For many of my growing up years, I was raised as an only child. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have a sibling. I did, and still do, though he has not been an active part of my life for many years. For reasons that are his alone to share, my brother left our family at a fairly young age, and sometimes it feels as though he’s never looked back. After he left, our house was too quiet. It’s a strange feeling to grieve the loss of someone who is still alive. Even after all of these years, there is a hole in my heart where a relationship with my sibling should reside, and I know that I’m not alone in my feelings. There are fractured families and severed sibling relationships on every street in America. While my story is not unique, that knowledge doesn’t make my loss any less significant. My brother no longer comes home for the holidays. He’s never met my youngest son who is soon to be four years old. He’s not stepped foot into the house where I’m raising my family, and I know just as little about the life that he’s built. We do talk every once in awhile. He has the uncanny ability to swoop in by phone right when I need him most, and I’m thankful for that. But my heart has always longed for more.
The reality is that the loss of a relationship with my brother has not only shaped who I’ve become as a person; it has also shaped who I’ve become as a parent. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted a large family of my own. It’s why I’m a bit extreme when it comes to planning crowded, loud, over the top holiday celebrations. And if I’m being honest, it played into my decision to homeschool my children so that they could spend most of their childhood living life together. There’s not much that I value more in life than the relationships that my children are building with each other.
I often tell my children that the greatest gift I will ever give them is the gift of each other. I believe this to be true with all of my heart, and I strive daily to strengthen their sibling bonds.
My methods aren’t perfect. They aren’t a guarantee that my children will remain close. But they are my best effort towards tying our family’s heartstrings in the years that I’ve been given, and I’d like to share them with you here.
5 Tips for Fostering Family Friendships:
Remove the Alternatives
If we want our children to be best friends, we must remove any alternatives producing the opposite effect. Whether that be activities, media, outside friendships, or things… if they are coming between our children and dividing hearts, they must go. (This doesn’t mean my children don’t have friends outside of our family. They do, but if those friendships don’t encourage our family as a whole, then an adjustment must be made. And it’s the same with anything else that leads my children to believe that ‘self’ is more important than ‘team’.) If we want to raise siblings who are close, we must be willing to eliminate anything that hinders that goal.
Family Fun Days
In the summer, when all of your children are home, choose one day each week to be your designated family fun day. Go on an adventure together or stay home and play games. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you follow the rule of no extra friends, cellphones, or individual screens allowed. Make your people your priority. Show your children that family can be fun!
Family Home Night
Select one night each week to spend time together as a family. Build friendships in your home by sharing a meal together, talking together, laughing together, dreaming together, and working together. Make sure that your family relationships don’t get pushed to the side amidst your crazy schedules and busy lives.
When we are forced to share space, we can’t help but share ourselves. We have plenty of bedrooms in our home, but our children still share. Consider an open door policy (unless someone is changing, etc.). We can’t build camaraderie if we are each living life in separate corners of the house.
You may not see the fruit of their friendships until later in life, but don’t be mistaken. If we don’t tie the strings of friendship early on with our children, encouraging relationships later will be all the more difficult.
Raising best friends is hard work. It can be tempting, at times, to throw in the towel and let the cards fall where they may, but I choose to believe that fostering family friendships is worth it.