Siblings And Other Relatives

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Approximately 90% of all Americans have at least one brother or sister. The average number of siblings is slightly less than 1.5 for all ethnic groups combined; it is higher for Hispanics than for Blacks and higher for Blacks than for non-Hispanic Whites (Saluter, 1996).

Siblings usually have more in common with each other than with any other member of the immediate family. This is particularly true when siblings are of the same sex and close in age. In families in which parents express a great deal of dissatisfaction and hostility toward each other and/or the children, or when a parent has been lost by death, separation, or divorce, siblings are likely to turn to each other and develop their own little social world or subfamily. Brothers and sisters may be intensely loyal toward each other, a loyalty and closeness that deepens with age (Dunn, 1984; Mosatche, Brady, & Noberini, 1983). Long after they have left their parents' home and even after the parents have died, siblings who were close as children continue to provide emotional and material support to each other in times of crisis (Matthews, Werkner, & Delaney, 1990; Rosenthal, 1985). Anxiety and depression are lifted when a brother or sister shows concern and an eagerness to be of help.

Some of the most negative, as well as the most positive, feelings are directed toward siblings. Even as mature adults, some siblings have not gotten over the interpersonal rivalry that occurred in their childhood (Greer, 1992). In most cases these feelings become less intense with age, but even in later life siblings may have strong hostile feelings toward each other. Actually, feelings and relationships with one's siblings in later life run the gamut from highly positive to highly negative. Thus, Gold (1989,1990) was able to classify sibling relationships in older adulthood into five categories: intimate, congenial, loyal, apathetic, and hostile. Intimate siblings were extremely close; they were best friends and confidants and totally accepted each other. Another group, congenial siblings, were also close but did not share the same degree of empathy as intimate siblings. Relationships between loyal siblings were based on family ties or belongingness rather than affection or interdependence. The fourth group, apathetic siblings, were indifferent to one another, whereas the relationships between siblings in the fifth group, hostile siblings, were characterized by anger, enmity, and resentment.

As siblings grow older, sisters, who have the strongest and most intimate feelings toward one another, tend to maintain more frequent contacts than brothers (Connidis, 1988; Lee, Mancini, & Maxwell, 1990). At all ages, sisters are closer to each other than they are to brothers or than brothers are to one another (Adams, 1968). However, black brothers are more likely than white

Even when she was a little girl, my sister planned to become a schoolteacher. She would take her books, climb a tree, and study and practice on her woody perch for hours. On descending to earth, she immediately recruited me as her favorite pupil. She frequently tutored me on grammar, geography, and history, and even took me to her school classroom sometimes. As a romantically precocious kindergartner, i was thrilled on those occasions when i was doted on by her second-grade girlfriends. My sister was superior in every subject except arithmetic, so our roles as teacher and pupil were reversed when i gladly agreed to instruct her and the other girls in that arcane subject.

My sister also liked to sing, and she and i occasionally performed at local churches. She usually sang "God Put a Rainbow in the Sky," and I recited Bible verses that my mother had drilled me on the night before. My sister liked movie musicals in particular, and paid my way to the theater (sans popcorn) on many occasions. During high school, she became interested in opera, listened to the Metropolitan every Saturday afternoon on the radio, bought many opera records, andurged me to accompany her Mimi with my Rudolfo in the garret where we lived. I usually declined the invitation, but ended up learning something about opera in spite of myself. Later, I expanded my interest repertory to symphonies, but could never get her involved in them to the same degree as opera.

Some years later, my sister graduated from college and was issued a teaching certificate in Spanish and social studies. She found a job in New York, although some wag humorously remarked that teaching Spanish to New York immigrant children was rather like carrying coals to Newcastle. After working for a while in the Empire State, she left for ajob teaching Southern history in Georgia. Because our mother was a New York yankee and our father a Georgia cracker, it seemed like an appropriate compromise for my sister to divide her time between the two states. An indication of her efforts to resolve the apparent conflict between subject specialties was when she taught history in Spanish or took a historical perspective in lecturing on the culture of southern Spain.

My sister no longer works in the schools, but she still seems like a teacher to me. Consequently, I know that when I visit her I must be prepared to listen attentively and take good notes. I never know when she may decide to give me a pop quiz on what she has just said! Incidentally, she still enjoys opera and sings arias when she thinks no one else is listening.

brothers to possess and retain positive relationships with each other (Gold, 1990). In any case, sisters and brothers tend to visit more in later life than they did in middle age.

Relatives outside the nuclear family do not interact with or assist family members as much as they once did. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and other mem-

bers of the extended family can no longer be depended on to "rush into the breech" when the nieces, nephews, or other relatives need help. Among the reasons for this situation are the increased geographical separation of members of extended families, less time for interacting with relatives, and the fact that public agencies now assume much of the responsibility for family care that was once borne by the families themselves. In some ethnic and religious groups, however, extended families are eager and active in promoting family welfare. This is the case, in particular, for Mormons, blacks, and Hispanics. For blacks, the extended family provides economic, emotional, and physical support to family members of all ages. The role of older women as kin keepers, who assume the responsibility of keeping in touch with family members, providing for their needs and arranging family get-togethers, is well-defined in the black community. Both older women and older men are usually the givers rather than the receivers of assistance to black family members (Sussman, 1985; Wilson, 1989).

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Confident Kids

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