You’ve probably heard the saying “siblings are your first friends.” They are how you learn to play well with others, how to share, and how to fight and make up. As your parents age, they share the challenges of caring for aging parents. When your parents are gone, they are the ones with whom you share memories of your childhood. Sure, some sibling relationships are troubled or become irreparably broken. But, for most people, sibling relationships are among the most important relationships in their lives – and are relationships that exist for nearly their entire lives.
I am an only child. Growing up in the 1960’s, I was aware that I was an outlier. All of my friends had siblings. I didn’t know any other only children. Well meaning adults often had one of two reactions “But you must be so lonely” or “I bet you’re really spoiled.” I remember my father visibly recoiling at such comments. It wasn’t my parents’ plan to have only one child. It was the hand that was dealt them.
I realized at an early age that I needed to learn how to make friends. When I was young, we traveled often, I went to summer camp alone, and we moved several times and I changed schools. My friend-making skills were put to the test. Fortunately, my parents were good “friend-makers.” My parents had many friends and were good friends to many people. I saw the joy that friends brought to their lives and I knew their friends valued the impact my parents had on their lives.
Eventually, I had a wide variety of friends in a number of places. I had pen pals in the Midwest, camp friends in other parts of the state, and friends down the street. Although I was comfortable being alone, even as a child, the company of friends often made life sweeter and more enjoyable. When I moved across country during high school, I was better prepared to meet the challenges involved in adjusting to a completely different culture and new people.
As an adult, my family has gotten smaller, not bigger, as it does for most people. One of my parents has died, I got divorced, and I never had children. My immediate biological family is just my surviving parent and me. I never lived close to my cousins and when they identify their “family,” they count their spouses, their children, and their siblings, but not me. As a result, making and maintaining friends, has become even more important as an adult than it was as a child when friendships are often easier and more organic.
I go out of my way to make new friends, tend to existing friendships, and incorporate friends into my life. I have friends across the country and usually have a friend or acquaintance in nearly every city I visit in my many travels. In addition to their friendship, they provide me a window into their local community that I wouldn’t otherwise get.
There is also the saying that “some friends are there for a season or a reason.” This is true too. Some friends truly are there for a specific reason; because you are going through a similar situation at the same time, because you work or live in the same place at the same time, or just because that friendship fits for now, but not forever. I’ve struggled with learning that it is okay to let friends and friendships go when it is time. It has been painful, but I’ve learned to let it go with gratitude for the friendship that once existed.
I was reminded of the importance of friends at dinner recently with some dear friends. Although our schedules had kept us from getting together for a few months, it was as if we’d just seen each other the prior week. We quickly settled into comfortable conversation, catching up on the activities of each other’s lives over the past few months, talking about our plans for the future, and grappling with the problems of the day as we enjoyed a lovely meal together. The glow of that conversation sustained and warmed me long after the food was gone.
I refer to my close friends as “friends like family.” These are the people who I love like family and whom I hope will be my “family” long after my biological family is gone. When my remaining parent is gone and, along with her, the shared memories of my childhood, I hope that these friends will embrace me and incorporate me into their lives and families. I need them now and will need them even more when that time comes.
National Sibling Day is April 10th
National Only Child Day is April 12th
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