If you can’t be nice to your siblings, you can’t be nice to your friends. This motto haunted my childhood. I thought, “Of course I can be nice to my friends without being nice to my brother.” He was a jerk. My friends were nice. No, Mom meant that I had to be nice to by siblings before I could go out and play with my friends. And Mom was too clever to just ground us.
She invented the bridge.
I never had to do the bridge with my sister. And I rarely argued with my little brother. But my big brother . . . my big brother knew just how to push my buttons, and we would argue ferociously and routinely. If Mom heard us, she would call us out to do the bridge. Stand up; face each other; clasp each other’s hands above our heads; look at each other until we apologized convincingly. Mom and Dad were both stingy with their approval, spotting feigned remorse a mile away.
My brother and I spent hours over the years making the bridge. Eventually, he would get bored of it and make me laugh, easing the tension and anger. We would apologize, and Mom would release us from the bridge.
My fondest memories are the two-month vacations spent driving cross-country to visit family. Our old minivan carried all of us: two parents, four kids, two dogs, and one year a cockatiel. We would drive for two, sometimes three days straight, stopping only to fill up on gas and walk the dogs. Choruses of “He’s touching me!” and “Hey, that’s my lemonade!” serenaded our childhood voyages. You would think that in that little, confined van we wouldn’t have room to do the bridge. We did.
I was subjected to this punishment for decades, but it occurred less and less frequently. I learned that I could be nice to my siblings, sometimes more often than I could be nice to my friends. Actually, my siblings became my best friends. They have stood beside me as friends have come and gone. In sending us to the bridge, Mom gave us the opportunity to learn to respect each other.
I watched as my friends grew apart from their siblings, and as life went on their friends kept changing too. Not in my family. My siblings and I have become stronger; we admire each other’s accomplishments and support each other’s efforts. The respect that Mom fostered in her unconventional punishment became integral to our adult relationships.
I am the third of four children. Each of us has grown; a few of us are starting our own families. All of us treasure the lesson that Mom gave us of respect. All of us will see our own children do the bridge. Stand up; face each other; clasp each other’s hands above your heads; look at each other until you apologize convincingly. I wouldn’t rob my children of such strong family friendships for anything.
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Lindsay Sandberg is the Assistant Magazine Editor for BYU Stance for the Family. Check them out on Twitter @StanceBYU, on Facebook and online at stanceforthefamily.byu.edu.