As a 16 year veteran stepmama, I can wholeheartedly attest to the interesting and unique relationship between half-siblings. The bond between brothers and sisters with a huge age gap can be tough to maintain. In our house, the kids range in age from six to twenty-five. The little ones look up worshipfully to the older ones and constantly grieve their absence. Our older kids’ interests and studies have led them all over the world, and there’s nothing more rewarding for parents than to see their children happy and successful. For younger siblings, the sentiment is different. It’s tough to explain why they haven’t seen their brother or sister in months. Here are few things we do to keep those family ties strong and help dry those “missing you” tears.
1. Skype, Facetime, and What’s App are your best friends.
These apps will help your kids connect via video. On-screen talks will take the heartbreak out of long separations. It also allows the little people to learn about the world through their older sibling’s eyes. How amazing is it to have a big sister show her little brother video or live footage from some place he’s never been? My younger children see how hard work in school and dedication to dreams have paid off for their older siblings. When I was a kid, Tiger Beat was my only connection to my idols. My kids can just ask to FaceTime theirs.
2. Be spontaneous.
Get-togethers can be tough to arrange when states separate half-siblings. Last winter, we had a blizzard that kept us out of school for awhile. We locked up the house, packed the dog and a few bags, and headed out for a road trip. We planned it the day before we left—it was that spur of the moment. That glimmer of an idea turned into a super-fun adventure, and all our kids were so grateful for some much-needed time together. Who needs a plan? Just go for it.
3. Be flexible.
Like the spontaneous trip we took last winter, we never know who will be available for which holiday or birthday or big family event. We give everyone due notice when something cool is coming up, but we don’t EVER demand attendance. If your older children have been through a divorce, chances are they are juggling lots of family demands and responsibilities due to circumstances over which they have no control. This dynamic is downright painful and hard.
If you expect to celebrate all holidays on their exact respective dates, you may get all the half-siblings together, but the older ones may be stressed out, sad, and grumpy from trying to juggle all the obligations. Sometimes family dynamics are such that all sides can get together for one big celebration so the older kids don’t feel so pressured and divided. If big gatherings are too awkward, then consider celebrating holidays at a different time. Create flexible traditions to alleviate stress, and I guarantee everyone will have more fun!
4. Give Half-Siblings Time to Share Interests.
Our kids all bond over outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, karaoke, cooking, and target shooting. When the big kids come home it’s all bonfires, roasted marshmallows, BB guns, and singing. It’s hilarious. It’s loud. There’s sticky marshmallow goo everywhere. We all eat way too much. There are dogs all over the place. We go through lots of BBs, and the big kids and little kids play lots of ball. We make some fun memories watching our kids play.
5. Allow those tears.
No matter how hard you try to ease the pain of missing an older sibling, little brothers and sisters will still struggle at times. A huge chunk of their family is missing, and that’s tough to deal with. In my experience, just sitting with a tearful child can help.
Earlier, when my daughter would struggle with a goodbye, I would point out all the great things she had going on in her life. I’d remind of how full her life is, even though she misses her half-siblings. Now, I just let her cry it out while I hold her hand or hug her. This works way better than trying to talk her out of her feelings.
I know that sounds obvious, but it took me a long time to figure out that it wouldn’t hurt her to cry. As a mom, I always wanted to fix things for her. Now I realize that grief is a part of life, and what better way for her to learn to handle the tough issues life throws her way than with me by her side rooting her on?
I am so grateful that my young son and daughter have their amazing half-siblings to look up to. When the little ones hit the teen years, their big brother and sister—along with their spouses—will have a unique perspective on life to share that my husband and I may not.
In the meantime, we’ll just keep buying BBs, building bonfires, and burning marshmallows. Mr. Jenn and I will just kick back and be thankful for all of them.