When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

In her New York Times Ties article, “When Friends Are ‘Like Family'”, Deborah Tannen explores friendship for a book in progress.


As the author of The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, I read Tannen’s piece with great interest.  I guess you might say that I’m a sibophile (I just made that up.  You won’t find it in the dictionary.)  I believe in the sibling relationship with all of its twists and turns and the many ways siblings help us understand why, how, and the way we are .

Of course, it’s not an either/or between siblings and friends.  Tannen points out that comments by the people she interviewed “shed light on the nature of friendship, the nature of family, and something that lies at the heart of both: what it means to be close.”

  • “Her friends are more precious than her sisters because they remember things from her past that her sister don’t and can’t, since they weren’t there.”  Our siblings have been there since the beginning.  How many of us have a best friend from childhood?  Sure, some of us.  But not many.  From high school?  Perhaps.  College?  Probably.  But these friends have no memory of us as kids, possibly not when we were adolescents.  Unlike our sisters (siblings of both genders), the majority of our friends were not part of our lives in our most formative years.  While it’s true that our siblings don’t always remember the same events in the same way we do, they were there and can offer their take which can be eye opening.  And as older adults when our parents have died, siblings are the only ones who can reminisce about our immediate and extended families.
  • “Many grown children continue to wish that their parents or siblings could see them for who they really are, not who they wish them to be. This goal can be realized in friendship. “She gets me,” a woman said of a friend. “When I’m with her I can be myself.”  According to one large study, two-thirds of people said a brother or sister was one of their best friends.  Jill Suitor, a sociologist at Purdue University, and her colleagues polled 274 families with 708 adult children (ages twenty-three to sixty-eight) and found that the majority had good feelings toward their siblings.  And when you ask older siblings to name their closest relative, they say they feel closer to siblings than to any other relatives except their children.
  • ” . . . family conjures longevity, love, support.”  Precisely.  Siblings often provide, not just conjure, “longevity, love, support.”  For example, I have known my sister since the day she was born.  (She is six years younger.)  Can’t say that about any of my friends.  Sure, we’ve had our issues over the years (No relationship is perfect.) but have worked through snafus and are as close as two humans can be.  Though she lives in another state, we talk and email often.  When the second-to-last of our surviving aunts died recently, she represented our immediate family at the funeral.  I was in Mexico and could not travel back to the U.S.  When I need information about, say, our grandparents and want to compare notes, I call my sister. When I have concerns about my adult son, I often call my sister.  When my parents were dying, my sister and I worked together as a supportive team.  None of my friends could have fulfilled that role.
  • “When a friend dies, a part of you dies, too, as you lose forever the experiences, the jokes, the references that you shared.”  True.  But what about the death of a sibling?  For adult surviving siblings, there is the sadness of the loss of family history.  One sibling I interviewed for The Sibling Connection said, “Our parents were both born in Europe. As a younger person, I was never concerned with the details of my roots.  In the last few years, I’ve been very concerned because my kids have been asking me.  I always depended on my brother, but he’s no here.  My historical roots . . . my local historian is gone.”   Verifying the past, resolving long-standing conflicts from childhood, and pulling up family roots are tasks cut short when an adult sibling dies.  Who are our checkpoints?  Not parents who are old or dead, nor spouses who entered into our adult lives.  And rarely friends because the majority don’t “go all the way back.”  Our siblings can be the only verification of our previous lives.
  • “Just as with literal families, friends who are like family can bring not only happiness but also pain, because the comfort of a close bond can sometimes morph into the restraints of bondage. The closer the bond, the greater the power to hurt – by disappointing, letting you down . . . ”  To be fair, this applies to siblings, too.  Siblings who are close—and brothers and sisters whose connections are frayed, sometimes for good—have hurt one another during childhood and beyond.  We may have said something hurtful in the heat of the moment or competed for parents’ attention or forgotten an important event.  My sister let me down by not consulting me before she suggested that my parents move to her town.  My brother let me down by not supporting my desire to give my mother a proper funeral. And then there were the issues around our inheritance.  (The illness and/or death of parent can be a dicey affair.)

We all have friends who are “like family.”  Eighty per cent of us have at least one sibling.  Both relationships can be loving, supportive, fun.  But unlike friends, our siblings are the only ones who go all the way back and can help us understand where we came from and where we’ve gone.



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Boomers and Seniors on the Move


I had no idea that there are a host of companies out there that specialize in helping senior citizens (and boomers) move.

They have comforting names like Gentle Transitions.  There’s even a National Association of Senior Move Management.  Who knew?

No one likes packing and unpacking an apartment or a home.  It’s a stressful business, said to be life’s third biggest stressor behind divorce and death.

Okay, I can buy that . . . though I think I might add illness ahead of death and continue on with severe financial problems, parenting, and job change.

Whatever the order, there’s no doubt that moving is a pain for anyone, no matter how young or how old.

Take my 41-year-old son, for example.  His girlfriend moved out (A good thing!), but he was stuck with a larger apartment than he needed and a hefty monthly rent.  My son lives in Chicago where rents are sky high.  A decent one-bedroom apartment in one of the many convenient and sought after neighborhoods can run upwards of $3000/month.  That’s more than our mortgage payment, and we own a beautiful home.

Finding an affordable one-bedroom apartment was stressful enough.  Then downsizing was another.  Sell the excess furniture or pay more money to rent a storage space?  Pay extra for a parking space or struggle with finding on-street parking every day?  Oh, and snagging an apartment whose landlord accepts pets.  The one thing my son’s ex-girlfriend left was her 16-year-old dog.

Men living alone seem to be overwhelmed by the process of packing.  Even though my son thought he’d given himself plenty of time, he ended up throwing dirty clothes, piles of shirts and pants, mismatched pairs of socks, coats, ties, and shoes willy nilly into unmarked boxes, gym bags and on the back seat of his car.

Unpacking required that his mother (That would be me) practically holding his hand as he tried to make sense of all his stuff and where to put it.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that older boomers, many of whom are already seniors, see moving as a Herculean task that they must shoulder through and complete before it’s “too late.”  The stress and hassle convinces many to stay put.  Others enlist the help of their children, when available and willing.  Apparently, still others hire the services of one of those companies that focus on helping older folks move.

My challenge is different.  I actually relish the chance to get rid of stuff, to simplify.  And letting go of items like the oak dining room table we picked up at an auction in North Carolina and lugged home in a UHaul some 22 years ago is something I’ve been looking forward to for years.

Beyond decluttering, my biggest hurdle is my husband: he doesn’t want to move.  Oh, he was gun ho many years ago and applied for jobs in northern California.  He ended up the number 2 choice, and we stayed put.  But I crave more temperate climes, a country setting away from the noise of young kids and views of hills, trees, even mountains.  I want to garden all year long. I want to travel any any time during the year, not only during the winter when I HAVE to vacate the north and the horrors of winter.

Sure, it will be sad leaving a handful of dear friends.  Finding a good internist, a funky hairstylist, the best health food restaurant and grocery store (though with the ubiquitous Whole Foods, I doubt that will be a problem), alternative cinema, a book club, etc. may be challenging but achievable.  And we won’t be without initial contacts out there on the West Coast. Both of us know interesting people.  I’ve already planned the guest list for our first party.

“Involve him in the process,” my son suggested.  “Make him feel an integral part of the potential move.  Have your realtor copy him on all the new listings.”

Not bad advice.  I emailed the agent this morning.  Though I’m nervous about my husband seeing the asking prices, the abundance of one-story homes (“I’ll never live in a ranch”), and some of those northern California stone fireplaces that remind one of a ski lodge, I’m hopeful that he’ll come around.

In the meantime, I roam the house and envision how it can be “staged.”

And I’m bookmarking all of those senior moving companies just in case.





I Can Say Anything I Want . . . Well, Almost

I’ve earned the right to say whatever I want . . . well, almost.  As a friend said recently, “You’ve made it to 70 and should embrace your age and good fortune.”

Okay.  I’ll take her congrats at face value and “tell it like it is.”



Example:  A few nights ago in my contemporary dance class, a new song had been added to the prescribed routines.  I can’t the remember the name of the female singer and don’t care to.  She sounded like a sap singing an even sappier song about love or getting in touch with her inner self or some such mushy crap.

But it seems my opinion was not that of the rest of the women in the class.

“Oh, I just love her voice,” one of them said.

“Me, too,” said another.  “I saw her on TV last week.”

I would have clicked the remote and changed the channel.  Like immediately . . .

“You know,” said a third woman.  “Last week was my birthday, and the song just hit me in my heart.  It meant so much to me.”

I wanted to barf.

We all danced over to the barre where we would perform a few minutes’ worth of isometrics using rubber exercise bands.

Before the music started and we did our first squat, I felt a surge of honesty coursing through my veins and, yes, a few twinges in my knees.  It was if I were menopausal all over again.  Only this time around, I wasn’t a screaming banshee standing in my neighbor’s yard, threatening to call the cops if the yokels two houses down didn’t remove their stereo from the roof of their garage immediately.

No, this time, I followed proper etiquette and, in a soft, soothing voice said, “I’m amazed at how taste is so subjective.   I hate that song.”

The other dancers turned in my direction with eyes wide open, mouths agape.  They looked like I’d just killed their first borns.

I, on the other hand, felt as if I’d just slayed Goliath with a turn of a phrase.

No one looked at me again during the remainder of the class.   Let them listen to she- who- shall- remain nameless.  I’d plug in to Amy Winehouse or an Adele classic or maybe some Bob Marley.

After, when all the others had left for what I assumed were their Sunday afternoon trips to the zoo, I looked at the teacher and my friend and said, “Gee, I hope they’ll get over it.”

She started to laugh.  “I knew you wouldn’t like the song.”

She hasn’t played the song since.

And I haven’t stopped smiling.