Family ties. The relationship with your sibling is the longest you will ever have. They are your first playmate, advisor, protector or bully. Studies reveal that not only can siblings boost mental health and physical fitness, but strong ties may also help you live longer, writes Joan Salmon.
One of my enduring memories is when I was separated from my family for the first time when I joined secondary school. I felt like a fish out of water; I did not know how and when to do what. Thank God for the letters which became our trusted form of communication. Almost two decades later I still have those letters and they still give me comfort when I am feeling lost. According to research published in the journal PLoS Medicine, there are many benefits of positive sibling relationships, including support, friendship, and connection. Research shows that sibling relationships can increase sympathy, which can foster other prosocial behaviours such as helping and sharing. No matter the reason, keeping that strong connection with our siblings could help us live a longer, happier, and healthier life.
Being the last born of three siblings, I was the centre of attention. At school, my sister Annet Twinokwesiga, was an ever present partner, playing with me and showing me the ropes. We were more than just siblings; we were friends. I remember one of our schoolmates noting that I have the best siblings. They were right.
We did things as one, be it sitting around the table to claim Grandmaster-ship as our chess games got better, eating, driving, walking, farming, dancing, reading and more of the things that family members that love each other and are importantly present in each other’s lives, want to do. And today, our times together, though interrupted by duties that adulthood comes with, are still deep and warm.
I have fond memories about childhood and growing up, and they mostly revolve around my family. Family always comes first and life in the Twinokwesiga home was a daily celebration. We have always been a close knit family. We are quick to share warm hugs and beautiful conversations. In a bid to keep the bond strong and going, the family has made use of technology as much as possible. Phones have helped us stay connected especially seeing as we live in towns apart; we call each other and stay up-to-date about events going on in each other’s lives.
I am the first born with two brothers so it was my responsibility to look after and out for them. Despite being only five years older, I was actually more of a big brother than a big sister because with a predominantly male neighbourhood, I had to be there and protect them. I was also their counsellor and on most occasions a mother figure since our mother had a business to run to meet our needs. I was never the pampering sister because as a prefect, when they came late, they had to serve their punishment. But we also had great moments. For example, I could not have lunch before they did. Then there was a time they found my teacher punishing us and they ran home to call mother. It was because I had instilled in them the importance of protecting each other, even against our mother. I was the no nonsense big sister, they nicknamed me the ‘fire lady’. The three of us have kept the bond because I never get tired of providing physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. I will always be a ‘boy’ to them and I can play their games and dance like them. Being older, you know when to criticise or praise and I remember everyone’s birthday. While I never call often, when I do, there is a lot to talk about. I am the big sister that never gets old.
Growing up with a single mother, we automatically developed a strong bond as siblings. We lived in an extended family with a lot of cousins and foster siblings but an outsider could never tell the difference. My mum treated all of us the same and loved each without favouritism. She (mum) also loved and respected her siblings and friends unconditionally. So I guess her ways were instilled in us effortlessly. After my mum passed away, we even grew closer. My big sister (Nancy), took on the role of mother and made sure all of us were united. We meet at each other’s places regularly to catch up. Our children are best friends and often meet for play dates and sleep overs.
I think the bond just comes naturally, but in a way, our parents indirectly played a big role. When we were young we bonded over our hobbies and interests. Interestingly, we liked the same games, loved the same music and movies.
It is indeed true that a family that plays together stays together. Little has changed in our adulthood; we still share a lot in common and that is why we can hold conversations effortlessly. We all enjoy the entertainment world, movies and music and on the night of the Grammys, our family page is extremely busy.
We keep in constant communication with each other and plan simple get-together, at least once in four months where we either meet at someone’s place or any convenient place in town.
I come from a Muslim background with over 12 brothers and sisters. While our mothers never seemed to see eye to eye, until recently after our father’s demise, as siblings, we somehow kept together. We always had each other’s backs, and fought our battles together. Even today, we are the best of friends and before anyone can know something that has happened to one of us, we must know about it as siblings. While some people were privileged to have their parents teach them, for us, it was more like instincts; before you know it, you love your sibling even if they have just been introduced to you. It might also be because our father was a social person. He related well with people as long as they were blood regardless of where they came from. For him, the saying, blood is thicker than water was lived
Fostering sibling relationships
“Relationships among siblings do not happen later in life,” Rose Mary Bwire, a counselling psychologist and lecturer at Uganda Christian University Mukono, says, “Bonding between siblings should begin as early as possible, even before the child is born.
While sibling relationships can be created, there is need to maintain them and to that, Pamela Balayo of Jolly Counsellors says, “Just like the way families breakup and makeup, so do siblings, life is not always rosy. All that these siblings need is love to foster peace, unity and happiness among themselves.” She shares ways to ensure sibling relationships work at all costs.
Charity begins at home; it all begins with the parents, get to know your children well and then teach them empathy towards each other. They shouldn’t be courteous to strangers only but to relatives; siblings as well. That will continuously maintain the bond.
Encourage them to do things together such as family vacations where it is mandatory for all to come, special days such as birthdays, weddings. This helps them harness their talents through role allocation and also aids bonding.
Communication is paramount in our daily life; technology is almost everywhere so we cannot make excuses. Apart from the Internet that provides several communication platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, even those deep in the villages can access phones. Siblings should fully utilise these to communicate, make memories they can laugh about later.
Stop comparing and being jealous of others; every person has their own standards, lifestyle, and capability. Therefore, be yourself and live within your means to avoid conflicts resulting from unhealthy competition.
Be nice to your sibling’s best friends particularly your in-laws. This gives a grantee to your siblings that you are part and parcel of their life journey. It is great to know that the important people in your lives can live in harmony and it creates a great bond.