560. Tagging Along

When two children are about the same age, there can sometimes be a bond between them. That bond can feel like the best of sibling bonds. In fact, it can conflict with real family ties – sometimes quite dramatically. A child may love her/his little sister or brother, and the two may play together pretty well when no one else is around; all sibling rivalry aside, two people who have the same parents and live in the same house have a lot in common, and can be good friends. But even among the closest brothers and sisters, there’s still a tendency for one of them (usually the older one) to hang out with people closer to his or her age, and try to have some time away from the other one. And the one who’s avoided (usually the younger one) tends not to like that.
Some parents get to see their children connect with each other. It can feel so good to see that happening; we don’t have children to create battles. We hope that our children will feel and maintain some kind of closeness. And I know some siblings do. I’ve seen siblings who seem like the best of friends, and I’ve been assured by their parents that it’s not just an act. Maybe family ties can be taught. Maybe they’re always there, but some of them have to be nurtured and/or elicited. My relationships with my brothers and sister don’t lead me to any universal conclusion. There’s friendship and caring in these relationships; we have times when we focus on what we have in common. I don’t know what role my parents played in getting that to happen.
When Cain killed Abel, and his parents later asked him where Abel was, he asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I don’t think that ought to be thought of as a rhetorical question. Yes, Cain, in a way, you ARE your brother’s keeper. Not just that you should have refrained from murdering him (although that would have been a nice gesture), but that you should look after him and care for him. And if your friend comes to play with you, don’t abandon Abel; try to include him. Children may not have asked to have siblings, and even if they did, they often have second thoughts. Most siblings have moments (years? decades?) when they dream about the glories of being an only child. And yet those of us who have siblings can have opportunities to make connections that can be good and will probably last.
But what about those times when one sibling has a friend over to play and the other doesn’t? Doesn’t the one have the right to some privacy with his or her friend? Wouldn’t the other one be better off with some company? It’s a situation that has no perfect solution. It’s no fun being the one who tags along, and it’s no fun being the one who has to let tagging along happen. The best we can do is try not to let that situation happen much – make sure that when one sibling has someone to play with, so does the other one.

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