke about what we both wanted for them in terms of friendships. Our ultimate conclusion was opposite to that of society in general – we believe family relationships are meant to be the strongest, and should come before any others.
Knowing someone intimately for your whole life, sharing a common background and life experience, can create a depth of relationship that no outsider could ever compete with. We decided that one of our goals would be to encourage and support deep relationships between our children.
Homeschooling as an environment for building relationships
Many people cite building strong sibling bonds as a major reason for homeschooling.
And homeschooling can be an effective way of uniting siblings. Many homeschooling families have very close relationships and an obvious ease with each other. Observing homeschooled teens being affectionate and companionable with their siblings has made me realise that the stereotype of eye-rolling, impatient teens embarrassed of their family isn’t normal, it’s socially manufactured.
Ten years on, I’m confident that our goal of deep sibling relationships is being achieved. My children are great friends, close confidants, and content in each other’s company.
It's not all smooth sailing
Does this mean that my house is a peaceful, harmonious place at all times? Unfortunately not. We may be close to each other, but we haven’t worked out how to achieve sainthood yet. We have our fair share of screaming, hysterical fights. Living and working together in close quarters can be challenging.
The difference with homeschooling is that the challenges need to be sorted out. They can’t be ignored. My kids can’t have an argument then leave it to fester and build for months, while they carry on with their other life at school. They can’t be strangers to each other. We can’t sweep our issues under the carpet and pretend everything is fine.
Proximity forces children to learn to express their emotions, negotiate, and resolve conflict as it appears.
However, homeschooling is not magical relationship medicine. Homeschooling in itself doesn’t guarantee fantastic relationships, any more than school guarantees poor relationships. And as usual, it’s up to us imperfect parents to set the tone and guide the way, to be intentional about creating and nurturing strong family relationships.
The parent's role in encouraging family friendships
We need to -
- be the positive examples, the encouragement, the UN-worthy peacekeepers and negotiators.
- create a family dynamic of mutual support, of celebrating and commiserating together.
- make sure that each child gets as much time and space apart as they need,
- ensure we recognise each child as an individual, not lump them into a group
- have and communicate the attitude that family is a wonderful thing, to be protected and treasured.
- create shared goals and a teamwork mentality to develop a collaborative atmosphere rather than a competitive one
What makes me happiest
Some of my happiest times are when I watch my children enjoying each other’s company.
Seeing my boys snuggled up in bed with an older sister while she reads to them. Watching them work together on a joint project, involving enthusiastic debate about what to do next. Or seeing them playing happy, scream-filled games together, their joy transparent.
Some of my proudest moments have involved watching them unite against adversity. This has been as simple as presenting an assertive defence against a bully in a playground, and as complex as caring deeply for each other in times of pain or grief.
As an only child, I have trouble comprehending their deep and complex relationships with each other. But I do know that what I see feels incredibly right, that it satisfies something deep inside me.
Observing my children as they grow, I’m confident that the bonds they are building now will continue to strengthen, and that they will continue to rely on each other as adults. By homeschooling, we’ve helped to create an unrivalled support group and cheer squad, that our children will always have the support they need. And if that’s the pinnacle of our homeschooling achievement, we’ll feel like we’ve done a fantastic job.
"A sibling may be the keeper of one's identity, the only person with the keys to one's unfettered, more fundamental self." - Marian Sandmaier