I spent most of Thanksgiving eve texting back and forth with my younger sisters. Texts included things like:
What are the ingredients for French silk pie? Should I refrigerate lemon meringue? If I roast a turkey without an oven bag, will there be enough drippings for gravy? Should I brine or not brine? Is it snowing there? Do you miss me as much as I miss you?
Thanks to sisterly feedback, my stunning turkey could have been a contender for the Miss America contest. My sister’s chocolate pie was the hit of her New York City roommate feast.
Yet according to recent studies, sibling influence goes beyond the Thanksgiving table.
The idea of sibling impact first occurred to developmental psychologist Patricia East while working at an OBGYN clinic, according to an NPR news story. Over and over, East saw pregnant teenagers come into the clinic, where they were recognized as the younger sister of so-and-so, who had also been a pregnant teen.
Surely, East thought, there must be a correlation.
She was right. Her study found that younger sisters are five times more likely to get pregnant if their older sister became pregnant as well, according to the NPR news story.
That type of influence extends to other things, like smoking, but it also means that siblings can have an equally effective positive influence on each other. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of this when it comes to level of education, lifestyle choices, career and religious devotion.
As the NPR story notes, studies have long centered around parental or peer impact. The occasional sibling studies focused on the young years, when the children were still at home. However, over the past several years researchers have found that sibling influence carries far into adulthood, superseding the influence of other friends and relatives.
According to a study done in Sweden, people in their 80s have greater life satisfaction when connected with their siblings in a positive way. They even live longer.
Of course, one of the great satisfactions of growing up has been getting to know my siblings as adults. We may have spent our childhood bickering over space in the station wagon or arguing over the biggest scoop of ice cream, but now we look at each other with genuine admiration and respect. We enjoy being together.
For those of us who come from larger families, we may have left home when our youngest siblings were still in diapers. My two sisters are several years younger than me. I never had the pleasure (or pain) of sharing clothes or giggling about cute boys, but we’re making up for lost time in adulthood. We talk nearly every day. That talking becomes a form of inadvertent teaching.
In fact, my sister once told me, “Everything I’ve learned about parenting I’ve learned from you … and your mistakes.” Ha! Can you think of better sibling influence than that?
In October, we gathered as a family to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday. The program was nearly all music. All six siblings, three boys and three girls, sing and play instruments, which is funny, because neither of my parents are overly musical. I attribute our love of music to my older brother, who was born with music in his fingertips. We’ve spent our lives trying to keep up with his talent.
As siblings, we continue to watch over one another, even though we are scattered across the country and the world. We consult one another about finances, travel, parenting and faith. We collaborate on musical projects and writing projects.
I find the holidays to be a time of not only giving out to neighbors and friends, but also pulling in toward those who know me best. My siblings are the ones who saw every tantrum and pink leotard, who weathered the road trips and strange boyfriends, who still love me despite my rough edges.
With so much technology at our fingertips, family connections can be better than ever, despite the geographical distances. We would do well to strengthen our connections with our next of kin.
It’s not only rewarding; it might just save your life.
(Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)