Mar. 16, 2017

How to grow as brothers and sisters


Each time I visit a family with an only child, I always give such an attention to the kid. It makes me to appreciate the joy of having brothers and sisters. Being an only child has its own special feelings though-undivided love of the parents, undiluted attention, overflow of gifts, etc. But the experience of being a brother or sister is one which the only child does not enjoy. A young couple once visited me with their five-year-old baby girl. As we sat together chatting, the little girl moved close to me and began to cry aloud. Everyone started wondering what the matter was with her. Then she shouted, “Father, give my mom another baby”. It was somewhat embarrassing to the parents, but the child said only how she felt. And we prayed together for her mom. She felt calm and confident after the prayers. Pope Francis advised, “When it has been possible to have an only child, ways have to be found that he or she does not grow up alone or isolated” (Amoris Laetitia, 195), because that can lead to a feeling of isolation in certain cases.

The family is where parents teach the children how to be brothers and sisters. Pope John Paul 11 put it thus, “The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self-giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society” (Familiaris Consortio, 37). Children share almost everything- prayers, jokes, food, fight over little things like remote control, dolls, etc., then make peace again. They stumble, fall and rise.

Being brothers and sisters could be a wonderful experience for a family that is united. Scripture states, “Thou shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev.19:18). The parents establish and promote this principle; “Don’t do that to him, he is your brother. Don’t beat her, she is your sister”, are some of the words that register in the sub-conscious faculty of the growing child. There is a sense of caring, support and help in a manner that can only be found among brothers and sisters. It arises from the cult of the family.

In my family for instance, mom would always worry when one of us felt sick. The reason was that most times, whenever a brother or sister was sick, it was psychologically traumatic for others. The issue is this: the sick person usually punctured the family cohesion: common activities and jokes. Like in most large families, we usually had games and exercises in our family house whereby we split into teams. Everyone knew whom she/he paired with and wouldn’t want to miss that company. It was fun competing among eight brothers and sisters. The spirit of sportsmanship was inculcated in us. Winners won with joy while losers also lost with joy. So, the sickness of any person impaired our joy and made our activities incomplete. Maybe, we showed solidarity by joining the sick person in bed (how about that?). It's deeper than that: Do you know that my parents and all of us their nine children have the same blood group and genotype? Isn't that awesome? Blood is said to be thicker than water. It is called “Philadelphia” in Greek.

On the contrary, families that lack unity and love feel frustration. As children, we witnessed some brothers and sisters fight like enemies. Some threw stones at each other. We saw older brothers bullying younger ones as if they wanted to kill them. We experienced brothers and sisters not talking with one another, and not sharing food with each other. There were such feelings of hate, tension-soaked relationships. The feelings of being brothers and sisters seemed as if it was something negative. Most of such families grew into adulthood with hateful thoughts and lived like they strangers.

Meanwhile, growing up brings different dynamics into the family bond. Brothers and sisters choose careers. They move apart in search of greener pastures. They begin to marry and beget children. The wives come from different cultural and social backgrounds. They bring their spiritual and social values into the family. Fraternity of brothers and sisters is usually tested at such times. I remember the changes that have taken place in my family since my sisters and brothers started getting married. There was not only physical distance but ideological differences as well. Brothers and sisters must acknowledge these realities and be ready to adjust.

In Africa, most families live together even after getting married. They live in large compound, what is usually described as “family house”. It epitomizes gregarious feelings and supports consanguinity. But the question of privacy could be lost in that communal sense. Boundaries could be overstepped. Wives play great roles in either promoting the family unity or severing the bond among brothers and sisters. While some wives bring separation, others fit in, enjoy such bond and help to bring the husband closer to his family. Such wives become bridges linking their families of origin to the husbands’ families. The situation is different in some other parts of the world. In the United States, for example, young adults leave their family house a little early. Some of them stay very far apart from both their parents as well as brothers and sisters. They communicate occasionally. The African traditional practice and protocols for marriage don’t exist in most developed countries. Families get together mostly for special events like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Some don’t get together at all, but they know they are related somehow.

I will give you the tips for healthy relationship among brothers and sisters in my next article. Read on, and continue to enjoy the peace of Lent.