Lessons Learned: Sibling Acceptance

I’m penning this Lessons Learned essay, inspired by National Siblings Day (today):

When I was deep in the trenches with regular visits to my therapist, one of the most helpful things we worked on involved the Enneagram. My therapist taught me about this personality system and it helped me understand my personality traits (I’m a #1 in the system) and also how those traits impact my reactions to other people’s behavior.

One of the major (sometimes challenging) things about being a #1 is that I’m guided by a strong sense of order and assumptions about how things should work and how people should behave in the world. I have worked really, really hard to let go of my assumptions over the years -- in fact, I co-wrote a book in which letting go of those shoulds is a major tenet. And I've found that this has been particularly helpful in the domain of coexisting with and raising siblings.

I have 6 siblings, almost all local. Obviously, when you have 7 people in any mix there are going to be different approaches and opinions and inevitable friction. This mix of personalities, coupled with the extreme challenges of our childhood, have created an interpersonal fabric that is rooted in a deep sense of love and commitment and desire for normalcy, while also being complicated and bumpy at times. The last few years have been especially challenging for me as I've experienced the sadness, frustration, and confusion of intense discord with one of my siblings; we basically have zero relationship right now.

Subsequently, and given that my journey from having one to two kids was such a roller coaster, I've wanted Laurel and Violet's relationship to be simple and pure and uncomplicated and full of love 24/7. Tall order, I know. Instead, the reality is that my two kids are incredibly different, whether it relates to general disposition (Laurel is our gentle deer, Violet is our fiery wildebeest), personal space (Laurel wants snuggling, Violet wants space), or what to wear (Laurel wants all things chevron, ombre, and sequins, Violet just wants the same pair of orange track pants). There is a ton of fighting. Sometimes it's just easier to separate them for long stretches of time.

My former self would fret about this, but through the years, I have finally learned that acceptance trumps shoulds. I don't need to agree with the choices my siblings or my kids make; instead, I need to accept that they are making the choices that make sense to them in that moment and given their personal circumstances. I can give advice or recommendations to my siblings or my kids and I need to accept that they may choose to do something totally different. I need to accept that discord is normal, perhaps even necessary for growth and change. I need to hang back and let my siblings and my daughters be who they are and issue the same acceptance that I want issued in my direction (believe me, I know I’ve done things my siblings don’t agree with).

Why? Because my way is not the only way. And the world needs both gentle deer and fiery wildebeests.

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Image credits: Christine Koh