two-young-brothers-hugging

It’s worth investing in (sibling) bonds

Christmas is a perfect time to reflect on complicated family bonds.
Our Faith

Being the oldest of four brothers, I have found the bond of siblinghood to be a tremendous blessing in my life. Like any healthy relationship, it takes a healthy dose of sacrifice, honesty, commitment, humor, and forgiveness to maintain. But the literal and emotional brotherhood I share with my siblings has indelibly influenced my life beyond measure. They were my first friends, and they will be my last friends. I was there when they came home from the hospital as newborns, and they will most likely be the pallbearers at my funeral.

They are also my best friends. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the traditional sense that I talk to them more than any other friends or hang out with them every weekend. My brothers are my best friends because they truly know me. They have the receipts on who I was, they see who I am today, and they understand the trajectory of who I might become. I know I can count on their unconditional love and their unvarnished opinion—a rare and indispensable combination that few others in my life can provide.

My parents rightly understood the concept that my brothers could be my “forever friends”—even though that wasn’t the story with their own siblings—and fostered that relationship from the jump. Growing up, my mom’s insistence that I needed to invest in my relationship with my brothers and put them first was sometimes the last thing I wanted to hear. But the lesson stuck.

A couple years ago, I proposed a New Year’s resolution: We should strive to have monthly “Bros’ Nights,” a time for us to engage in an activity we all enjoy—whether a concert, a good meal, or watching the latest rebooted movie from our childhood—and share the biggest joys and struggles in our lives. With family obligations and work, we haven’t quite made this work on a monthly basis, but even carving out four to six gatherings per year has helped us stay connected and pray for one another.

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I’m not pretending it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Like any good brothers, we can end up bickering or getting a little too forceful in sharing our opinions and advice. But at the end of the day, we come back to the bond. We apologize. We forgive. We laugh. We stick together. I would do anything for these guys.

Which brings me to the other people I would do anything for—my children.

Unexpectedly becoming a parent to four kids in rapid succession felt like a recipe for domestic chaos (and it was), but now that the oldest is 7 and we are mostly (maybe?) through the hardest years of multiple babies and toddlers, I am already recognizing the flowering of that familiar siblinghood among my children.

It’s a true blessing to watch my 7-year-old daughter, 5-year-old son, and 3-year-old son escape together into worlds of their own creation. Whether playing “family,” putting on a performance, or engaging in an exciting Barbie–superheroes crossover game, they will gladly spend hours together playing in our basement. When it’s time for dinner, they complain that their playtime wasn’t long enough.

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As I watch them be alternately sweet and collegial, cunningly manipulative, affectionately gentle, or way too rough with one another, I sound just like my mom when I try to make them understand the wonderful gift God has given them in the form of their siblings. But at the same time, my children seem to recognize something about one another that we take for granted or ignore as adults: Our siblings are a divinely planned, built-in support system for the journey of life.

There’s a trite old saying that you’ve probably heard: You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. There are many people who feel this way about their siblings, as familial conflicts can create deep wounds that can be some of the hardest to heal and the most likely to fester.

There are also people who are on decent terms with their siblings, but the obstacles of distance, passage of time, or lack of initiative have allowed these important relationships to go dormant.

If this is you, perhaps it’s time to reconsider that old adage. Because you actually can pick your family. And by “pick,” I don’t mean that you can select who gets to be your blood relative; I mean choosing to love the broken-but-beautiful souls God has ordained to be your brothers or sisters for life. This is not something that should be taken lightly.

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Christmas is the perfect time to take stock of your relationship with your siblings. Is that relationship broken in a way in which you can swallow your pride and take the first step toward mending it? Or perhaps you and your siblings are simply no longer as close as any of you would like to be. How can you make time to prioritize these relationships?

When my 5-year-old son started full-day, week-long kindergarten earlier this year, he was inconsolable in his classroom all morning long. The lunch monitor walked him over to my daughter’s classroom so he could receive a hug from her. It calmed him right down and warmed my heart in the retelling.

This is siblinghood at its best: a gentle hug that reminds you who you are and that you’re going to be OK. I pray this sibling dynamic continues to play out for my children in ways big and small throughout the many changes the coming decades will bring.

And I pray that you will revisit your relationship with your siblings and discover how God might be calling you to a renewed friendship with them. It might turn out to be the unexpected Christmas gift you didn’t know you needed.

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This article also appears in the December 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 12, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

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Header Image: Unsplash/Hannah Skelly

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About the author

Matt Paolelli

Matt Paolelli is a writer and marketing professional who lives near Chicago with his wife and three young children. Read more of his musings and adventures in fatherhood at dadhasablog.com.

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