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Published November 02, 2010, 12:00 AM

Parenting Perspectives: Siblings can be blessing or curse

When my daughter was little, she expressed a desire for a sibling, preferably an older brother.

By: Kathy Tofflemire, INFORUM

When my daughter was little, she expressed a desire for a sibling, preferably an older brother.

“That’s going to be tricky,” I said.

She was well into her 30s when her father remarried and gave her a couple of stepbrothers, and I have no idea whether they are older or younger. Besides, they came too late to supply the familial connection she probably craved as a child.

I wonder if she feels the same way now that she has observed her older son pushing his little brother’s buttons.

Recently, my older grandson and I discussed how the cafeteria at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School compared to elementary facilities. (He had good things to say about the garlic bread.)

I asked him if he got to eat with his friends. He said, yes, he did, but sometimes he goes and sits with kids who are eating alone.

I was overcome with grandmotherly pride.

“That’s really nice of you,” I said, thinking what a good boy his parents were rearing and that he likely would never be a bully.

But that same day, his little brother complained to me about how mean his sibling was. In this case, bullying is reserved for family.

“It’s just what brothers do,” I said for lack of a better explanation. I have witnessed the 11-year-old’s harassment, but, over the years, I’ve also seen him look after his younger bro when the two are “out in the world.”

When I repeated that conversation to a co-worker, she quickly pointed out that it wasn’t just brothers, but siblings in general.

There was such an age difference between my older brothers and myself that I sometimes felt like an only child. My oldest sibling was nearly 17 when I was born, so by the time I was old enough to be really aware, he had left home to work out of state and later to serve in the Army. He died of cancer when I was 8, so my memories of him are few.

I do remember him taking me, when I was about 4 years old, to the local newspaper where he worked in the advertising department. I’ve always suspected that was when I was bitten by the journalism bug. Fifteen years later, I went to work at that same newspaper.

There was a 10-year gap between me and my other brother, and I have to admit that I was the tormentor. When he was a teenager, I wanted to be around him, which drove him nuts. I took perverse pleasure in hearing him tell friends on the phone that he couldn’t go somewhere with them because he had to “stay home and take care of my brat sister.”

Not that he would have let it be known at the time, but he was a great baby sitter. We would play with toy cars, and he would read comic books to me.

He also once drew a very good likeness of me in my ballet tutu complete with the legs of a chicken.

Probably because of the age difference, we didn’t become really close until we were both adults, at which time he admitted that he had very much resented me joining the family.

If you and your sibling(s) live to a ripe old age, that relationship will likely last longer than any other – longer than the ones with your parents, your spouse or your children.

But my brothers didn’t live to be old men. I wish I had had more time with them.

Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum. Readers can reach her at (701) 241-5514, or ktofflemire@forumcom.com