Family as Therapy: How Aging Siblings Can Be a Great Source of Comfort for Seniors
When we’re young, we tend to take our siblings for granted. Sometimes we have fun with them. At other times, we’re pulling each other’s hair and arguing over the last cookie. We share most of life’s big and small events: holidays, birthdays, family vacations, weddings, babies, and funerals.
Despite the squabbles and sibling rivalries, though, we’re doing critical work during these years. We’re building connections that will hopefully see us through even when so many others are lost over the decades. Indeed, as we do age, these relationships can provide significant psychological support.
As different as we may be on the surface, growing up in the same family provides a point of connection and belonging that few other experiences do.
Siblings provide something typically no one else can.
This is a true gift throughout all of life, as well as when we are elderly. Shared memories, family jokes, and experiences offer comfort and connection. Our spouses and children typically do not know what we were like as kids. With our siblings, we carry the unique imprint of the family we grew up in.
Siblings might remember stories we’ve forgotten about our family or ourselves. When they tell these stories, it awakens a part of us. Likewise, we can do the same for them.
We can recognize our own features, laugh, or voice in our siblings. This sense of belonging is powerful. It tells us we have roots.
Maintaining a sense of humor is vital across the lifespan. Because we are often quite comfortable opening up around our siblings, our interactions can allow for a more relaxed banter.
Again, the shared stories from our history together can also be a source of joy. Some siblings even continue to play games they played together as children, such as cards. This dynamic lends itself to joking and playful teasing.
Many sibling relationships provide us with an opportunity to be more open than we can be or want to be with other people. We can talk about things with our siblings that we wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing with our adult children or our parents.
Siblings are our peers. We’ve witnessed each other grow up and move through life. This experience provides a depth of comfort that is hard to find with those younger or older than us. We’re able to commiserate with siblings about our children or our aging parents.
Growing older can bring a lot of significant changes. Retirement may bring new freedom, or unexpected boredom and loneliness. Spouses, friends, and even adult children pass away. Homes need to be sold to move into senior apartments or assisted living. Seniors might leave a town they’ve long lived in to move closer to adult children. Or, they might leave their hometown and migrate to warmer climates.
During these times of change, siblings provide a touchpoint. They offer a stable point of reference and connection amid all the changes. No matter how much might change outwardly, sibling relationships can provide something that doesn’t change.
Even if we live many miles or states away from siblings and don’t see each other much, phone calls with a brother or sister provide needed connection. The senior years can be a lovely time of reconnecting with siblings.
With the working years and childrearing years behind us, there’s more time to talk and explore these vital family relationships. By doing so, we’re also rediscovering ourselves. We see ourselves reflected in them.
We may not talk with or see our siblings often. We might not be close to them. Nevertheless, we can find a sense of security in knowing that they are there. We know that they would likely be there to help in some way if we were to need it. A sibling can provide a safety net.
Are you a senior or a loved one of a senior who needs guidance navigating these years? I encourage you to read more about family therapy and contact my office to find out how I can work with you.