Photo credit: Blend Images/Mike Kemp/ Brand X Pictures/ Getty Images
There is nothing quite like the incredibly difficult and complex relationship between siblings. And while gender, personality, birth order and temperament all play a significant role in how that relationship develops, there is always something special about the bond between sibs. Hunter Gandee showed everyone how much his brother meant to him by completing an incredible task. What is it that's so special about the bond between siblings that drives a young boy like this — and how can we as parents nurture that bond in our own families?
Walk of a lifetime
Braden Gandee was born with cerebral palsy, which prevents him from being able to walk on his own. Hoping to put a face on this disease, his older brother Hunter completed a 40-mile walk with Braden on his back. His intent was to inspire researchers and future scientists to continue to push for breakthroughs in the treatments and mobility options available for people who suffer from cerebral palsy. While their walk — deemed "The Cerebral Palsy Swagger" — was intended simply to raise awareness, people who expressed an interest in making a donation toward the cause were directed to University of Michigan's Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium. Fans cheered them on at stops over the course of the walk, which ended at the University of Michigan.
In preparation for the walk, Hunter — who is a wrestler — worked out with weights to build the upper body strength needed to carry his brother such a long distance. At one point in the walk they considered stopping, because Braden's legs were becoming chafed. After a rest period and an adjustment to how he carried Braden, the two were able to continue on and finish their original goal.
What's with this bond?
What is it that makes the sibling bond so incredibly close? Katie Hurley, LCSW, shares that a sibling is often a child's first real friendship. "The great benefit of the sibling relationship is that siblings have the time to play together, work through arguments and learn to cope with the ups and downs of childhood in a safe environment," she says. Danielle Gandee, mom to Hunter and Braden, sees this in the relationship between those two. "Their connection, they really are that close," she explains, "It's not an act. Hunter knows that Braden's got to work very hard. He's the kind of person that is always thinking about other people."
Jeff Kluger is senior editor of science and technology reporting at Time magazine and author of The Sibling Effect. In an interview about his TED talk of the same name, Kluger spoke of the sibling bond he experienced in his own family. "My brothers and I, we were a unit, a loud, messy, brawling, loyal, loving, lasting unit," he shares. "We felt much stronger that way than we ever could as individuals. And we knew that as our lives went on, we could always be able to call on that strength. There may be no relationship that's closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe than the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters," he adds.
When asked why siblings have this special relationship Kluger shares his theory. "Well, the idea is that your parents come along at the beginning of your life and then leave it too early. Your spouse and your children come along much later in your life, but your siblings are the only people who are with you through the entire ride, potentially from cradle to grave, and in the most formative part of your life. But our siblings shape us. We learn from our siblings," he adds.
From the mom trenches
"This story fills my heart with joy. I mean, how could it not?!" shares AllParenting editor Laura Willard. "In addition to the pure love that we feel from these siblings, one of the lessons I think that most parents can take from this is the huge value of a close sibling relationship. Even in the absence of special needs, siblings being each other's strongest allies is so important," she adds. "I imagine that the significance is intensified in families where a child has special needs." Willard and her husband have made this a priority in their family. "Our kids are a year apart in age and we want them to be there for each other in life," she says. "Being adopted and of different races than my husband and me, I think it's especially important."
Willard experienced an episode recently in which her son very valiantly stood up for his sister — an incident that left Willard speechless. "Recently, a child at summer camp made some disparaging remarks to my 5-year-old daughter, who is black, about her skin color. She was taken aback and didn't know what to say. My son immediately stepped in and told the little girl, 'She was born that way and she's just fine!' That gave my daughter a tremendous amount of comfort and courage in the situation," she shares. "Each of them knowing the other always is there for support makes a huge difference. I commend Hunter and Braden's mom for raising such incredible people and for setting an example for the rest of us. The world needs more of that!"
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