Conflicts between siblings seem inevitable, especially since we are spending more time at home due to Covid.
Parents with two kids or more often have to juggle work and deal with domestic distractions such as squabbling children. It can get frustrating, especially if parents don’t have any help.
But parents playing judge and jury (and often peacemaker!) works only when the children are younger. What happens when children grow up? Sibling rivalry can lead to some unhealthy consequences.
And what about our own relationships with our adult siblings right now?
It begs the question: How can siblings work on nurturing their own inter-relationship bonds themselves, rather than always placing the responsibility on their parents?
Since it’s International Sibling Day today (April 10), here are some tips on how we can appreciate our siblings better:
Respect each other’s privacy
No one likes it when their personal space is invaded. It becomes especially true when it comes to siblings, even though (and often a result of!) we live under one roof.
Living together does not necessarily mean that we have to know everything about the other person’s life on a daily basis. We should still respect each other’s privacy.
Learning to respect sibling boundaries can also show that you actually care by allowing them to have their personal space, and that can lead to a stronger relationship.
Ally, 19, says that in their secondary school days, she and her older brother Bryan, 23, barely spent time together due to their schedules.
“It also made us strangers. There was a time where we didn’t talk for years,” she tells The Pride.
So when they moved to Singapore for study a few years ago, staying together was awkward.
Says Ally: “He would glare, scoff, or ignore me. But as time passed, he would start sharing about his games. Nod when I ask him questions. He just isn’t the talkative type.”
She admits that even though they aren’t as close as other siblings who fight and banter together, she knows that he will always have time for her.
“This experience has taught me that relationships can be found again.. we slowly realised that we will always be there for each other.”
She says that her renewed relationship with her brother has also put her parents at ease.
Due to Covid, the siblings have been separated again – Ally in Singapore with their mum and Bryan in Malaysia with their dad.
“Sometimes, I still wish he would reply to me instead of blue-ticking the memes I send him, but at least he spams me with his gaming achievements.”
Spend meaningful time with each other
According to researchers, most siblings spend more time with each other than anyone else, even after they grow older and get more hobbies and interests.
This spending time together free from the stresses of schoolwork strengthens relationships and develops personal growth.
Roxanne, 31, whose sister Kassandra is a year younger, tells The Pride: “Going for weekly art classes when we were young, I thought finishing my drawing the fastest was the coolest thing. I didn’t realise that I had to wait for my little sister to finish hers before we could head home together!
“But through those many ‘waiting times’, I saw my sister’s patience in everything she did and her determination to complete her artwork the best she could. Since then, we developed similar interests in art.”
“(From her) I learnt about being thoughtful. She’s one of the sweetest people at home, in school and in her workplace. She would write thank-you cards and craft hand-made gifts for her friends in school. She would buy thoughtful gifts for the family, and she would remember her colleagues’ birthdays. All these inspired me to do the same for the people around me.”
Establish common ground and ways to deal with conflict
If you are unhappy with your sibling – don’t lash out. Apply a more constructive approach to communicate effectively and resolve your differences.
For instance, talk to a friend first, it helps to release your negative feelings and gives perspective, not to mention calm you down! You can also try a less confrontational expression like writing a letter.
Says Kritkaa, 21, who has an older brother Seinthil, 23: “It is important to have common ground with your siblings, as these are relationships that greatly affect the way we function as humans. As the saying goes ‘blood is thicker than water’!”
Adds Esther, 34 : “Siblings have a different type of relationship and differences are, to me, not an issue when getting along. Don’t we all accept our family members for who they are? Isn’t it part of unconditional love?”
Conversations don’t need to be serious all the time, either. Casual chats often help build bonds too.
Wen Qi, 29, whose sister is four years younger, says: “We don’t have the chummiest relationship so I have learnt over the years how to best communicate.”
She adds that she often just chats about mundane things or topics that interest her sister – like the latest K-drama!
“Only by building this bond through random but constant communication that I feel she will open up to me and listen when I ‘nag’ at her.”
Do something for your sibling, even if it is a simple act of kindness
Buying or cooking your sibling a meal or a simple hug or shoulder squeeze after a long day at school or work is an effective way in building closer bonds.
Colin, 18, tells The Pride: “My 20-year-old older brother would cook me lunch once in a while. Whether it’s because he was trying a new recipe, or he made more than he could finish, he would always offer me a portion. I found it particularly thoughtful – especially after a long day at work.”
Although such acts of kindness might seem small, as time progresses, these recollections can serve as touchstones to cement your relationship.
Says Si Ning, 27, who has two brothers: “Once when we were very young, our parents punished me by making me stand outside the house and one of my brothers didn’t want me to feel scared or lonely so he stood by the door inside the house the entire time!”
Sometimes, we are reminded of bonds created in outstanding circumstances and these adventures are often memories that strengthen our ties.
Says Fairuz, 30: “I used to work in social services and a 13-year-old girl I was working with ran away from home. Her desperate guardians reached out to me for help because they didn’t want to escalate the matter to the police and because I knew her well.”
“So at midnight, I was all pumped up to search for the girl in some of the nooks and crannies of Woodlands when my brother, unprompted, volunteered to drive me on my search.”
“After an hour, we managed to find the girl who was “hiding” at the Woodlands Civic Centre McDonald’s with a friend. I will always remember how my brother Farid was by my side all the way and how he kept his cool.”
When siblings are constantly compared against each other, it can develop into unhealthy jealousy.
This could harm them in the long-term too, because this can breed unhealthy competitive habits as they get older. Therefore, it is important to realise that each individual sibling has their unique strengths and weaknesses – achievements do not define who you are.
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Sarcthy, 26, tells The Pride: “My younger sister Bairavee and I are only one year apart, so we grew up with similar interests and also identical clothes! As we grew older we became inclined towards different activities – she started singing and was interested in research, while I was more keen on community-related issues and enjoyed spending time outdoors.
“But whenever significant events happen in my life, I always share them with her. We have similar perspectives on many things, so hearing her opinions is often a form of affirmation for me. In those moments when she differed, I valued that too as it made me think deeper about the issue.”
“I think generally as people grow older, they start to appreciate their siblings more. For me, my sister is a comforting presence in my life.”