Arabella Gibbons, 22, has grown up with half-siblings. With her firsthand experiences, she believes that people should not undervalue half-sibling relationships, according to her interview with the Guardian. “I remember telling a story about my brother in school when I was eight, and the teacher said, ‘Now tell the truth, he’s not your brother, he’s just your half-brother.’ I was really shocked. It had never occurred to me that my relationship with them was ‘just’ anything.”
Half-Siblings are Siblings
Siblings are our first friends, and sometimes our closest friends. But life is never clear cut. Siblings who fought as children may become close as adults. Some people may feel closer to their sibling-in-law than their biological ones. Some may feel connected to half-siblings, whether they met during childhood or adulthood. No label could properly explain the complexities and emotions in every bond. Therefore, it’s time to stop demeaning half-siblings as lesser than full siblings.
According to data in a research article published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, there’s “no difference in relationship quality” between siblings who lived together during childhood, whether they were full siblings or half.
Many families don’t fit the nuclear mold. Almost 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. There’s no need to create a divide in a family, a unit that could include half-siblings, step-siblings, foster siblings, adopted siblings, siblings-in-law. Then there are fictive siblings, which, according to Cathy Cress M.S.W. on Psychology Today are family members through custom or choice instead of blood. This could include that troubled child or teen who finds more comfort in a found family than in their biological one. Or the cousin who feels more like a sibling. Or that neighbor who practically lives over. Plus foreign exchange students, tenants, boarders, or anyone who essentially becomes “one of the family”.
Semantics only matter in situations such as health, for example, when hereditary diseases may be applicable. Otherwise, why do strangers emphasize how much people are genetically related? For many people, siblings are defined by love and connection, and not necessarily blood or who they were raised with. Saying that siblings are “half” could invalidate the very whole connection they have between them.
Challenging But Worthwhile
For instance, Sharon Bryant feels that her relationship with her half-siblings is good, perhaps better than many full siblings. “I always feel I’ve had the best of both worlds — growing up as an only child with my mother, which meant I got all that special one-to-one time, but having three siblings on tap. I feel quite offended when people refer to them as my half-siblings.” She resolutely states, “I never use the word half.”
That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to connect. Typically, it’s hard for full siblings to get along. However, half-siblings and step-siblings come with even more challenges. For one thing, there’s often a divorce involved, which is difficult for any child. Then there is the suddenness of a new person taking up their parent’s attention. The trauma of the divorce could be enough to alienate a child or adult from their new siblings. But that doesn’t mean a beautiful sibling relationship can’t begin.
For example, James Regal was two during his parent’s divorce and he struggled with jealousy for his half-siblings. “My relationship with my dad has changed massively. We don’t go out for drinks or play sports anymore. He doesn’t have time.” However, instead of staying resentful of his new family members, he began to connect with them. “It turns out that playing with the kids is great fun, and I can see that as they get older, we could all do stuff together, so my relationship with my dad needn’t suffer at all.”
Yes, They Are Real Siblings
A. Rochaun puts it best on Scary Mommy when she wrote about her relationship with her brother with whom she shares a mother. “It’s not parents who determine the significance of the relationship between siblings; it’s the bond they’ve decided to create together. There’s nothing ‘half’ about the way my brother has shaped my life.” After all, the siblings themselves often don’t feel any difference as they play together, tease each other, and love each other.
Many siblings are tired of hearing “so you’re only half-siblings,” “you don’t look alike,” and “so you’re not real siblings”. Follow their cues; if they say they are siblings, don’t “correct” them by saying they are half-siblings. Instead of looking at the ways they are different, see the way they are alike. After all, loved ones tend to rub off on each other, and you may realize that they are closer than the term “half-siblings” gives them credit for.