The Prophet Joseph Smith taught about the importance of families and revealed the truth that families can be sealed together in a permanent relationship for time and for eternity (see D&C 132). Moreover, the Prophet taught that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there” (D&C 130:2). That idea alone is reason for us to work with our adult siblings to create or strengthen ties that are supportive, loving, joyful, and harmonious.
Much like a group of musicians who make beautiful music together after spending countless hours rehearsing, brothers and sisters who have grown up together usually have achieved a balance in the way they interact with one another. However, changes in these patterns inevitably occur as siblings mature, move away from home, marry, establish careers, and pursue new interests. Some of these changes can disrupt sibling relationships and lead to discomfort, adjustment, and even sorrow. Yet it is important to preserve these cherished family ties. The following ideas can be of great help in promoting healthy and harmonious relationships among adult siblings.
Symphony and orchestra members must listen to each other’s parts to blend their different instruments so that each part can be heard. Harmony in sibling relationships also requires listening to each other and keeping in touch. Brothers and sisters can improve their communication by writing letters, making phone calls, and investing time and effort in family reunions and other worthwhile family activities. Those who become discouraged because the effort to keep all siblings together may seem unappreciated can take heart: “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16; emphasis added).
Some families increase unity through newsletters. In my family of nine brothers and sisters, home locations span from California to Georgia. Our desire to stay in touch was motivation to start a newsletter. For us, the key was to have someone agree to be in charge—forever. The ambitious once-a-month edition was prayerfully pushed onward with the belief that what we were doing was good for us and future generations.
The spiritual instinct proved correct. The family newsletter is in its 22nd year. Along the way the computer streamlined the process, and the number of potential entries rose from 10 (parents and the 9 sibling households) to nearing 40. As the children of my brothers and sisters marry, go on missions or away to college, find employment, or have other items of interest to share, they are automatically given an “entry space” in the newsletter. Parents like the idea of the family newsletter going out monthly to their children who may stand to benefit from such contact and support as they adjust to different stages of their lives.
One unwritten rule of our newsletter tradition is that family members send in entries when they can, for we all realize that some find it easier to write than do others. We certainly don’t cut off from the mailing list those who rarely contribute to the newsletter. Rather, we look forward to hearing from them when they can participate.
Staying informed of family happenings, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, helps keep siblings and parents intertwined in a network of mutual concern and support. Important events can be celebrated by the whole family, and even routine events become shared points of reference that help unite family members separated by distance and circumstance.
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge” (James 4:11).
Although communication is essential in successful family rhythms, gossip is not. Nothing produces discord more quickly than distrust, a natural by-product of gossip. Even siblings who are on the best of terms may be pushed to choose sides if their spouses’ complete acceptance among other family members is marred or hindered in some way.
A woman I know relates the story of one of her worst Christmases. She and her brothers and sisters, most of them married, had gathered at their parents’ home. One sister-in-law seemed to be at her worst, yelling at her children and husband several times a day. A few times she even lost her temper with other family members. Over the next few weeks, the family grapevine was ripe as everyone detailed how their feelings had been hurt and how exasperating this particular sister-in-law had been. Inevitably, the sister-in-law found out. Understandably threatened and insecure, she now refuses to spend holidays with the family.
On the other hand, much good can come by guarding what we say. I know of a husband and wife who were having serious marital problems. They spent time seeking advice and support from a trusted brother- and sister-in-law. The in-laws were discreet and prayerful, and few others in the family even knew of the difficulties. Since then, the problems have been resolved, and now the two couples share a special closeness and a heightened level of trust. How much better it is for us to exercise self-control, biting our tongue and refusing to talk of others within our family circle, even when we honestly feel we’ve been wronged.
The potential for disrupting the family orchestration by talking about the unseemly behavior of a sister-in-law or the offensive language of a brother will never be worth any temporary satisfaction from voicing such indignation. It can take years to undo a few moments of idle prattle and restore the delicate family balance.
As siblings mature and marry, the dynamics of their relationships undergo a natural change: brothers and sisters who perhaps were once inseparable see each other less often, develop new family loyalties, and learn to get along without the physical immediacy of the nuclear family. And yet the original family ties can be strong enough to make it hard for new in-laws to become well integrated. If personalities clash or family bonds seem particularly tight, the task becomes even more daunting for new members of the extended family. The assurance to new family members by word and example that hurtful gossip is not family practice allows the eternal bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood to flourish.
To forge stronger friendships, family members can discuss shared interests and feelings. My brother Dale and I both have printing industry and teaching experience, so we can exchange ideas and get excited about things of little interest to the other siblings. My sister Dorothy and I chuckle at our tendency to be too hard on ourselves, maybe too idealistic—tendencies that can suck the enjoyment out of many simple yet savory life experiences. As sisters, we can laugh about our rigidity and our attempts to improve.
Often such common ties link one sibling to another sibling’s children. A single sister who loves sewing enhances her own skills and shares the enjoyment as she connects her talent as a seamstress with a like talent blossoming in one of her nieces. A sports enthusiast who has three daughters with little interest in baseball looks forward to being with two nephews to discuss their involvement in baseball leagues or to watch major league games together. Such shared interests among the siblings’ extended family foster good relationships among the siblings as well.
Thankfully, not everyone plays the same instrument in a family group. An orchestra composed of only violas lacks the depth, the variety, the power of a symphony complete with winds, brass, strings, and percussion. Together, all instruments make a wholeness.
“For … the body is one, and hath many members. …
“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
“Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness” (1 Cor. 12:12, 21–23).
No siblings are exactly alike. Each one brings a different sound to the family orchestra. Both mechanically challenged, my husband and I appreciate my brother Doug and his son John, who almost instinctively know the inner workings of anything mechanical or electronic. Their visits are always anticipated, partly because that which pings or jerks or creaks or whines can be corrected before they leave.
It is regrettable that people sometimes focus on differences in the personalities and behaviors of spouses and children of siblings and then use these unfamiliarities to build walls of alienation. Such walls can be broken down with an attitude of love for the persons involved.
Through their marriages, my brothers and sisters have brought into my life individuals with abilities and characteristics not innate to our original family circle. Our expanded family circle now includes an expert in cross-stitch, individuals more practiced in patience, and a person who relates lovingly to anyone from a newborn to a 90-year-old. Moreover, the original family members (most of whom have always been slow to show or express affection) have had to adjust to—and benefit from—some enthusiastic huggers. We have learned to accept and embrace the unique traits of new family members.
Unfortunately, some differences—differences that are much more significant than favorite hobbies or personality traits—can bring sorrow. For example, many families deal with the heartache of loved ones who are no longer active members of the Church. However, such differences do not mean the family orchestra has to be disbanded.
Family members can follow the Savior’s pattern of loving and forgiving those who have strayed. Rather than condemning or gossiping about the woman taken in adultery, the Savior commanded those who would harm her, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7). He likewise taught:
“Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
Families should adopt the caring concern evident in these words of President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Even those who transgress, we want you to know that we love you. We cannot condone the sin, but we love the sinner” (“The Fabric of Faith and Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 89).
When sibling relationships need major repair because of past hurts, forgiveness is the key. Personal repentance on the part of one or another individual may be required. But until that happens, we should not hold grudges or harbor resentment. Instead, we can absorb the pain and not pass it on to a future generation.
Consistent prayer, faithful fasting, and loving long-suffering will go far in helping straying brothers and sisters find their way back. And while many prayers focus on the lost loved one, prayers should also be offered by those concerned, asking for guidance in remaining humble and approachable, nonjudgmental, and supportive.
The warmth and feeling of security that come from loving sibling relationships can infuse our lives with peace and joy. It is worth every effort to continue building those relationships in our lives that are already beautiful, and few things will bring greater joy than restoring harmony in relationships that have become dissonant. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, unity can come to our family orchestras as we faithfully pray for that blessing and follow the teachings of our Savior.
Consider the tender words of relief and joy that tell of the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau after years of estrangement: “Esau ran to meet him [Jacob], and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept” (Gen. 33:4). Recall the healing when Joseph of Egypt and his brothers revitalized their brotherhood: “Moreover he [Joseph] kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him” (Gen. 45:15).
We can well imagine those historic conversations of lively, tumbling words punctuated by laughter and tears of joy. A similarly joyful reunion may be in store for those in similar circumstances who swallow pride, overcome hurt, and reach out to their family members with love and acceptance. Those examples can help motivate us to so live that our sibling orchestrations become a melodious, lovely part of life on earth, so wonderful that we yearn for those relationships to continue forever.