April 10 is National Siblings Day for those in the United States and Canada. To be honest, this day has never really been on my radar. But this year, I want to celebrate it. I have one younger sister, Rachel, and like many siblings, we live our adult lives largely apart. National Siblings Day is an invitation to be mindful of the preciousness of what it means to have (an) adult sibling(s): as one NPR article puts it, “We’re tethered to our brothers and sisters as adults far longer than we are as children; our sibling relationships, in fact, are the longest-lasting family ties we have.” With that in mind, how do we maintain connection with adult siblings in the transitions that encompass early adulthood?
For a time, Rachel and I lived in separate states as we each attended grad school. Though, admittedly, I am much worse at remembering to reach out, Rachel has always been good at checking in via text and phone call. Her messages are often a simple “How are you?” or “How’s your week going?” With Rachel, I know she’s offering an invitation to give an honest answer, beyond the pat “Fine” or “It’s going.”
What I’ve found so far in our adult-sisterly relationship is that Rachel and I lean on each other much more than we did in our teenagehood, especially when it comes to emotional support. Rachel can typically tell by the sound of my voice how I’m feeling, and because of this I’m more likely to share my more vulnerable emotions—frustrations, fears, and worries—with her than with anyone else.
While noting that sibling relationships fluctuate across a lifespan and are influenced by factors such as marriage and geographical distance, research backs this unique type of closeness siblings may experience. As a 2007 article in The Southern Communication Journal observes, “Sibling commitment is realized through emotional closeness. Emotional closeness refers to ‘the sense of shared experiences, trust, concern, and enjoyment of the relationship.’”
The beauty of the check-in in this day and age is that it’s easier than ever to communicate affection: whether through a phone call, video chat, or WhatsApp conversation, we can very easily remain in touch with our siblings. In honor of National Siblings Day, why not reach out?
02. Continue to create shared meaning.
As we’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate more and more how Rachel and I share not only a generational context (we’re both Millennials), but also a host of associations all our own. For example, we were Arthur fans as kids, and part of continuing to create shared meaning is bringing up lines from this beloved PBS show.
Just as it has been found that individual families have their own dialects—phrases and words that have meaning in the context of the family group—I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that siblings may also have a shared “language” of sorts. Rachel and I have nicknames for each other that not even our parents use.
Though we don’t live in the same town, Rachel and I continue to create opportunities for shared meaning. We do things together when we can—like grabbing a cup of coffee or taking a walk—and when we can’t, we might send Arthur memes to make each other chuckle.
Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman has explored in depth how shared meaning can be created: this list might provide a few other ways to continue creating meaning with adult siblings. Consider trying one of these with your siblings in honor of National Siblings Day.
03. Forging new traditions.
Though some of the traditions we’ve had as a family have fallen away as Rachel and I have grown up, I’m always on the lookout for ways to form new traditions. For example, recently Rachel and I have taken to choosing a country, researching music artists from the chosen country, and listening to music by these artists on Spotify. Sometimes, we’ll also go out and sample the cuisine of the country we chose by patronizing a local restaurant. This allows us to continue to create shared meaning around an activity that we previously did not share, reminding me that though we live separate lives, we can still create touchpoints of connection.
This National Siblings Day, consider creating a new tradition with your sibling(s) in some way. It’s important to note that the tradition you choose should be manageable and super-flexible so that it can withstand the test of time. Whether a virtual happy hour, a sibling game night, or sharing a photograph of you and your siblings in the family group chat, celebrating your siblings through a new-found tradition may be a nice reminder to reach out to them. This article also provides other ways to keep in touch with your adult siblings that might help cultivate new sibling traditions.