Did you realize that Wednesday, April 10, was "National Siblings Day?" Chances are you haven't heard much about the occasion because it is not widely recognized, although it should be! When it comes to the topic of raising multiple children, the media is quick to focus on the cost of parenting in the modern age and the challenges of sibling rivalry. But brothers and sisters give us so much to celebrate. Siblings make life meaningful and fun, help create countless memorable moments among families both young and old, and should never be taken for granted.
So how did National Siblings Day start? The occasion was founded in 1998 by Claudia Evart as a way for siblings to honor, recognize and celebrate each other. Evart, born and raised in New York City, started a non-profit charity called the Siblings Day Foundation to honor the memory of her own late sister and brother who died in separate accidents at an early age. Evart chose April 10 as Siblings Day because it was the birthday of her late sister, Lisette. "Like many, I have these pictures of my brother and sister, who are both gone, but remain with me daily, not just in these pictures, but also in my daily thoughts and in my heart," she said. "I lost both of them in tragic accidents, making me understand the everlasting bond we have with our siblings."
While Siblings Day still has a long way to go to be formally recognized and widely celebrated in the U.S., awareness of this occasion is growing, especially through social media. Many celebrities took to Facebook to acknowledge their brothers and sisters, and "Happy National Siblings Day" is even a trending topic on Twitter. Fox News also had some fun with the holiday Wednesday morning, as "Fox & Friends" anchor Gretchen Carlson called her sister for some sisterly bonding and co-host Brian Kilmeade squeezed in a little brotherly love with his brothers, Jim and Steve Kilmeade, who took a seat on the curvy couch to reminisce about growing up together.
I was an only child for nearly seven years, and I have very distinct memories of praying to God for a baby brother or sister as a kid. When God answered that prayer and my brother, Paul, was born in 1991, I was incredibly grateful and excited. 22 years later, one of the great blessings in my life is the relationship I have with my brother, and hearing about Siblings Day caused me to reflect on the treasured gift of family. And while I'm crazy about my younger brother, I'm not always sure the feeling is mutual. Paul loves to quote cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who famously said, "Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life." Ouch! I prefer to quote Lucy Gibney, who tweeted, "In the cookies of life, siblings are the chocolate chips."
Well why should we celebrate siblings?
Siblings keep life interesting and make (almost) everything more fun.
Over the years, my relationship with my brother Paul has evolved and we've gone from being classmates in home school to rivals fighting over who would sit in the front seat on car rides to now (I think) being friends and enjoying meaningful activities and engaging in profound discussions together. Having brothers or sisters around can make even the most mundane activities interesting and fun and you help each other grow in countless ways.
Siblings teach you random things you would otherwise know nothing about.
If you have a brother or a sister, chances are you've been forced to learn about certain topics or aspects of life that you would otherwise have nothing to do with. In my case, Paul has taught me more about Star Wars and Taylor Swift to Heavy Metal and Guitar Hero than I ever thought I'd care to know… and I've learned a lot of deep things from him as well (I'm not saying that Taylor Swift isn't deep… well, maybe I am).
Siblings help keep you humble.
Brothers and sisters don't let you get away with anything. They know your weaknesses, they witness your embarrassing moments, and they don't allow you to become overly confident with the compliments and accolades of others. My brother is as brutally honest with me as he is witty and sharp, and he's always quick to remind me of the many areas in life I need to work on. When Paul was in town recently the two of us went on a late evening grocery-shopping trip, and he offered to cook dinner for us that night. "You are so kind to do that for me," I said. "It's mainly that I really don't trust you to cook… I know you can't." he responded. Sadly, he was right.
Siblings are a precious gift from God and should never be taken for granted.
I've shared some light-hearted examples of why I'm thankful to have a sibling, but a heartbreaking reality is that many people never have that opportunity. While in some countries and cultures, large families are celebrated and the family unit itself is viewed as a community, in far too many places today having multiple children is discouraged or even illegal.
In India, for example, there is a long history of government attempts to restrict the size of families and limit couples to two children. Thankfully, many destructive government efforts have failed, such as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's implementation of a forced sterilization program in the 1970s or the southern state of Kerala's proposed "Women's Code Bill" in 2011 that would have prohibited couples from having more than two children. Although there are currently no legal restrictions on having children in India, there has been an ongoing campaign to promote only two children per family. The slogan – advertised prominently both in big cities and small towns – reads, "We are two, we have two."
Perhaps the harshest and most Draconian place when it comes to "family planning" is the nation of China. The Chinese government still implements a strict one-child policy for couples living in urban areas, and penalties for attempting a second pregnancy are brutal. In fact, if anyone tries to have a family with siblings in China, they are threatened with forced abortion and sterilization, excessive fines, the destruction of their homes, and even the death penalty.
The Chinese policy restricting couples to one child was established in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping, leader of the Communist Party of China. Although it was then designated as a temporary measure to limit the country's population growth, the one-child policy continues to this day. Just last year, Chinese government officials revamped their abrasive slogans surrounding the policy and now use "less offensive" rhetoric to warn citizens of breaking the law. Previous government advertisements stated, "We would rather scrape your womb than allow you to have a second child" and "Once you get captured, an immediate tubal ligation will be done; Should you escape, we'll hunt you down; If you attempt a suicide, we'll offer you either the rope or a bottle of poison." While the language might be different now, the cruel policies and penalties are still in place… and this means that every day, the children in China are growing up without any brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, or uncles with whom to share the joys and challenges of life.
The institution of the family is highlighted throughout the Bible, and scripture tells us that, "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him… Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Psalm 127:3,5). As we celebrate our own siblings and give thanks for the gift of family, let us pray for those in India who encounter tremendous pressure to have small families and those in China who face such brutal violations to their basic human rights. And next time your kids start fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat or who got a bigger piece of cake, be grateful that you have the opportunity to raise multiple children… and trust that their raucous sibling rivalry will one day develop into the closest of friendships.