Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Sibling Effect" a book review about most people's longest relationship

I hesitate to get into this book as it hits a lot of nerves and it will for many of you.  The author Jeffrey Kluger, a senior writer at Time magazine has a lot of personal connections to the topic.  He is forthright in his personal life which helps the reader understand our own childhood and relationships.

Jeffrey brings up his own personal situation in stages to illustrate different points.  He is the second born of four boys and was brought up by a somewhat abusive father and addicted mother, that is until a few pages later we learn his parents divorced.  Still later we learn his mother remarries and for a short time he lives in a blended family that now includes two girls.  After learning that doesn't work out we learn that his father remarries and has twins, a boy and a girl.  We learn that his older brother comes out of the closet (not quite following a trend).  He himself has two girls and his wife was in the middle of two brothers in a Mexican family.  His own feelings in relating to siblings and parents will remind many readers of their own feelings.

He brings up all sorts of studies concerned about birth order, size of family, gender mixing that offer explanations for phenomena many of us have experienced, allowing for exceptions to every rule.  He brings up special cases like only children, twins, triplets the effects of divorce, etc.  Siblings provide relationships that help us cope with the world, but for some children cousins perform that same function.  In China with its one child policy, one thing that is overlooked is that the parents are often only children as well and that means there are no aunts or uncles or cousins to keep families together.

I am the oldest of six, my wife is the oldest of 3 and for over 20 years we lived with our oldest daughter and her younger brother.  In many ways it is easy to identify how we fit the trends.  Three of us fit a general profile of the first born.,  I have some kind of relationship with four of my siblings, but one is estranged, though not through the wishes of the rest of us.  I know my first cousins and occasionally connect with them. On my wife's side there was a much greater connection among brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.

One contention of the author which I hadn't thought about was that siblings are very often the longest and closest of all our relationships.  It is normal to have siblings only a few years older or younger than you, but even with bigger age gaps you share a lot in common that outsiders really can't quite understand.  Usually you know your siblings longer than any other people you relate to including parents, spouses, co-workers, even friends.  There is a strength in family that most of us can count on, and that all of us should cultivate.

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