I have always said I should have been born first. Instead, I was the second of seven. This meant that once I got old enough to babysit I did the cooking and cleaning; bathed the little ones; and was the one who reported to Mom and Dad when they got home, but Josh was still “in charge”. He loved bossing me around until I was an early teen – that’s when I grew taller, stronger, and more athletic than him. (All of which he’ll probably comment on at some point, but believe me instead.)
But I am not here to talk about Josh’s past nightmares and bitterness but about how my parents did their part to help us kids to love each other.
I used to hear my mom introduce us as her “liter” at times. She would laugh about how we all had to do everything together and never wanted to be alone. I thought she was crazy since, at that time, all I wanted was to be alone. I idolized my neighbor friend, Christina, who was an only child who had her own room; daydreamed about what it would be like to not have Janelle tagging along and breaking everything I owned; wished I didn’t have to worry about Jesse saying something strange and embarrassing me in front of friends or total strangers; and resented Josh being the boss when I did all the work.
The reality is, Mom was right. (She loves it when we say that!) Regardless of the moments when I craved solitude or sinless siblings, I wanted them around. This became most clear to me when I got married. I found myself still going to pick up a kid or two to go to a movie, the playground or the grocery store.
How did this happen?
First, we were homeschooled. (Disclaimer: I do not believe that you have to be homeschooled to have good sibling relationships or that homeschooling is for everyone. I am only sharing ways my parents instilled a love for each other in our particular family.)
Back when my parents started homeschooling there no homeschool co-ops and they knew only one other family in our entire county who was homeschooling. (No, we didn’t live in the hills of West Virginia but in suburban Washington, DC.) Our “socialization” come from each other. We were the basketball, front-yard soccer and street hockey teams; study partners; tutors; field trip partners and debate team competitors. This created an environment where we had to rely on each other for friendship that other kids could easily find elsewhere. Although annoying at times, and something I sometimes greatly disliked, I am grateful to be one of those rare people who is still best friends with those I went to school with.
Second, like Jake said on Friday, mom forced us to pursue reconciliation and and to ask each other’s forgiveness. That’s right, she literally forced us to apologize to each other. And she didn’t just make us apologize but also had us look at each other’s eyes and hug one another! Although that may sound like it was “fake” or wrong because it was mere outward behavior, it created in us the habit of righting wrongs. Yes, at 14, when I had to apologize to 8-year-old Janelle (again) for yelling at her, my heart was not all there. I may have been faking my regret, but I was developing a habit of going back and admitting I was wrong. And Missy was developing a habit of practicing forgiveness. Regardless of what was going on my heart at 14, or 10, or 4, that habit turned into a conviction. Now I pretty routinely go back and ask for forgiveness when I have wronged somebody – even if I still don’t feel like it. In the process of asking my siblings for forgiveness hundreds of times, we learned that having a tender conscience resulted in realizing we really did love one another enough to “get right” with one another. Over the years I learned my siblings not only know me best but were the first to genuinely forgive me – even and especially when my weakness and sin hurt them badly.
I may not have had the full regret and remorse of my actions at 14, but at 18 my actions rocked my sibling’s world; yet they were eagerly waiting to forgive me. That heart continues. Last week I reacted impatiently and harshly to my brother, Joey. When I called to work things out with him he responded with,“I know you and knew we were already fine before this call.” We may not have been so quickly “fine” as young children, but the practice of having to humble ourselves and be reconciled (at least on the outside) — instilled in us by my parents as young children – means now that we’re adults an apology isn’t even always required to forgive one another.
Through the many trials through which our family as walked, many people came and went. I’ve learned (the hard way at times) to rely on God, my parents, and my siblings…no matter what. The trials were small when we were young (like having to share a room with my little sister) but as the trials have grown we now run to each other to reconcile.
Finally, and what might sound a little strange, is this: my parents told us to be and act like friends. I can’t count the number of times we had conversations about the importance of friendship with our brothers and sisters. As Mom has mentioned, she learned this from my Nannie and her siblings. I hated the “I dream that someday you and Missy will be friends so you need to start treating her like one now” comments. I listened politely but argued in my heart. Yet, it had an affect. I was a mean sister to her. But even when I thought I had damaged my relationship with Janelle too much, I had a glimmer of hope because Mom said it could happen.
After a recent fight between my two youngest girls (ages 4 and 6) I sat them down to talk. One had bit her sister, and the other retaliated by pulling her sister’s hair. They were both crying and giving each other mean stares. I asked them if their Aunt Nelly and Mommy were friends. 6-year-old Anniston said, “Yes, like best friends or something.” “Yes, we are. But when I was your age I didn’t like Nelly. She drove Mama crazy and I wanted to bite her and pull her hair.” They both stared at me with wide-eyed shock. I explained to them that they could be best friends when they grew up, were going to love each other so much and needed to treat each other kindly now because of that. Afterwards, I “forced” them to ask forgiveness. 🙂
Days later I heard Danae tell someone that Annie would be her best friend. I smiled. I smile when I hear Kayla say the same unkind things to Annie that I did to Janelle or treat Wyatt the same way I treated Jesse. Why does this make me smile? Because I know that they are getting to know each other. They will know each other’s shortcomings more than anyone else. I smile more when I see them playing basketball out front together, or watch Kayla help Wyatt with math, or listen to one of them try to convince everyone to get in to pool because it’s more fun to all be together. I hear Mom in my own voice when I explain to Kayla that Wyatt is way younger than her now — but someday she will probably get really excited when she hears the front door open and realize it’s him coming over to talk about politics or sports or to watch a show with her. Yeah. Like when our hearts jump because Uncle Jakey just walked in.
My husband, an only child, now benefits from the relationship with my brothers and sisters as well. They are his brothers and sisters and his best friends, too. I’m thankful that Mom and Dad homeschooled us, forced us to forgive (and love each other at times), and told us to be friends. Although it was certainly annoying as a child, I am now annoying my own children with faith that one day the first person they call when something annoying, happy, sad, devastating, or just random and funny happens is one of their siblings.