9 Advantages To Having Siblings (Read: Support Team)

I was looking through some photos of my recent Oregon-to-Colorado road trip, and came across this pic of my big brother and me standing at an observation deck above Snowbird in a gorgeous land called Utah.

Older brother and sister hanging out above Snowbird

I grew up the girl in the middle. Sandwiched in between two brothers. And while I never tattled, or never tried to boss them around, never messed with their stuff, and was generally well-behaved, I suffered a good deal of injustice.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many democratic votes I lost in my childhood. Will we watch “The Virginian” … or “That Girl”? Two to one vote. Boys win. Again.

We’ll stop right there about the non-benefits of having siblings since we want to focus on the advantages. And surprisingly, there are quite a few (although they were lost on me while growing up).

Real Simple magazine claims that growing up with siblings:

  1. Can make us more selfless
  2. Can help us live longer

Parents magazine purports that having siblings:

  1. Generates more imagination and fun
  2. Promotes better learning
  3. May reduce stress

This from a Huffington Post article — a sister:

  1. Can boost mental health. Ha! Just think how mentally healthy my two brothers are because of me.

Not mentioned in any of the articles are these additional benefits I experienced growing up with siblings:

  1. Personal coaches. My brothers taught me how to play basketball, and baseball, and how to run fast and find stellar hiding places, and how to ride a bike with no hands. And how to play pickle. This is where the boys each get a base to guard, and the sister is caught in the pickle while the brothers throw the ball back and forth, trying to get the sister out.
  2. Tree- and fence-climbing instructors. We lived in a cul-de-sac with a large field behind our house. And of course in order to play hide-and-seek in the high, tangled grass meant climbing the back fence. And because of my brothers, I could keep up with all the neighborhood boys when it came to climbing trees and fences and hiding in tall grasses.
  3. Share in parental caregiving. Mom lived with me and my husband, Gary, as she was slipping into dementia. And then these epic words spoken to Gary: “You have cancer. Oh, and by the way, it’s terminal.” In time, these same amazing, kind, gallant brothers thought it was all too much for the sister, and arranged to take over Mom’s caregiving.

And this doesn’t even take into account my siblings-in-law who treat me as if I’m a blood relative.

There was a backpack of broken concrete pieces that showed up in the shadows of my brain when Gary was diagnosed. Later, as cancer picked up speed, I started lugging the backpack around with me. It was overwhelming, relentless, back-breaking.

I can’t begin to explain the immense relief when my two brothers removed the weight of caring for my mother while Gary and I were working our way out of financial reversals and dealing with his cancer.

We were surrounded by so many caring, persnickety, magnanimous people — our church family; my co-workers in the cancer center and the cancer community we served; my knitting posse; our hiking, snow-shoeing, and Walking 4 Wellness crews.

And family. Children and children-in-law. Brothers and sisters. Nieces and nephews and cousins.

The connections in our lives are for giving and receiving support when heavy loads present themselves. If we don’t have good connections, and if we’re not blessed with stellar siblings and in-laws and extended family, then maybe we need to consider recruiting alternatives. And the best way to do that is to get plugged into a like-minded group of people.

Because we’re stronger together.

Community is for the sake of receiving support, yes … but also for the joy of offering support and kindness.

Daughter Summer wrote this thought after standing watch with me as her dad was dying of cancer:

“People want to help and, while there’s nothing they can do to change the situation, they can bring a little sunshine. … That’s part of why I was glad to be there. I was able to see community in action. And when you experience that, it changes you. You can’t pay it back but you can pay it forward.”

What about you? I’d love to hear about who makes up your support team when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges.

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