12/01/2012 13:42 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

How To Help Your Children Grow Up To Be Friends, Not Just Family

Family Rex Features

When a friend told me that her husband had six brothers but that they only really saw one I must admit to being a bit taken aback. As a mum of four I like to think that I have created my own little family network.

I'm not expecting life to be like an episode of the Seventies series The Waltons but I do like to think that when my four grow up they will establish adult sibling relationships where they keep in touch regularly, meet up occasionally if not more and at the very least just get on.


When researchers at the University of Ohio conducted research into adult sibling relationships they found five different types of relationships. Congenial relationships where children have become friends in adulthood made up 34 kept in touch due to family loyalties; 14 were indifferent; and 11% were openly hostile and avoided each other.


At first I was quite pleased – the vast majority of people, according to the survey, kept in touch and seemed to get on well with their siblings, but it still left nearly a quarter of people who rarely see and don't appear to even like their siblings.

I have always found it sad that siblings don't continue to be close. I think most parents do. It really is beyond thinking about that these four little people who fill my living room and who unite in their mischief making might one day have little to do with each other.

I must admit that my siblings and I are not close but not for want of trying on my part. As a little girl I loved having a little sister and would have happily had her with me 24 hours a day. Sadly she didn't feel the same way and as we have got older we have grown more and more apart with our lives, and our personalities being very, very different.

But funnily enough when I look around it is always the girl in the family who binds the siblings together. My friend Elaine is the only girl in her family and she is the one who takes the lead in organising family events and ensuring that her brothers keep in touch. It's not that her brothers don't get on, it's just that as adults they are not very good at keeping in touch.

I only have one daughter but I do like to think that if I had had two daughters they would have been as close as my friend Diane and her sister. Despite the 12 year age gap they have one of the closest relationships I have seen in sisters. As adults they have socialised together, gone on holiday together and are friends as well as sisters.

Diane's experience appears to be quite common. When researching her book The Perfect Sister: What Draws Us Together, What Drives Us Apart, sociologist Marcia Millman found that age difference did not affect how well sisters got on in adulthood. Several studies through the years have found that of the three sibling pairs – sister/sister, sister/brother and brother/brother, the sister/sister relationship tends to be the closest with the brother/brother relationship the one most likely to be fraught with rivalry.

My friend Sandra has what is probably the hardest family dynamics. Her brother is 11 years older than her and left home when she was just five. As adults they have never been close, which influenced her decision to have both her children pretty close together.

As children my sister and I were constantly compared so as a parent I try to ensure that I don't do this. I relish the fact that although my children are very similar, in many ways they are very different.

Experts agree that there are some things we can do to increase the chance that our children
will grow up to be friends as well as family:

1. Studies have found that if children start off with a good relationship, they are more likely to continue to have a positive relationship so try to encourage your children to be friends.

2. Lead by example. Try to see your own siblings regularly so that they grow up to see this as the norm.

3. Don't favour one child over another. It builds up resentment long after you have stopped letting number one child be the only one who ever goes out to lunch with you.

4. Don't compare. Everyone has different talents, some more obvious than others. Being compared to a sibling only increases competition and again more resentment.

5. Encourage them to be sensitive with one another and to consider one another's feelings so that this continues into adulthood. Words said in jest may not always be taken in jest and can result in harboured grudges.

6. Don't impose your notions of what constitutes success on to them. Many adults who have poor relationships with their siblings report that they feel envious of what their sibling has achieved.

What sort of a relationship do you have with your adult siblings?
Do you hope and dream your children will enjoy each other's company in adult life?