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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.
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 13 months ago 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