The Gift of Siblings

Mothering in our culture is a juggling act.  We balance tending to little ones, housework, big kid schedules, sports, academics, music, and Church obligations.  You name it, we juggle it.  And with a larger family, the juggling is both chaotic and expensive.  It only takes one brief trip to the grocery store corralling my 5 young children for a complete stranger to ask me how much I spend on groceries in a given week or how am I going to pay for college.  These well-meaning strangers are not trying to be rude, but rather they are poking and prodding me like a science experiment gone awry.  They are not only wondering how I juggle it all, but why I want to do so in the first place.

And I don’t blame them for being confused.  Every popular parenting book on the market these days is about raising a child, and what you need to give to that one child to develop him into a successful human being.  We are a self-obsessed, narcissistic culture, and so it is no wonder that all the parenting books have an individual focus.  You read about Tiger moms, and helicopter parents and hands-free parents.  You read about sleep training, schedules, and discipline.  You read about developmental milestones, academic achievement, and nutrition.  But what you don’t read about, and what you really should read about, is the great gift of siblings.

We aren’t just raising a child over here.  We are raising a family.  We have given our children the gift of siblings, and we have prioritized that gift over other more material ones.  We have thought about what our children give to one another, and how we as parents are often able to step back and allow that very natural and wonderful sibling community to develop.  They should write books about what a big sister gives to a very little sister, or what two children less than 18 months apart give to one another, because those very real gifts are just as important as how many books Mom reads to her toddler every night or how many hours of baseball Dad plays in the backyard.  As the mother of a large family, the culture is regularly telling me and my kids what we are missing, what we are sacrificing, because there are so many children.  But we all need to look a little harder and see the very special and often intangible gifts that our children give to one another.

These gifts are very real to me at the moment because my oldest daughter, Gianna, is away for the first time at camp.  On Sunday I dropped her and my goddaughter, MaryAlice’s oldest girl, off at camp.  Being the parent of a first time camper has been very difficult, as I am missing my girl like crazy.  And so, in an effort to keep myself distracted, I cleaned out our school room and came across this beautiful note —

“Dear Gus and Charlie, (younger brothers ages 5 and 7), Please forgive me for yelling at you.  Now that I think about it it does sound like a stupid thing to yell about.  I hope we can work things out.  Love, Gianna”

Exchanges like this happen daily in our home (maybe not in written form!), and what real development and growth happens through them.  From little brothers and sisters stealing toys, to big brothers not allowing you in their room, my children are learning to give and take and live and love in a real community that isn’t centered around them.  Even in the conflicts there is deep love.

And it isn’t just me that is missing Gianna like crazy.  Last night, Charlie came up and sat down with me on the sofa.  All the little ones were in bed and the house was very quiet.  He said to me, “Mom, I miss Gianna.”  I replied, “I miss her too.  I really miss her laugh, what do you miss the most about her?”  Holding back tears, voice shaking, he said to me, “I don’t know, but the pictures of her are making me sad.”

And then I remembered the days when I was pregnant with Charlie and worried about how I would manage two children.  Would Gianna be missing out on that extra attention and love?  Were the kids too close together in age?  I wish I could tell my old self that these two would be the best of friends.  That they, and all the ones to come later, were a better gift than extra money in a college savings account, or a new home with a bigger backyard, or even more alone time with me.

And so, at the end of the day, when a well meaning stranger in the grocery store wonders why we have so many children, my answer is pretty simple — we value people over things.

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  • Bethany

    Ahh, I love every part of this, Kel. Thank you for reminding me today why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’ve recently had a lot of sibling strife in our home and it has exhausted me and made me wonder if we’re heading anywhere good in our family trajectory. I have to remember all the lessons the kids are learning in the process and that those lessons will shape them into better people for the journey. Thank you for encouraging me!

  • Juris Mater

    Kellie, thank you! I needed this reminder. I was hiding in my bedroom googling “motherhood sucks” last night around 7:30pm, not kidding, and I really appreciate this refreshing perspective. It’s totally right on, but we hear it so infrequently, and it’s so difficult to keep in the forefront of my mind amid the fights and messes and failed plans and chaos. Thank you for the inspiration!!

  • Kathleen

    It must be the barometer drop or something in the water, but my kids have been fighting like crazy. There are days when I question whether I can do this without loosing my ever loving mind, but this is a great reminder of the bigger picture and the greater good we are trying to achieve. These rough diamonds will shine up with a little friction. And it really is true, siblings are the greatest gift.

  • Rebecca

    This is amazing thank you for such a well written inspiration. I remember all the comments when I would go to the store pregnant with my 4th. People acted like I was Mrs Duggar. But my 4th was the perfect conclusion to my family and I love that I have 4!!

  • Mary Alice

    I would also add that we are raising and educating people for life beyond college acceptance, we are raising children to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him in eternity, to be great citizens of this world and the next. To that end, siblings can help each other grow in virtue, as can the small sacrifices involved in family life. I try to remember this when I think about the resume building activities that my children can’t do because I need to be home to tuck little ones in to bed.

  • Kat0427

    These are great thoughts! At the end of every summer I get sad, because I know that all of our great “sibling time” is coming to an end. As our kids get to spend time together, they genuinely begin to enjoy each other’s company, even while they fight like cats and dogs!
    I also love that my kids remember their sisters who have died. They regularly ask to go to the cemetery to visit – we go for less than 5 minutes, but it is meaningful as a mother that I am not always the one initiating these visits. Siblings truly are a blessing to each other, and watching these interactions is a blessing to their parents!

  • Mary Alice

    Kat, that is a really interesting thought about their sisters who have died. My grandmother had several still born children, but only one was named, and the subject was really taboo back then, even within the family, I think in part because they thought it was better to protect everyone from being sad by being emotionally connected to the babies who died. I am thankful that you and Red are able to celebrate those lives and allow your children to know about and care for the siblings that did not get to live very long. It is also a good reminder for them (and each of us) that our lives are bigger than the worldly goals.

  • Amanda

    Love this. Thanks!

  • Julie

    Beautiful Kellie…as always!!!