Sibling Life

Weekly column

Sweet sibling love

Sweet sibling love, Elliott and Henry

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I dreamed of a better life. There was an older teacher at my school, my favorite English teacher, and I wondered if she’d be willing to adopt me.

That sounds terrible I know. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my own family, it’s just that when I was in middle school, things were very crazy in my world. I was the oldest of eight children, and when I was thirteen there were seven people younger than me making lots of noise in my world. Little toddlers getting into my stuff, annoying tweens arguing amongst themselves. I needed more me time, I knew that’s what would make me happy.

I loved my parents and had plans to visit them often. I just figured living with this other family (who only had four children, all older than me) would afford me the quiet, calm environment I needed. Also, I wanted a room to myself, with pink wall-to-wall carpet. I trusted my teacher could make that happen.

The good news is, I never uttered this plan to anyone, and sooner than later I got over my self-centered ways (not really, but in the grand scheme of things that’s true). Over time, that annoying younger brother became one of my best friends, and so did the four other annoying younger brothers. My baby sister, she who is eight years younger than me and once that prime personal-space offender, well I can’t imagine life without her. She is the person I call when I need someone to tell me I am smart and pretty and important.

It was around this time last year that I loaded up my twelve-passenger van with two brothers and my mom and dad and we drove thirteen hours to surprise another brother for his birthday. My sister met us there and we knocked on the door and HERE WE ARE! We were all jumping up and down and laughing and crying and hugging.

Family is worth the effort.

Those hours in the car with my brothers, sitting in the back and laughing while our mom and dad were up front — it brought me back to all those long family vacations where my family would drive me nuts and also make me happy. Now that we are older, there are fewer squabbles and time has healed so many of the agitations of our youth. Things aren’t perfect but I know what we have is the recognition of the gift of each other — there is no one else on this earth who can be what a sibling is.

But it isn’t always easy. Now that I’m mothering my own crew, and praying for the same kind of relationships within my own children, I see (and remember) that it takes so much effort to get to the point of deep, unconditional friendship. You don’t start out that way, there are a ton of hiccups along the path.

It’s worth it. Family is worth the effort. We deal with the bumps in the road, we are quick to forgive and ask forgiveness — because this gift of family is worth the effort. What it takes to overcome hurts and let go of grievances, it’s the hard work that comes with the reward of some of the best friends you will ever have. Or at the very least, someone who will always have your back.

“The family is a factory of hope,” declared Pope Francis when he was here for the World Meeting of Families in September. He added that in families “there is always light, because the love of God, and son of God, opened also that path for us.”

When I’m tempted to feel overwhelmed by the in’s and out’s of parenting, when I feel too tired to help my children deal with wrongdoing the right way, I remember the gift of my own siblings. I think about the hard work it took my parents to help us learn how to deal with each other in a righteous and loving manner. And I’m inspired — and motivated — to do the same.