I remember my old friend, Dr. Herbert Ratner, saying that the best gift a husband and wife can give to their child is a baby brother or sister. Over the past week or so as my daughter, Katy, visited from Indiana, and I also officially turned 85, thoughts about siblings have been in my mind. The responsibility of having small children and the expense and difficulty of traveling with them had kept Katy from visiting her family in the East for too many years. But Katy finally came and as a mother I had occasion to rejoice as my children reunited and found pleasure in each other’s company.

The research seems in indicate that only children do not suffer from onlyness. According to Dr. Alex Cutting they describe “advantages like lack of rivalry, more privacy, greater affluence, and more time and attention from their parents.” One of the biggest disadvantages of being an only child is having no one to share in the care of aged parents. Also, since the parents, in a sense, have all their eggs in one basket, there is often a pressure to succeed and to “be there” for the parents more than the child might choose.

Cutting further states:

Over 80% of human beings have at least one sibling, and our sibling relationships are very often the longest lasting relationships that we experience, so the potential for influence is huge. Sibling relationships involve high familiarity, and are emotionally uninhibited, and so often very intense – which can bring both problems and benefits to brothers and sisters. As one seven-year-old complained to me recently, about his sister, “She’s awfully good at annoying me… She knows exactly what to do to make me cross, and I think she does it on purpose.” When I asked him what was good about having a sister, he thought for a while and then commented thoughtfully, “Well, she’s good at helping me when I can’t do stuff, and she does understand how boring Mum and Dad are sometimes”(!)

Sibings, of course, spring from the same gene pool. Though to me all my children looked different (of course), others would comment that they all looked like Vinings. They necessarily have much in common – the same parents, the same environment, the same meals, the same rules, many of the same experiences. But, when they get together, we find that besides the constants they have many different memories! There are common aptitudes to be recognized, common traits to be discovered. I, and they, find it fascinating — so much the same, and so much that is different.

Just yesterday, I celebrated my birthday with several of my own siblings. We get together regularly as we are all getting “up there” and are very grateful to still have each other. All in our 80’s or 70’s we are thankful to be still alive and pretty able-bodied. We reminisce and compare ailments. Growing cataracts, lapses of memory, dental problems, hearing problems, balance problems. We went through a period when we concentrated on raising our own families but now we rediscover and enjoy each other. Maybe Mom and Dad didn’t exactly “plan” on having all five of us, but we find ourselves blessed with our brothers and sisters, even (or especially) into old age.

I looked up sibling in wikipedia because I thought it was a relatively new word. I didn’t have siblings when I was young; I had brothers and sisters. I found this interesting data bit on wikipedia:

Anthropologist Edvard Westermarck found that children who are brought up together as siblings are desensitized to form sexual attraction later in life. This is known as the Westermarck Effect. It can be seen in biological and adoptive families, but also in other situations where children are brought up in close contact, such as the Israeli kibbutz system and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage.

Just a few days ago Oprah did a program on children conceived by anonymous sperm donation, now grown into adulthood. Most felt some sort of void, not knowing their biological father. One said she felt like a “product” of an “industry.” What struck me most was the meeting of a young man and young woman, both products of sperm from donor #46. Though they did not find their biological father, they did find each other. By some marvel of television production, the cameras had managed to be there when they first met! Amazing! They couldn’t stop looking at each other. They looked like more than brother and sister — they looked like twins! And their delight in finding each other was palpable. No more were they an only child. They had each other. They were SIBLINGS!

Thank you Mom and Dad and God.

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Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb? Job 31:18