Mom Loves You Best

How adult siblings can resolve lifelong conflicts and reconnect.

Why Reconnect with Estranged Midlife Siblings?

Sibling relationships are the longest thread in your life.


What is the benefit of reconnecting with your midlife sibling? At any time, but especially in midlife, the support of brothers and sisters is key. Sibling relationships, as we have said, are the longest thread in your life. We start with them as kids, usually have some distance as we raise our own family and draw close again in midlife. At this juncture, we may have half our adult life left to live. In the twenty-first century, our life expectancy has doubled. At fifty we may have another fifty years to live. Brothers and sisters can be an integral line we can use to rappel through extra decades. As we draw into middle age, siblings can share many of the burdens and the joys of the second half of our life.

Picture an hourglass. It is wide at the top, narrow in the middle, and wide again at the bottom. Sibling interaction can be just like this. When we are kids we see them all the time because brothers and sisters are part of our family. In fact we have no choice but to see them because we are children growing up together. But a big change happens after we are teenagers and siblings drift off to go to college, take jobs, get married, and have kids of their own. We see our siblings less often as our twenties, thirties, and forties go by, and then we find ourselves in a different part of the family hourglass. As our own children grow up, our older parents become frail, our grandchildren arrive, our lives change course, and we start to interact with our siblings once more. As our lives turn, our hourglass widens heralding many more reasons to seek our siblings.

Divorce is a searing transition in midlife when the support of a sibling is a lifeboat. Siblings are also a critical support system if a parent is showing irrevocable signs of age. If we are widowed, a sibling can shore us up in this period of profound loss. There are many starring roles for midlife siblings. Just seeing your siblings can be a mood elevator. All these reasons show why it is key to try and repair these relationships now in midlife.

Finally, like a draining hourglass, time is running out on the midlife family stage. Forgiveness  and reconnection have only so much time. The midlife family's play will run only so long before the curtain closes. Death stalks the cast and will pick off the characters one by one and someday shut down the play. Vulnerable to that drawn curtain, it is important for midlife siblings to resolve brother and sister breaches before a chronic illness or sudden death takes a sibling and leaves them nothing but regret.

Midlife brothers and sisters can come through for us in a million ways. If we move, they are the family members who most frequently help us pack, drive the U-haul, and give a hand in the upheaval. When we retire with sheet cakes and cheap champagne, the biggest toasters can be siblings. If our elderly parents are moving, downsizing or relocating to warmer climates, siblings are there to help us parcel out family treasures, sort out the collected furniture and decades of junk, working with us as a team to help get our parents to the new location. Siblings are stellar partners in this sometimes-overwhelming adult child task. If we become disabled or are ill, that sibling air mattress can reinflate on a dime, and brothers and sisters are among the first people we can call in a health care crisis, to do everything from going on the web to find resources to coming to our home and nursing us back to health.

A potential victim of that emptying hourglass, forgiveness is crucial as we age. If the sand runs out before ruptures are repaired, the warped family pattern just appears in the next generation. Passing on impoverished sibling models deals a bad hand of family desolation to the next generation, passing on hurt, rage, resentment, and unsutured gashes.

 

 

Cathy Cress holds an M.S.W. in Aging from U.C. Berkeley. She is the coauthor of Mom Loves You Best, Forgiving and Forging Sibling Relationships.

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