Sibling relationships can be tough, especially as adults. Even those who get along have leftover childhood issues that can prevent a strong bond.
One local woman, Laura Widing, and her brothers have tackled the issue head on with what they call The Sibling Council.
Once a year, siblings Bill, Laura, Brad and Eric Widing get together for a long weekend. It’s just the four of them, no spouses or children. Because of these annual weekends, they say, they are learning to embrace each other as adults while letting go of childhood family dynamics.
The idea for the Council came about in 2005 when both of their parents passed away within four months. During this difficult time, the adult children realized that they hadn’t been together for 20 years. Getting back together wasn’t immediately embraced, however. In addition to the challenge of living far apart, the Widings had their share of family baggage.
Typical of sibling dynamics, each had a role that the others expected them to play at all times. Bill, the oldest, was the leader; Laura was the peacemaker; Brad was the emotional one; Eric was the baby.
Brad, the third child, had been estranged from the family for two years. During their father‘s illness, Bill and Laura handled the majority of their dad’s needs. They did not speak with Brad until their father’s death. Brad wasn’t so sure about returning to the family fold, and the others weren’t sure how to welcome him back.
The siblings considered hiring a professional mediator, but ended up handling the process on their own. “We were inspired to not repeat what we had seen from some of our previous generations,” said Laura. “Our grandmother and her sister lived half a mile from each other and didn’t speak for 50 years.”
The first Sibling Council was held at the YMCA camp where their father had been a counselor, and they toasted him with champagne in his old cabin. The location changes each year, but the Council is an annual tradition.
Each Council has the same agenda: a family business meeting to discuss jointly owned property, sharing updates, and doing activities that remind them of their parents. If this sounds a bit formal and corporate, that is by design. The siblings want to keep enough structure to make it a consistent tradition. They do, however, leave time to just hang out.
This summer, Bill hosted the Council at his golf club in Pennsylvania. Laura came from Houston, and Brad drove in from Boston. Youngest brother Eric arrived late from New York City and missed the business meeting, which wasn’t well-received.
“We were all a bit miffed when he walked in, but rather than letting him have it, we agreed to tell him we were disappointed and then just move on,” said Laura.
Bill said, “In order for this to work, we have to check our sibling egos at the door. We can’t come looking for villains or victims.”
They played several rounds of golf and, as a special treat, Bill had the club chef fix a seafood meal they ate during their childhoods called Frogmore Stew.
On Saturday, they spent time with a private birding guide, which was something their parents loved to do. The rest of the weekend was spent catching up. “We shared so much with each other. Nothing was off-limits,” Bill says.
Laura’s favorite part of each Council is videotaping the siblings’ interactions. “We make an effort to record part of our conversations so that future generations will know what we were like,” she said. “When we looked through old photographs of our great-grandparents, we realized that we didn’t know anything about their personalities.”
The Widings’ effort is something to be proud of, says marriage and family therapist and ChildBuilders program consultant Janet Pozmantier, who said grown siblings may face a challenge in forming new relationships because of baggage from childhood.
“If you look back at childhood experiences through adult lenses, you’ll probably feel differently about things that once bothered you,” said Janet. She suggests keeping an open mind and reaching out to a sibling who has been out of the inner circle, but realize you may encounter disinterest. “You can’t force someone to agree with you,” she said.
The Widings admit things aren’t perfect among them, but they know their parents would be proud of their commitment to each other.” They would be overjoyed that we’re whole again,” said Laura.