Read the latest headlines and you will find sibling issues. From terrorism (Boston and Paris) to politics (Bush) to sports (Manning and Harbaugh), sibling related narratives are a powerful part of life's journey. Siblings matter!
Unfortunately, just as we did when we were children, we treat ignoring siblings as a sport. In fact, growing up, giving our brother or sister a cold shoulder after a fight was the advice many parents gave their children; "you go to this room, you go to that room, and don't talk to each other until you graduate." Parents sometimes may have flat-out said "ignore him." We learned very quickly that siblings are to be ignored.
Unfortunately, doing so is unhealthy considering the many advantages we gain from engaging our siblings. Siblings play an integral role in our lives. We learn how to think, cooperate, share, deal with emotions, and solve problems from interacting with our siblings.
Regrettably, society as a whole has continued to relate to siblings just as we did when we were children: ignoring them. Even with everything we now know about how important siblings are throughout life, multiple sectors of practice have failed to account for sibling issues. Among other sectors, this neglect can be seen in education, disability services, family law, and psychotherapy.
Schools disregard the role of siblings in neglecting to devise ways for siblings to assist in school work. Schools have back-to-school nights for parents but little effort is made to include siblings in these evenings. This oversight is particularly startling considering how effective children are in educating siblings. Furthermore, when schools work on bullying issues they often neglect the context of the sibling relationship in the development of the student aggression. Schools can be served by integrating siblings into their broader efforts at minimizing peer victimization.
A combination of societal and legislative changes have made the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families more comfortable in comparison to the way things were throughout history. From educational to industrial institutions, the accommodations and sensitivity offered to individuals with disabilities have created a less restrictive and more accessible environment. Families of individuals with disabilities have also gained attention and now have an array of services provided for their education and support. However, disability services often lag when it comes to attending to the unique issues faced by siblings of those with disabilities. Siblings often feel neglected by parents and service providers and report being in the dark about what is happening with their disabled siblings.
Family law is an additional sector that unfortunately neglects the integral role played by siblings in the lives of individuals. United States family law mainly focuses on two relationships: the bond between spouses and the bond between parent and child. U.S. family law's limited focus on marriage and parenthood comes at the expense of considering how the law should regulate and protect other family links including the sibling bond. This neglect can be seen in multiple areas. For example, when separately placed siblings seek post-adoption contact and the adoptive parent objects, it may be unconstitutional to force contact. Similarly, in cases when split custody was decided post-divorce or when siblings are placed in different homes after parental divorce, visitation laws frequently provide no help for siblings seeking visitation rights. This situation stands in stark contrast to United States family laws relating to grandparents. In the United Sates, every state has some form of grandparent visitation laws. Post-divorce, grandparents can petition the court for visitation rights with their grandchildren even when the custodial parent objects.
Sibling issues are rarely discussed in therapy even though past and present sibling dynamics are an integral part of child and adult adjustment, personality, mental health, and well-being. Neglecting sibling therapy as a treatment modality on its own is baffling considering the powerful psychological issues that develop from the passion, longevity, and intensity of the sibling bond throughout life.
Numerous areas of practice that directly and indirectly impact individuals and families have neglected the essential role played by siblings in the socialization of children and adolescents and in the offering of vital support functions throughout life. Just read the latest headlines about the undercurrent of sibling issues in many recent stories. Hopefully, an emerging focus on siblings will influence educators, service providers, and policy makers to begin accounting for the unrepeatable position occupied by siblings during the course of life.