The siblings I never knew in my childhood helped me build my own kind of family
Today, April 10th, is National Siblings Day.
They say you can’t choose your family, but I don’t personally find that to be true. My siblings and I make that choice every day because we didn’t know each other for nearly all of our lives.
My family feels like it’s all siblings and no parents. I have nine siblings from a variety of mother-father pairings. I had the privilege of growing up with one of those sisters. I met six other siblings as an adult. Two of my siblings are toddlers I have yet to meet.
My younger sister is the only sibling with whom I share two parents. Because of circumstances beyond our control, we were separated from our mother and our other siblings for the majority of our childhood. My younger sister and I finally started to meet our other siblings when we were nearly adults.
Before her death, my mother put a lot of energy into reuniting her children (four of my nine siblings) as one family.
Shortly after that conversation, she sent me and my younger sister to Hawaii to spend Christmas with my older brother and his family, where he was stationed on assignment for the Coast Guard.
The three of us had never spent any meaningful time together, so it felt strange to talk to someone who was so familiar yet a complete stranger. We took turns trying to ask thoughtful questions and exchanging awkward silences.
It took time to learn how to value each other, not as the mere idea of “brother” or “sister,” but as fully actualized people.
We didn’t become bosom buddies right away, but it’s affirming to look at pictures from that Christmas and realize how far we’ve come as a family. Now, I can talk to my brother about anything. He is the most even-tempered and understanding person I know. I admire him almost more than anyone else.
I remember the first time I really met my older sister.
She was a firecracker of energy and emotion. I was 16 years old; she was 22. We were reuniting for my mother’s 50th birthday dinner, and I hadn’t seen her since I was six. I remember leaving our mutual home after our parents’ divorce and wondering why she wasn’t coming with us. She walked up to me, a full radiant smile on her face, and threw me into a back-breaking hug. “I’ve missed you, SISTER!” she exclaimed. I was then, and still am now, startled by her enthusiasm. She breathes life into every room. When she calls me on the phone or visits me in my home, we have deep talks that are both hilarious and profound — just like her.
Some relationships are still new and forming. I know my mother’s eldest son, for instance, only as a faint memory during my terrible twos and as a fellow grieving child at my mother’s funeral. My other sisters are technically my sister’s sisters — we don’t share any parents, but nonetheless, I have come to know them as family. They were there to support us when my mother died, and they have never shown me anything but love and kindness.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure there is another word for that kind of person other than “family.”
For my two toddler siblings — my father’s children — I find myself in the same place as my older siblings 20 years ago. As a child, I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to be one happy family. Being an adult who is caught up in the chasms of family politics helps me to understand that some bonds are not easy to maintain or build. Even on this side of the chasm, I remain hopeful I will meet my young brothers someday. When that time comes, I can embrace them as my older sister embraced me, and show them that my family will always be theirs, too — no matter the familial conflict that arose before they were even born.
Though unconventional, I adore my family. We don’t have a mutual family home where we can gather for holidays. We weren’t all raised under the same household or even with the same beliefs. But each of my siblings has chosen to call me “sister.”
That choice was not always obvious – it was, without a doubt, a hard one to make. It would have been easy to walk away, to stick to what we know — especially after the passing of our mother. But instead, we all craved to love and know each other. We worked hard to make that a reality.
My siblings have welcomed me into their homes, offered me a plate of food, or a hug during hard times. They have chosen to love me and accept me. In the absence of the traditional or functional family structure, we built a family that is unique, but nevertheless strong.
That is the power of our siblinghood.