The Joy of parenting siblings

We know one another’s faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws. – Rose Macaulay

Siblings know one another as they always were. As siblings we know each other’s hearts, share private family jokes, and live untouched by time. Siblings know to band together to often outlast marriages, to survive the death of parents, and become closer after every quarrel. They thrive in a life of proximity and distance, affection and aversion, devotion and distrust. Love, loyalty, friendship, empathy, compassion, competition, faith, forgiveness – so many basic elements of a life well lived are polished within by their bond.

For parents nothing equals the joy of seeing their kids casting themselves in relationships to last whole lives long and in the process each becoming what she/he was meant to be. They have their own games, jokes, songs and habits. Even today most of what they do in a given day only makes sense to the three of them. They make one another laugh, they make one another cry, and they make on another mad. There is an ebb and flow to their roles that occurs with remarkable ease. Miran is the conciliator when Nida is the brat. Nati is the bowler when Miran is the batsman. Nida has a way to get under other two’s skin but knows to be of strength to them when they need it. When one is distressed, the others comfort.

When Nida was born I was attending a course at a university in Europe and couldn’t travel home in time to welcome her into this world. I had to wait another two months before I first saw her when she arrived in Paris. One look at the animated baby in my wife’s arms and I was hooked for life even before I carefully settled her in my lap. From there onwards she had our undivided attention till Miran arrived three years later.

While Nida gave every indication of growing up as the endearingly mouthy thing that she is, Miran took his time in starting to talk. Perhaps, he didn’t need words as he had Nida. Whenever Miran would fidget, mewl, cry or indicate his discomfort in some comparable fashion; before we could press him on what he wanted and perhaps coax a few words from him, Nida would barge in to solve the conundrum. ‘He’s cold’, she would say, for example, and she would be right. With Nida around, Miran was safe, though she extracted her price in obedience from Miran for being the caretaker and the magician for him, an authority that she later found very difficult to relinquish except when faced with physical threat from an enraged strapping lad.

Then came Nati, seven years after Miran. She was the baby of the family. From the tenor of her sob or the glint in her eyes, Miran knew which toy Nati was eyeing or what she wanted. He decoded the signs and produced the goods. Miran became Nati’s psychic and spokesperson, her soothsayer and her chaperon. With Miran around, Nati is always looked after and protected.

They crawled and toddled one after the other and now march together. Acrimony, geography, or their quirks do not pull the sisters and the brother apart, as my wife and I bask in the joy of parenting the wonderful siblings they make. “Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life. Your parents leave you too soon and your kids and spouse come along late, but your siblings know you when you are in most inchoate form.” Said the writer Jeffrey Kluger, the author of the book “The Sibling Effect” published in 2011.

Often at a personal cost, I always made sure that the siblings we brought into this world stay together to witness one another’s development, living as fellow passengers of life and growing up in sync with shared memories, a deep understanding, joint heritage, and a common culture at personal levels – yet each of them so different from the other two. Family closeness does not just happen by chance, a fortuitous blend of characters. It’s a decision, a priority made and followed, often at a personal cost. During my shifting job postings, I always made it a priority that the siblings stayed together rather than separating them for my emotional convenience. It’s an accretion of these often aching decisions that has given our children so many overlapping corners of personality to serve as their glue for life.

Being together helps them in other ways too. If you are let down by one, you can get rid of feelings with the other. It’s good to always have someone else to turn to or to turn to different sibling for different things. Because the three of them belong to the same generation each understands the others better than even I or their mother does. While we gave them shared values, they have intuitively allocated themselves the roles they play. Popularity comes relatively easily to Miran, Nida resolved to be the more diligent student, and Nati is looking to find her way to stand out in studies. Miran and Nati make relatively more conventional choices and Nida prefers less conventional ones, perhaps her claim to a distinct identity. Letting them resolve their squabbles on their own helps them learn important problem-solving and relationship skills, as well as bring them closer as siblings.

That’s how it goes in the pack of siblings in our family. With declining fertility rates I often wonder why more and more families are willing to trade the intimacy impact for a bit of economic leverage. The challenges and comforts of a pack of siblings are multiple, at least in my lucky experience as a parent. With siblings to help shoulder the burden of the parents’ plans, one can lag in some respects without attracting much notice. So siblings pick up the slack and act as decoys earning parents’ distraction. Ours three are natural harbours in a family that has made succeeding in closeness a priority. They all look a part of larger parti-coloured quilt. While they may have to be more mindful with their friends, among themselves they can be at their most primal self and childishly emotional – and often are. They have created a centre of gravity for themselves, an audience that never averts its gaze, and two friends who never bolt. They are partly responsible for one another’s idiosyncrasies. They know how to exploit one another. What is fulfilling is that they live and experience the world at the same eye level. They are different versions of one another that are similar in ways that matter the most. We hope the grooves that they’ve made in one another’s psyches will fit together and soothe three of them for a lifetime. For now, confronted with a change in our circumstances, the elder two strived to decode what Nati wanted. It wasn’t difficult as they had years of camaraderie to draw from.  Having made the choice, the other two stand behind Nati as she makes a major transition in her young life. Starting out in a new city and at a new school, she should feel as safe as ever with Miran at her side

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