I have 4 brothers and 3 sisters all from the same Mom and same Dad. There are 10 of us altogether. A big happy Hollywood big family. Think Brady Bunch, 8 is Enough, The Waltons, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Yours Mine Ours.
Big Hollywood families always have the same challenges any family faces…the bossy older siblings, the younger cute pranksters, the misunderstood or ignored middle children. They never really have the other challenges I remember having in our family or in the other large families I knew in our tight Mormon community. I’ve seen lots of other large Mormon families in my day.
But there’s always one common thread that the ideal Hollywood families have…they all like each other.
My family is not like that. I don’t think most of my siblings like each other.
I remember several times overhearing my Mom and Dad say they just wished that their kids would get along and be friends to each other throughout their lives. I know they had that desire primarily because this was THEIR family. Yet it wasn’t hard to notice that there was emotional distance and some obvious distaste among their own brothers and sisters. They just wanted better for their kids. I’d have to conclude that their dream didn’t come about.
Just to be clear. I do like some of my siblings and I honestly wish I liked all of them. But I don’t. And I’m fairly certain that the feeling is mutual. Or lets be fair and say that most of my siblings have never given me any reason to suspect that they feel otherwise. We don’t call each other. We don’t spend holidays together. We don’t share in each others’ joys or defeats.
When I’ve ever reached out for emotional support or encouragement I’ve come up short. And to be fair, I’ve probably not been there for my siblings’ defining moments either.
Like my parents, I hope that my kids would be each others’ cheerleaders throughout their lives. But the truth is that I’m clueless about how to encourage that to happen. I’m fairly certain that it has to go beyond my whining about them not getting along. I’m certainly not modeling the behavior any better than my parents did.
Like any father, I’m trying to kick things up a notch for the next generation. I’m just not certain how to go about it. I guess I know what NOT to do:
- I tried not to have too many children (although my decision to have 4 is the stuff of another post). I couldn’t be the kind of parent I want to be for any more than four.
- I try not to have the older children responsible for the younger ones. This is the worst side effect of large families. The older ones become the parents of the younger. The younger ones have teenagers for parents. It’s a cocktail for misery for all of them. Go into a Mormon chapel any given Sunday and you’ll see older siblings with their younger toddler brothers and sisters walking the halls and occupying the foyers during Sacrament Meeting. Their Mothers are nursing their other newborn in the Mother’s Room. I think it’s fine to have children care for one another for short periods of time. Caring for and having responsibility for someone else are two separate things.
- I try to protect my children from harm, especially sexual abuse. I’m over-vigilant because nothing will dirty the water of interpersonal relationships more than inappropriate boundaries. There was sexual abuse in my family and I’d like to blame everything on this but I also know there were some siblings not involved – how do you explain THEIR lack of closeness to each other?
- I try to not discourage communication of any kind. I remember us being very cynical, harsh and judgmental about even the smallest things with each other. It got to the point that it I remember being hesitant to share ANYthing with my siblings for fear of being mocked and teased. Being positive, encouraging and open to talking about everything is something I didn’t experience. I try to establish that sort of environment with my children. All ideas and experiences are OK to talk about here.
But that’s all I’ve got.
Maybe things are getting better in some respects with my family of birth. As soon as I left Mormonism my relationship with a couple of previously apostate siblings improved overnight. My baby sister contact me the other day and we talked on the phone about a very personal challenge she was going through. I felt honored that she felt she could open up to me. Another sibling and I talk on the phone every week or two.
My relationship soured with those still in Mormonism. Actually I don’t think my leaving Mormonism or my coming out was the cause of that. I really think it just worsened an already apathetic relationship if I look back in honesty. With some siblings I know why we don’t like each other or why there’s bad blood. That’s gotten incrementally better and I don’t expect or even want anything more. For example I can now be in controlled family social situations with the sibling who was the perpetrator in our family’s sexual abuse. But the others I can’t figure out. I’m not really sure why there’s bad blood. I don’t like them because I feel disliked by them.
Yes, I’ve blamed it on myself and made motions and gestures to improve my interactions with them and always come up dry, very dry. Now, they’re in the same mental category as my abusive brother. I decided long ago that I no longer need to invest emotional energy in that relationship. I’m polite when I need to be and good riddance for the rest of my life. Perhaps my other siblings just reached that conclusion about me and with each other years before I did.
All my brothers and sisters live at a distance from one another. Still, I have a friend whose sister lives on the other side of the continent. They talk on the phone for over an hour every Saturday morning like clockwork. The first time I witnessed it I was amazed – adult siblings as friends! They laughed, joked, shared frustrations and related how their week had gone. They like each other.
I thought Mormons had the corner of the market on close families but in 38 years as a Mormon I’d only witnessed families who love each other in public testimony meetings. I don’t think I’d seen adult families who LIKE each other.
That’s my aspiration for my children and I know I can’t strong arm it into fruition. I can just do more than love them. I can like them.
And I do.