Band of Brothers, and Sisters

The most lasting and enduring of relationships.

The Super Bowl Lesson to Parents of Siblings

Why didn’t Jim strangle John after the game?

The Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl champs. After a crazy Super Bowl the NFL season is over, time for all fans to come out of the cave. Being from Baltimore I am thrilled with the Ravens victory but once the local euphoria subsides I am sure I will be fielding many calls at my psychotherapy practice from depressed football fans needing help coping with life after football.

From the many back stories of this exciting matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers the one that was most fascinating for me was the showdown between the opposing coaches; the Harbaugh brothers. Coming from a big sports family, John and Jim were brought up by their dad to follow in his footsteps. Both children wanted to please dad and embarked on football careers. Younger brother was considerably more successful at football than older brother and then they reach the pinnacle of their careers, The Super Bowl, facing one another on this international stage. The “Harbaugh Bowl”! What drama!

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Apparently this fascinating story captivated a lot of people around the country based on the many media inquiries I received about my thoughts on the matter. As a sibling expert guest on several radio shows last week I heard from people around the country about how this sibling story touched a personal cord with them. From a caller in Wisconsin who spoke about how a sister nursed her back to life after a cancer diagnosis to a caller in Oregon who had to make the tough decision about cutting ties with his brother after years of emotional abuse from him, the story of the Harbaugh siblings captivated us.

This is precisely why the most anticipated moment during the Super Bowl was the moment when the two brothers met midfield after the game for the traditional post-game hand-shake. Based on everything that is known about the dynamics of sibling rivalry you would have expected Jim to reach his brother midfield, lunge toward his brother’s neck and try and strangle him. Instead, the Harbaugh brothers taught us all a valuable life lesson. What I saw at that moment was profoundly special. What I saw at that moment was a disappointed Jim genuinely happy for his brother’s victory. What beauty, what maturity, what class. After all the tension and hype it all ended with two brothers embracing.

How does this happen? How does such an extraordinary sibling relationship develop? The answer to this question focuses on what happened in the Harbaugh home when John and Jim were kids. I have heard many remarkable stories about the special relationship that exists between all the members of the Harbaugh family. The parents, Jack and Jackie, worked very hard over the years to create a warm and supportive family atmosphere from the beginning. The parents invested in the sibling relationships of their kids and it paid off -- big time.

The embrace between John and Jim after the Super Bowl was a testament to the power of positive parenting. Invest in your children early on and they will make you proud. Just ask the Harbaugh parents what they felt when they saw that embrace. Jack and Jackie, you earned and deserve that sense of pride. I salute you!

Avidan Milevsky, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

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