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Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business Between Siblings Hardcover – May 4, 2010
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Q: What made you decide to write about siblings?
A: I kept hearing bits and pieces of difficulties with brothers and sisters from the people I interviewed for Walking on Eggshells. I began to notice that many people feel that they don’t have good enough relationships with their siblings, and this is a source of worry and concern. Over time I came to see that this is another part of our lives where pain is accompanied by silence, and so there’s no relief. I wanted to see if I could understand more about the dynamics of closeness and distance, by listening to sibling stories.
Q: Was writing your second book a different experience?
A: I understood the stages of writing such a book, from listening, to germinating, to drafting and rewriting. And I knew that it would be possible for me to complete the task. But this book was more difficult to write because it took a long time to understand the core of sibling relationships. So I spent days and days struggling with the issues and feeling less than smart. Then a wise friend said to me: "It’s when you feel stupid that you’re doing your best thinking--you are at work solving the puzzle."
Q: How did your life as an editor help you?
A: I know how to formulate research and how to structure a book. That was a big help. Happily I can switch hats at will. So first I can be a writer, struggling to get something down on paper, and then I can be an editor, rewriting and polishing until the cows come home. The other great benefit of my time as an editor was the knowledge that other people might have useful advice for me. I treasure the readings from my friends and mentors.
Q: Was the research different?
A: This time I went deeper into the country, interviewing more people from small towns and far-flung communities. My website and some press interviews made that possible by introducing me to a wide audience. It was fascinating to see how similar families are, although they may seem extremely different on the surface.
Q: OK, so what did you find?
A: I believe I located the crucible in which our sibling relationships are formed: it’s the nursery or playroom, where kids interact without adult supervision. That’s where we behave well and badly, where we learn to deal with loving and hating our siblings at the same time. It’s where we are challenged to manage ambivalence. I think this is the lesson of siblings: we learn to deal with imperfect situations.
Q: Strong feelings are at the core, even when we aren’t close as adults?
A: You bet. Most of the interviews contained what I call the Just-So Story, a vivid memory of kindness or cruelty that formed the basis of the relationship. We remember these stories because they help explain why we feel the way we do. But if the story is sad or painful, we may at some point decide to look at it in a new way--it’s called reframing--and that often improves things. Many stories in the book show the wisdom of trying this out.
Q: Do close brothers and sisters start out that way?
A: Not necessarily. Some of the worst relationships improved when the siblings switched roles, the younger helping the older, for instance. Sometimes people fight their way back to each other, and sometimes facing life’s challenges together creates a permanent bond.
Q: I can’t understand how my sister and I could have come from the same family; we have such different values and see the world so differently.
A: That’s a puzzle, but it helps to remember that one of the things siblings do is differentiate themselves from each other. One woman I interviewed had a father who led the local high school band. Guess what? All the kids played different instruments. We naturally grow up to be different people. The paradox is when people who grew up together disagree about fundamental values. They take it personally.
Q: Are relationships different in big families?
A: Yes. In larger families, brothers and sisters tend to group themselves according to age. If there are many years between the oldest and the youngest, their experience in the family may be very different. In large families, older kids take responsibility for the younger ones, and the younger ones idolize their big brothers and sisters. There’s more competition for attention and material things, but they also aren’t so intensely tied to the parents, and they rely more on each other.
Q: How can parents get their kids to love each other?
A: That’s a hard one. You can’t legislate preferences and affinity. You can teach them something about dealing with conflict, and you can stay out of their fights--up to a point. You can work hard to show each child that you see him or her as an individual. Comparing siblings to each other isn’t such a good idea, and neither is "typing" your kids. The pretty daughter may resent the smart one, and they won’t be close until they shed their designated roles.
Q: Is it possible to heal rifts that have lasted a lifetime?
A: Sure, most of the time. As people get older, they may long for some kind of closeness with their siblings. If they can accept their own part in the difficulties, or understand the context of their shared childhood, they may extend a hand and receive a positive response. It takes perseverance to rebuild a broken relationship, and the last chapter in the book tells some heartening stories.
“Isay observes sibling dynamics with a psychologist’s eye while forgiving transgressions between brothers and sisters with a mother’s heart.”
—Ira Byock, M.D., Professor, Dartmouth Medical School and author of Dying Well
“Here is human understanding offered by a wise and thoughtful and clinically savvy writer who helps us take notice of how we get on with one another as boys and girls, brothers and sisters—a Tolstoyan observer, with keen intuition and a compelling command of the art of storytelling, helps us readers look back, look inward, and thereby understand how we become who we are.”
—Robert Coles, M.D., professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard Medical School and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book series Children of Crisis
"If you have a sibling, you'll see yourself in this inspiring book. Isay's observations are keen enough to make you see your mistakes, kind enough to let you forgive yourself, and hopeful enough to make you want to put the book down and call your sib right away."
—Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl
“Jane Isay's lively exploration of the sibling relationship in all of its complicated varieties is both incisive and benevolent, offering the reader new ways of understanding, repairing, and sometimes even transforming this profoundly important human connection.”
—Judith Viorst, author of I’m Too Young to Be Seventy and Other Delusions
“In Mom Still Likes You Best, Isay explores the unknown territory of adult sibling relationships—both the best and the worst of them. Her keen observations of adult brothers and sisters and her fresh and profound ideas about this terra incognita give readers an opportunity to laugh, cry, identify, and, ultimately, to love their siblings more deeply."
—Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia
“Finally, a long overdue mapping of sibling relationships across the life span and how the passionate alliances and painful competitions of early childhood shape our adulthood. Of special interest are the changes that occur when siblings marry and later, when siblings gather to support their aging parents. A lively and revealing account of intimate family life which touches us all. Highly recommended.
—Judith Wallerstein Ph.D., family researcher and author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce
"This is a very thoughtful and helpful book, one enhanced by anecdotes and images but offering no easy answer. There is much to savor here."
PRAISE FOR WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
"The stories are heartwarming, and Isay recounts them with intelligence and compassion." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Ms. Isay's portraits have nuance and pathos and there is much to learn from." —The New York Times
"Achingly honest." —O, The Oprah Magazine
Read an excerpt from Mom Still Likes You Best by Jane Isay [PDF].
More About the Author
Secrets and Lies is the third book I have written, and the most autobiographical. My interest in the impact of secrets on the lives of the finders and keepers began in full when my husband of 15 years confessed his homosexuality, but I grew up--as many people do--in a family where reality often took a back seat to the wishes and desires of the adults.
Like most writers on such subjects (and I should know--I was a book editor for over 40 years, publishing some classics in psychology, including Reviving Ophelia, Odd Girl Out, and Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me) I was motivated by my own issues to explore the experiences of others.
Walking on Eggshells was my first book, based on hundreds of interviews. I wrote it to try to understand why my grown children weren't answering my phone calls. I found the answer to that question and learned about the great oceans of love that grown children have toward their parents, even when they don't show it.
Mom Still Likes You Best was my effort to untangle the complicated relationships between siblings in adulthood. There, through extensive interviews, I learned something about the deep connections that exist in families, despite the surface competition and discomfort many people feel.
Now, in Secrets and Lies, I have tried to map out the terrain of shame and lies that surrounds the actions we aren't proud of. The toll that secrets take on the keepers is something I have learned a great deal about, and I have come to understand how learning a life-changing secret can shock and shake the finder. How we reconcile to the truth is the ongoing story of the book.
Top Customer Reviews
If you are looking for solutions, as I was when reading this book, you will be disappointed. Ms. Isay had a mother who was a psychologist and a father who was a psychiatrist, so she has the language of psychology down. However, she has been an editor almost all of her career, and is now a writer. This book is more a long article, with lots of examples from interviews, then a guide to changing your relationship with your sibling. Most of the stories are entertaining and well written. If you wonder if your relationship is normal, this book can show you examples with which to compare the relationship you have with your siblings. If you are looking for a way to mend or change that relationship, however, you will find scant help here.
The author pointed out that sometimes we fall back into the roles we had as children when we all get together(doesn't happen often for us, we live far apart from each other.) I'm the oldest and I see that now and then. The stories and interviews of siblings helped me see where we were falling into traps we had set years ago as kids. Who was the boss, who was the whiner and the tattle tale? Who always cried ruining the fun? All of these things happened growing-up and sometimes echoes of those behaviors crop up at family gatherings. I saw myself and my siblings in the pages of this book. It was fast to read, interesting and it really made me think about how I treat my family now.
I have five children and they fight. I would love to see them have a good relationship with each others as adults. The author points out that the parent's behavior towards their children makes a difference in the way they treat each other as adults. I hope to help improve those relationships, not harm them. I think I need to read a few parenting books next.
If you want to find out about how to improve your relationship with your family, this is a good book to read. I found her interviews interesting and heartbreaking also.Read more ›
All readers will find their particular story in this thoughtfully, detailed book about sibling rivalry.
I found stories about younger sister/older brother particularly compelling since that was my situation. My brother was six years older, loved by all his teachers and a great student. Me? Not so much. I was also keenly aware that he was my mother's favorite. When his favorite dishes were served at EVERY meal, it's pretty hard to ignore.
I didn't let it bother me, though, because I was my dad's favorite, so it all evened out.
Isay covers the ups and downs of these special relationships. Some examples end with laughter and some with tears. She covers every possible situation, and never downplays the hurt and anger that goes along with family dynamics.
My brother died much too soon at age 56. He was my only sibling and I miss him. But, I found great comfort in this book because I realized that our relationship didn't have to be perfect for us to love each other.
I highly recommend this book for all brothers and sisters wondering whether you're alone in your hostility, resentment or even in your fierce loyalties toward your siblings.
Mary Cunningham, author, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, Cynthia's Attic Series
Mary Cunningham Books
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty
The Magician's Castle
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The lives of siblings is something we talk about, but don't necessarily really think about. Jane does a marvelous job considering the facts and various "truths" of the... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Susan Franzblau
This is a wonderful book for therapists and self-help people. The author gives a number of examples of how siblings continue to carry out the play which begins in the nursery. Read morePublished on September 1, 2013 by munchkingrn
MOM STILL LIKES YOU BEST is a compilation of stories of siblings. There are stories of very young children, and stories of siblings in their 30's, 40's, 50's and you get the... Read morePublished on April 1, 2011 by Wendy L. Hines
I savored this book, dipping in slowly. Isay's years as an editor show in this tightly woven collection of sibling stories. No fat here, all meat. And what meat it is. Read morePublished on August 10, 2010 by Zenpeace
About: Isay interviews siblings and tells their varied tales.
Pros: Some of these tales are interesting. Read more