Relationships between sisters and brothers are time and again termed life’s longest, most influential ties. The topic under discourse has been a major focus in biblical accounts, classical literature, folk stories and numerous autobiographies and biographies. Clinicians, researchers, and developmental psychologists have given the impact of sibling relationships great attention, especially from the early 80s (Boer and Dunn, 1992). Sibling relationships are the informed by the complex interaction of factors that encompass birth order, age spacing, temperament and gender.
Family conflict, marital quality and parenting styles also have significant influence on the way siblings relate (Boer and Dunn, 1992). Conflict between sisters and brothers is more frequent phenomenon in sibling from homes characterized by intense conflict. A high degree of marital discord translates to a correspondingly high degree of aggression amongst children (Boer and Dunn, 1992; Patten, 2000). Childhood and Adolescence During childhood and adolescence, siblings spend most of their time with one another. They serve as one another’s first companions as well as playmates.
It therefore comes as no surprise that sibling associations influence both cognitive and social learning. Extensive research backs firsthand observations made by many parents regarding younger children copying their older siblings; the latter effectively serve as teachers of various skills all the way from early childhood to late adolescence, when peers begin to exert their influence (Azmitia and Hesser, 1993). In addition to that, there are well documented findings on the influence of sibling relationships on the attainment of pro-social traits such as sharing, cooperating and helping.
The skills acquired from these associations go beyond the confines of the home, positively affecting peer interactions. Children who exhibit hostility and aggression towards their brothers and sisters are prone to rejection in the face of their peers (Boer and Dunn, 1992). Compounding this, hostile, negative relationships predict delinquent, aggressive behavior during adolescence (Kim et al, 1999). The point that presents itself here is that delinquency and aggression amongst siblings usually occur together.
However, these findings do not take into account the presence of other factors like negative parenting, which manifests itself through coercive discipline (spanking, bribing or hitting) and inefficient parental monitoring (Adoption. com, 2009). Surprisingly, a moderate level of conflict among siblings is potentially beneficial in molding social relationships at adolescence and adulthood. Phases of conflict coexist with those of relative calmness. The positive effect of the said conflict on children is a matter of the balance between the degree of conflict and the degree of support or warmth in associations amongst siblings.
The ability to strike the perfect balance accords children higher social competence as well as better emotional control. Home environments that offer this mix also allows children to develop and sharpen vital pro-social skills, including those necessary for conflict resolution (Stormshak et al. , 1996). It appears that siblings present the “relational bridge” that links individuals to solid peer relationships, enabling them to develop social competency skills for use throughout life (Bigelow et al. , 1996). Sibling Rivalry Sibling rivalry is an issue as old as humanity.
Religious historians will present the story of Cain and Abel which tragically ended in the murder of the latter as the result of the former’s jealousy. Turning to the views of Nancy Samalin, parent educator and author of the book, “Loving Each One Best”, sibling rivalry plays an invaluable role, in that it gives siblings a chance to assert themselves, test various limits and learn methods of negotiating their needs and wants in the safety of their homes. She insists that parents only step in when the conflict and bickering among siblings reached violent or cruel proportions.
However, studies show that sibling rivalry indeed has a “delayed effect”, so that even when serious problems occur, their effects remain hidden until adolescence or even later. As the mind begins to mature between the ages of 12 and twenty, pent up fury and anger manifest themselves as destructive behavior towards both self and others. This indicates the need for proper parenting, taking into account that children are emotionally impressionable. They must take advantage of the age gap between the children as adults cannot possibly reason with children less the age of three.
Communicating ideas to slightly older siblings allows the children to use communication skills they easily understand. This is particularly useful when a newborn child is on the way and there is a possibility that the youngest child will feel threatened (Boyle, 2008). Approval, love, attention and time are perceived as scarce resources in the possession of parents, and this is taken as the genesis of the problem of sibling rivalry. Addressing this promotes coexistence and allows children to fit seamlessly into society; they learn to appreciate each others strengths and weaknesses, taking people for whom they are.
In this respect, the family is the first society an individual encounters. The more the siblings there are in a family, the bigger the challenge of guaranteeing the happiness of this micro-society. Sibling Relationships in Adulthood The study of sibling relationships in adulthood has become relevant on the backdrop of an increased an increased average age nationally. Today siblings share a larger proportion of their lives; while some spending anything between 40 and 50 years with their parents, sibling links may see the better part of 60 to 80 years (Bank and Kahn, 1997).
Two major theories come to the fore in the explanation as to why a large majority of sibling relationships persist through adulthood. The first takes into account the values instilled by parents into their children, while the second is premised on attachment which give siblings a sense of comfort (Shriner, 2007). According to Gold (1989), adult sibling relationships fall into 5 categories, depending on how siblings are involved with one another. These are the hostile, the apathetic, the loyal, the congenial and the intimate.
Hostile relationships are founded on negative feelings, resentment, and anger. Apathetic siblings display indifference, maintaining little contact with one another. The loyal type of sibling relationships takes root in a shared family history. Siblings maintain regular contact, take part in family get-togethers and offer support to one another when crises arise. Relationships classified as intimate are characterized by closeness and extreme devotion as siblings regard their relationship as their most important association.
The last class, the congenial relationships presents siblings as close and caring, the value of this link surpassed only by parent – child ties and their marriages. Gold’s study revealed the proportion of intimate, loyal, congenial, apathetic and hostile relationships as 14%, 30%, 34%, and 11% for the last two (Shriner, 2007). The consensus among most researchers is that relationships between siblings change during adulthood, but there is no agreement on the manner in which the shift takes place. Bedford (1990) uses an interesting description to present his thoughts.
He likens the relationships in question to the hourglass effect, where sibling interaction and closeness decrease gradually at the onset of adulthood, become low towards mid adulthood, then rise steadily in late adulthood, carrying on into adulthood. White & Ridemann (1992) look at things differently, positing reduced contact with age at the point of early adulthood, stability at mid adulthood, then a sharp decline in late adulthood. Cicirelli (1985) on the other hand presents a decrease in sibling rivalry and a corresponding increase in closeness with age.
The conflicting findings are attributed to disparate sampling methods, research methods and the studies’ cross-sectional outlook (Shriner, 2007). The next aspect that demands focus is the roles played by adult siblings. As siblings age and losses increase, there tends to be heavier reliance on each other and a greater need for reliable social support. Goetting (1986) is of the opinion that the level of assistance siblings offer one another in their adulthood is directly linked to their adolescent, as well as childhood relationships.
On leaving home at the onset of adulthood, the assistance in question is a factor of their affection towards each other and the similarity of roles played. From this point to middle adulthood, siblings provide emotional support, companionship, and on occasion, financial support. They may be called upon to intervene during crises, assist their parents in their old age, things they would readily do (Shriner, 2007). Irrespective of the various results, there issue that clearly comes forth is the need for strong stable, sibling relationships in adulthood.
Sibling support becomes vital in advanced age. As the generation associated with the baby boom ages, and the costs associated with long term medical care rise, siblings in their adulthood must cooperate to so that their parents will be catered for in their old age, and that they themselves may take care of one another (Shriner, 2007). Sibling Relationships and Depression As presented elsewhere in this paper, sibling conflict, especially at the level of middle school has been attributed to delinquency, depression and anxiety in adolescence.
On the other hand, sibling relationships of a more positive nature at the onset of adolescence have been associated with fewer cases of substance abuse, less depression and less loneliness during mid adolescence. The psychological health of individuals is apparently linked to sibling relationships (Waldinger, R. J. , Vaillant, G. E. , & Orav, E. J. 2007). The investigation of depression’s interpersonal roots develops from the observation that depression usually entails impaired relations with others. This also addresses difficulties in garnering, as well as using support (Waldinger et al. 2007).
Over the years, research into depression has been confined to the nature of associations between children and their parents, as disturbed sibling relationships took a back seat. A breakthrough study by experts at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital unearthed that the nature of sibling relationships during childhood is a potential depression predictor in later stages of life. It reveals a strong link between close associations among siblings, even if it is only one, and a reduced risk of being diagnosed with depression during adulthood.
The result of the study categorically state that poor sibling relationships prior to the age of twenty, coupled with a history of the condition in the family serve as independent predictors of major depression as well as repeated use of drugs that alter moods. The findings cannot be taken tightly, considering that the 68-year-long study is arguably the longest longitudinal study ever conducted, with respect to psychosocial development in adults. There is no decrying the fact that further tests are necessary, since the sample size of 229 proves very small and is confined to white males only.
Moreover the study does not address causation, leaving room for the discussion of other factor like poor parenting. Interestingly, men who had strong relationships with their parents and ended up suffering major depression had very poor associations with their sisters and brothers. The question raised here is whether depression is attributed to poor relationships among siblings or sour sibling relationships lead to depression (Schwartz, 2007). Critics of the position presented above look at things at a different angle.
They agree that brother and sisters learn from each other skills that allow them to get by later in life. Therefore, is it not possible that failure to get along with siblings is a major contributor of one’s inability to learn how to survive, leading to depression in adulthood? They go on to ask how this study of depression fits into the analysis of an only child. School friends and parents are the only resources they have (Schwartz, 2007). Conclusion In today’s mobile, high speed society, sibling relationships offer a particular shelter that few other associations offer (Pipher 1996).
Sibling relationships are “for better or for worse” variant, brothers and sisters acting as one another’s fellow traveler. Whether the bonds between them are comfortable, uncomfortable or a bit of both, siblings are essentially co-voyagers in the contemporary world that is devoid of lasting points of reference (Bank and Kahn, 1997). Fruitful sibling ties that persist through childhood, adolescence and adulthood are a sure way of building strong families as well as the wider society. They joys and complexities inherent in these ties make life worth living.