As parents, we desired that our children connect positively as siblings. At first, all seemed to be going well. After completing our daughter’s adoption, we were parents to four young children. Our older two boys, only 18 months apart, got along great and shared many common interests. Our younger two were 16 months apart, and they also got along well. They played and laughed and spent time together. And we were content. No big fights, very little drama--life was good, but something was missing.
While there was a lot of peace and gobs of good playtime, we began to notice a trend. Our older two rarely played with our younger two. The gap between our sets of children stood at four long years. While two were in school, two were still home with me. While the older kids played team sports, the younger ones began preschool crafts. Their interests and schedules differed greatly and so they each stuck to what they knew best. Maybe that was okay. Except something told us it was not.
Our children were little then. But we knew they would not stay that way. We knew that a lifetime of experiences awaited our four, and while much of it would create warm memories for them, some of it would be difficult, painful, sad. How they will need each other when they are grown cannot easily be predicted today. It was a blessing that they got along in their sets, but my husband and I knew that it was not enough.
From the time we began our family, we told our children that their siblings were gifts. We brought each new baby into our home and set them before the others and happily declared the truth: “Look honey, we got you a present!” If we believed this to be the truth, then it was time to encourage them to embrace those gifts, big or little, alike or not.
Pulling our older boys aside, we told them that each day they would be required to spend a bit of time with one of their little siblings. We told them that they would play games, build towers, listen to stories, and find ways to connect because all of it would matter as they began to grow up. Time invested now would lay a foundation for the future.
So every day, one of the big boys would approach a little one and say, “Would you like to play?” And no matter what the activity, the answer was always yes. Our younger two began to feel loved, and seen, and enjoyed by their two big brothers. And our older two learned that you sometimes play house when you want to shoot hoops, and it’s okay to think about somebody else. And their connections grew.
Many years have passed since that time, and my children are bigger now. Yet last night I listened to my high-school son reading a book to my little girl. Her head resting on the pillow, she ended her day with the sound of her brother’s voice sharing a favorite tale. And while my husband or I normally take on that task, I loved that my boy took a turn. That he wanted to step away from teenage texting and spend a few minutes with his little sister affirms that the bond we prayed for is growing stronger still.
As I sat on the step and eavesdropped, I was deeply aware that this is a gift. It is a gift that they have one another, and a gift that I can watch it play out. I do not know what life will hold for them, but I do know that they will likely have one another longer than they have me. And I do know that when the days are long and hard, it is a blessing to have siblings who love you and have known you from the time you were born. They can laugh at your history and pull you in close when you are drifting away. They can challenge your faith and remind you of the person you have always been. But all of this doesn’t just happen, it requires cultivation.
We bless our children when we recognize their need for connection and plan for what may someday come. We can rejoice with the words from Psalm 133:1 saying, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity!" We build sibling connections so that our kids begin to see what we have always known. We help them understand that God entrusted us with them and we are entrusting them to one another, too. This is the unity that God desires for us.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster