I have one sibling, a younger sister. She’s my favorite person. The iconic song lyrics, “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters,” couldn’t describe us better.

Now, no one would call us twins. God wired her far more sporty, outdoorsy, independent, and imaginative than me. In fact, it’s a toss-up if we look anything alike. But we love each other.

As adults, our sibling relationship has developed into a rich, dependable friendship. Both striving to honor Christ with our lives, we value each other’s discernment, knowing the other’s words are Spirit led. No one lifts me up better—she gets me giggling like no other, and she draws my eyes to Jesus in a beautiful way.

Regardless of whether your kids still suck their thumbs or spend most of their time studying chemistry, I’m sure you long for your children to develop strong, loving sibling relationships. And while some factors toward this goal—personality, age gap, gender—are out of your hands, others aren’t.

Glancing back at what contributed to my friendship with my sister, here are five key influences that shaped sibling relationships in my home.

1. Sibling relationships were expected to be loving.

The most overarching expectation in our home: to love each other. It’s amazing how much falls under that umbrella.

This included learning to be patient. If we wanted something our sibling had, we were taught to ask, “When you’re done, may I have a turn?” which developed patience and respect for the other’s feelings. This also involved zero tolerance for backbiting or bickering.

Also, whether in public or just with our family, we were never allowed to speak disrespectfully about each other. One afternoon, while playing outside with the neighbor kids, I called my sister a “scaredy-cat” loud enough for the group to hear. Boy, did I regret it! I was kept inside until I was ready to apologize.

Loving each other also manifested itself in being excited for each other when opportunities arose. Sometimes life didn’t feel fair when one sibling received invitations to a tea party, sleepover, or exclusive group activity the other wasn’t. But we were not allowed to pout if we were the one left home. Our sibling relationship was built on celebrating and supporting each other.

2. Shared experiences made our relationship stronger.

My sister and I were expected to spend time together. We weren’t always on the same page of what to do, but we learned to compromise.

My parents also placed us in multiple activities over the years such as homeschooling, ballet, art class, youth group, etc., keeping us together. We didn’t have identical lives, living life at the hip. Alone time was always encouraged. But it’s simple math, really. When siblings share hours of time with the same people, spinning the same inside jokes, forming the same memories, closeness naturally follows.

Family routines also significantly knitted us together. Our unspoken core family value, aside from following Christ, was family time. Simple traditions like Saturday morning Home Depot runs with Dad, weekly visits with Great-Grandma, and listening to the Ramona audiobooks on repeat driving around town tightened our bond. Family time exposed us to the same endearing experiences we’ll reference when we’re sixty.

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3. Our sibling relationship was shaped by open family discussion.

I remember one day, having spent our entire drive home discussing the themes, virtues, and messages of the newly viewed “Kung Fu Panda” movie, my cousin asked, “Do you guys always do this?”

Yes. Yes, we did. We were a family who discussed books, situations with friends, and cultural ideas wherever we found ourselves. It fostered a pattern of processing life together. This freedom to discuss not only equipped us to voice our thoughts with each other, but it taught us to align our thoughts with God’s Word.

For instance, I was recently discussing a popular game with my sister, pondering whether it assists or distracts our worship of God. Due to our parents’ reinforcement of turning our thoughts and attitudes toward Jesus, our sibling relationship was hardwired to look at the world around us with the same eyes.

4. Positive role-models helped shape my relationship with my sister.

My Mom made the observation, “You always assumed you’d be good friends. You never considered you wouldn’t.”

The reason has much to do with watching my mom and her only sister maintain a deep friendship. My aunt has lived overseas my whole life, but it never diminished their closeness. As my sister reflected, when Mom announced she’d be calling my aunt, we knew to expect a two-hour conversation full of laughter and catching up. Without us realizing, we were handed a model for a close, lifelong sibling relationship.

But I can’t leave my parents’ relationship out of this equation. While of course they weren’t without their stiff moments of disagreement, my parents never allowed arguments to last. Cross words were swiftly apologized for, hurt feelings were quickly forgiven. Their easygoing nature and quickness to laugh trained us to live lightheartedly and Christ-focused.

My sister and I naturally followed this pattern of “promptly handle the situation, then move on.”  It’s done wonders for the health of our sibling relationship, as well as the enjoyment of it.

5. We loved because we were loved.

All of this boils down to this core: we were loved. Referring to the love of God, the apostle John articulated the concept, We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Our love for each other sprang from the fertile soil of our parents’ love, as well as God’s, of course.

There’s always room to grow in our relationships, but the ground prepared for our sibling relationships matters. So, what are you modeling for your children? What discussions, expectations, and experiences are currently shaping the friendships in your home?

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Lauren Miller serves on staff with FamilyLife as a writer in Orlando, Florida, though she’ll always be a California girl. She graduated from Biola University and the Torrey Honors College where the Lord first planted in her a love for family and marriage ministry. As a single, she loves serving the youth at her church, taking long walks, and reading a good book in her free time.