When I was twenty-six, after teaching high school students at my alma mater for four years, I decided that it was as good a time as any to move across the country from Austin, TX to Washington, D.C.
My reasons? I was single and had always wanted to live on the East Coast, my dream school was located just outside the District, and my sister Lianna was living there and growing a family. Shortly after I got the job and prepared to move, my sister Elisa (also single and ready for a change) asked if she could join me. Then, my brother Sean got into two law schools: one in Denver and one in D.C. He chose D.C., in large part so that he’d be near his sisters and niece.
The kicker? We decided to live together.
If you think it’s strange that three twenty-something siblings voluntarily chose to share a small condo for any period of time, you aren’t alone. Many people, friends, and strangers commented on how unique our living arrangement was and how nice it was that we had such close relationships with each other. Others were impressed that our primary reason for moving thousands of miles away from our hometown was to be a part of our married sister’s life and support her as a young mom.
This past summer, my parents, siblings, and I (now all married with kids of our own) got together for our first family reunion. In between the toddler dance parties, family hikes, and countless hours spent at the pool, I had a chance to reflect on our unique sibling dynamic. It struck me that in many ways, my adult relationships with my siblings prepared me for my marriage and family life. Even though I didn’t meet my husband until years later, the lessons I was learning while sharing rent with my brother and sister were building a solid foundation for our relationship.
01. Forgiveness is non-negotiable.
It would be unfair to sugarcoat my sibling relationships and say that we haven’t had major struggles in our adult relationships, because we definitely have.
It was easy to take out our anger, frustration, and anxiety on each other, particularly during seasons when we were working through our own individual issues. There were times when we had to give each other space—a difficult thing to do when you love someone fiercely—but our shared convictions about the importance of forgiveness and reconciling our differences kept us from drifting apart. While friendships sometimes come and go, family is always family. Knowing how meaningful and permanent our relationships were kept us close even amid conflict.
So it is with marriage. This attitude toward forgiveness in sibling relationships prepared me to do the hard work of asking for and offering forgiveness to my husband when we inevitably hurt one another in big and small ways.
02. Investing in relationships when things are easy pays dividends when the road gets rough.
In the decade preceding my marriage in 2016, my siblings and I were present for almost every major life event in each other’s lives, and we can now see the fruit of all of the time and emotional energy we invested in our relationships during those years. These days, we each have our own nuclear family to care for, so even when we do get together, the time for heart-to-heart chats and catching up is difficult to come by. But because we spent so much time together pre-marriage and kids, there is a foundation of love and mutual concern that allows us to skip the small talk.
Similarly, my husband and I are currently in a relatively easy season in our marriage and family: our son is almost two, I’m not currently pregnant, we are settling into our first home, and we have more time to spend just being together. I know that the energy we invest in our relationship now will bear fruit during the next difficult season—whether it’s something we can see coming, like the first trimester of a pregnancy, or something unexpected, like financial or health struggles.
03. Siblings are one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.
My siblings and I fought like cats and dogs when we were kids, but the richness of our adult relationships has convinced me that siblings really are a gift. After our family reunion in June, I felt deeply grateful to my parents for the gift of each of my siblings. When I envision the future of my own family, I hope to give that same gift to my son, Joseph, so that he will experience the joy I have known in loving and being loved by my brother and sisters.
It has taken time, effort, and love to develop and deepen relationships with my siblings during the changing phases of adulthood, but the fruit that has come of it extends well beyond my relationships with each of them. Looking back, it’s clear that my siblings were not simply companions for my twenties—they were also teaching me important lessons about life and love along the way.