It’s science: Having sisters helps you become a better person

Print Friendly and PDF

I am the middle child in a sister-trifecta, so I know all about how sisters can wear on your nerves one minute and feel like your best friend the second. At the end of the day, we were a loving—albeit totally dysfunctional—family, and I’ve learned a lot about the world and myself just by having them in my lives.


That’s not surprising, though: Research shows there are many proven benefits to sisters. (As hard as it may be to believe when she’s “borrowing” your favorite sweater for the 10th time.)

“They help you develop social skills, like communication, compromise and negotiation,” says Alex Jensen, assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and the author of research into sibling relationships. “Even sibling conflict, if it is minor, can promote healthy development.”

FEATURED VIDEO

Here are all the reasons why it’s awesome to have a sister, according to science:

A sister gives you a mental health boost

Need help out of a funk? Call your sister. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology showed having a sister can boost your mental health and self-esteem. In particular, researchers from Brigham Young University found sisters help protect their siblings from “feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful.”

“What we know suggests that sisters play a role in promoting positive mental health,” Jensen tells Motherly, “and later in life they often do more to keep families in contact with one another after the parents pass.”

...and makes you more compassionate

The same Brigham Young University study discovered that having a sister can help you become a kinder, more giving person. That’s because sisters are promoting positive social behaviors such as compassion and altruism when they show love and affection. The strengths of these effects aren’t even replicated with loving parental relationships.

"Even if there is a little bit of fighting, as long as they have affection, the positive will win out," lead study author Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life, said in an interview with ABC News. "If siblings get in a fight, they have to regulate emotions. That's an important skill to learn for later in life."

A sister helps you sharpen those interpersonal skills

Turns out a sister could teach you a lot about conflict-resolution, empathy and how to nurture others. According to Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect, you could learn how to handle tough arguments or diffuse escalating situations by interacting with your “combative” or “physically intimidating” older sister. On the other hand, Kluger says that having a younger sibling who’s insecure or needs guidance can help you become more nurturing and empathetic to others.

...as well as your communications skills

Research has found that brothers who grew up with sisters are better at communicating with women than those who were only children or only have brothers. (This applies the other way around, too.)

“Some research suggests that having a sibling who is a different gender from you can be a real benefit in adolescence,” Jensen tells Motherly. “Many of those sibling pairs become closer during the teen years because they become good sources of information about the opposite sex.”

A sister teaches you to be independent and ambitious

A 2009 survey conducted by British psychologists revealed that people raised with at least one sister were more determined and more independent than those who grew up with just brothers. Speaking to the Daily Mail, study co-author Tony Cassidy of the University of Ulster said, “It is about that intrinsic desire to want to do better every time, to strive towards goals. It certainly seems there is something about the family situation with the number of girls in it that leads to more encouragement to achieve and be independent.”

...and how to achieve balance

That same 2009 survey, which included 571 participants ages 17 to 25, found that sisters can help their siblings reach inner peace. In particular, people with at least one sister were better able to cope with issues in their life and experienced less stress. In turn, they were happier and more optimistic than their counterparts.

Why exactly do sisters—not brothers—help you achieve balance, though? It all has to do with emotional expression, Cassidy told the Daily Mail. Women open up “channels of communication and it becomes a much more expressive situation and that's positive,” he said. “Emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families.”

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

"Where do babies come from?" is a question that can strike dread in the minds of parents everywhere. No matter how you slice it, telling your kids the story of their conceptions can be tricky...and when you conceived via assisted reproductive technology? Well, that can add a whole new layer of complexity.

But author Tess Kossow has found a way to tell the story behind her son's in vitro fertilization conception—and the best part? She's letting other parents who turned to this technology use her words.

Kossow knows all too well how intricate the IVF process really is. The mother sought out fertility treatments after a year of trying to conceive. She and her husband began the process with two viable embryos—and while the first embryo implanted she later suffered a miscarriage. The second embryo became Kossow's son, Ferris, who was born in April of 2018.

FEATURED VIDEO

It's so important to normalize the IVF process, and Kossow is doing just that—she's showing parents who have opted for IVF treatments and their children that their stories are worth telling. Kossow has written the IVF story in the form of a children's book called I'm Very Ferris.

"I wanted to go with something that would resonate [with little children] and get across the point of IVF," Kossow tells People. "It's a rhyming book. The pictures speak a thousand words. I thought I would do this through a child telling the story, instead of having the mom or dad tell the story."

But giving children a better understanding of the IVF process isn't the only goal that motivates Kossow's work. She's also committed to sending an important message about miscarriages to the women who have suffered them.

"It's not your fault. There's nothing you could have done," she says, according to People. "I've come to realize from firsthand experience just how in depth pregnancy is. And how much it truly can be a miracle to carry a baby and to deliver a baby, and have a healthy baby."

This is so important—because families come together in a variety of ways, and all of those ways are viable and worth understanding. Giving families who have come together thanks to IVF this kind of representation is so necessary. And we applaud this mama for taking this step. You can buy I'm Very Ferris here.

News

Car seat safety is understandably an obsession for many parents. We want our children to be as safe as possible so we pay close attention to the recommendations of car seat manufacturers, pediatricians and experts. We make sure our child is in the safest seat and position for their size and when our car seats expire we dutifully dispose of them instead of passing them down to our younger children, friends or charities.

Every parent knows that car seats have expiration dates—but why do they? What studies and tests prompted manufacturers and safety advocates to make this rule?

Could we be throwing away tons of perfectly good car seats?

FEATURED VIDEO

Those are the questions that journalist Adam Minter set out to uncover while writing his book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. The answers he got didn't satisfy him, and suggest that car seat expiration dates are more about increasing consumption than increasing protection.

A father himself, Minter was well aware of the fact that car seats have expiration dates when, in the course of reporting for Secondhand, he found himself at a used goods outlet in Tucson where secondhand car seats were being sent over the border to Mexico. Concerned that unsafe car seats may be putting children in other countries in danger, Minter decided to dig into the story—but what he uncovered was the opposite of what he thought he was chasing.

"There is no law prohibiting the sale of secondhand car seats post expiration or before," Minter tells Motherly.

There is no law, Minter learned, because there is nothing proving that age alone makes a car seat unsafe.

Minter reached out to numerous car seat manufacturers and retailers expecting that they would be able to point him to a specific study or testing protocol used to determine when and why car seats expire. But he didn't get a clear answer. Most companies did not reply or declined to comment.

He tells Motherly he was stunned that companies that use expiration dates on their products and marketing were unable to substantiate the claim that car seats degrade to the point of being unsafe after six years of existence.

Neither Minter or Motherly could uncover a specific study that is the basis of this rationale. The United States Highway Transportation Safety Administration says there is no regulation prohibiting parents from using an expired car seat, but on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, parents are advised "The seat has labels stating date of manufacture and model number. You need this information to find out if there is a recall on the car seat or if the seat is too old."

What could happen if a car seat is "too old?" Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website does not go into detail, but the Government of Canada's website does.

It states that:

"Manufacturers give an expiry or useful life date because over time:

  • Frequent use and exposure to sunlight can damage and weaken plastic;
  • Safe-use labels on the products fade or become hard to read;
  • Instruction manuals have likely been lost;
  • Food, cleaners, drinks and other materials that have been spilled or used on webbing, buckles, adjusters and other parts may prevent them from working safely;
  • The history or condition of the car seat or booster seat becomes hard to check (was it in a crash, was it stored in a place or in a way that caused damage to parts, etc.?);
  • Safety regulations and standards may have changed, so safer products may now be on the market; and
  • Second or subsequent owners may not get product safety recall notices if problems arise."

There is research to backup the first point. Exposure to sunlight can indeed damage plastic, but neither Minter nor Motherly were able to find any research that specifically looked at car seats, and how the plastic used in them might degrade when subjected to standard use in vehicles.

"We should actually have data available on the relative safety or unsafety of a secondhand car seat that, say sat in a car for 5 years in sunlight and one that's totally new. And yet, if [manufacturers have] done those tests, for whatever reason, they're not willing to disclose them," Minter tells Motherly.

As for the rest of the Canadian list, the reasons listed do not apply to every car seat or situation. A family that is considering reusing their own car seat for a second or third child would know if it has ever been in a collision and how it was stored. The parents would know how often the car seat was cleaned and would either have the instruction manual or access to an online version.

As we've noted, government agencies in the United States and Canada do discourage parents from using expired car seats, and in these countries it is common for used car seats to be shredded or sent to the landfill, expired or not. But in some other countries, the use of used car seats is viewed as perfectly acceptable and is actually encouraged.

Sweden has a remarkably low rate of child fatalities related to vehicles. The country is very seriously trying to reduce the rate to zero, and yet the director of traffic safety and sustainability at the Swedish Transport Administration, Maria Krafft, has publicly stated that used car seats are fine to use.

Krafft put Minter in contact with Professor Anders Kullgren of the Karolinska Institutet and the Chalmers University of Technology, who replied: "We have the same experience in Sweden. Manufacturers of child restraints (and other safety equipment such as bicycle and motorcycle helmets) tell their customers to buy a new product after a certain period of time, often relatively short. We can't see any evidence to justify that from what we have seen in real-world crashes."

Kullgren went on to say that he has access to car seats that are over 20 years old and has not seen any degradation in the plastic.

Bottom line:

In an era when parents are extremely concerned about reducing consumption and carbon footprints, should so many car seats be thrown away, especially when there are parents struggling to afford car seats in the first place?

Perhaps it is time for parents to consider not throwing away or recycling their car seats, but passing them on to another parent. Minter was initially worried about the safety of children when he saw used American seats headed to Mexico, but now he is worried about the saftey of children who would be safer in an inexpensive secondhand seat than none at all.

[Motherly has contacted government agencies, retailers and car seat manufacturers and will update our coverage when more information is available.]

News

Becoming a mother in the age of the internet has its perks—and downsides. No matter what time of day or night we know we can find answers to our questions online (or fall down a rabbit hole of conflicting advice, depending on what the topic is). Online moms groups on Facebook and Reddit can provide a sense of community and comfort. And Google is always there for us, but so is someone else: Our moms.

New research suggests that even with all the high tech resources available, most pregnant women still seek advice and emotional support from their own mom, and rank her guidance as being more meaningful than other recommendations.

FEATURED VIDEO

The new study, published in the journal Reproduction, Health, and Medicine, saw researchers at the University of Cincinnati follow pregnant women for months, conducting in-depth interviews with the women as well as their moms. Women who do not have their mother in their life often still have someone supporting them similarly. This particular study examined the daughter-mother bond, but previous research suggests sisters and aunts are also powerful support people for pregnant women.

"No one can replace your mum but you have to work with what you can work with—my wider family, my sister and close girlfriends are amazing," researcher Edith Cowan of the University in Western Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year.

Cowan's research looked at so-called “motherless mothers" and the support people whose guidance they value and this new research out of Cincinnati examined how new mothers bonds with their own mothers.

According to Danielle Bessett, UC associate professor of sociology, many books and recommendations for new moms suggest following expert advice and ignoring our anecdotal advice. While other studies do suggest that some grandparents' old-school ways can put babies at risk, Bassett cautions against discounting how much emotional support and advice grandparents can provide.

She says that when pregnancy resources and medical providers suggest new moms ignore their own moms it can be damaging and increase stress levels for the pregnant person. While some grandparents may offer advice that doesn't adhere to current recommendations (like putting a baby to sleep on their stomach or adding cereal to a baby's bottle—both of which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against) they are also an invaluable source of support for some pregnant women.

It's okay to take advice from your mom, to lean on her and get support. According to Basset, most moms aren't tossing grandma aside because she's not up-to-date on pregnancy and baby care. Instead, they're helping her catch up on new recommendations, something many grandparents are happy to do. According to Basset, many moms these days bring their own mom into the fold to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to pregnancy, literally.

"They tended to read self-help books along with their mothers who also enjoyed a vicarious engagement with science that they didn't have when they were pregnant decades ago," Basset explains, adding that medical providers should "actually listen and really hear their patients, no matter how much they may rely on their mothers."

Not everyone wants to rely on their mother or take their advice. For some women, contact with their own mother isn't welcome during pregnancy, and while many people want their mothers' advice and guidance during this time those who have had traumatic experiences in their family of origin may not. And that's okay too.

As developmental psychologist Dr. Julaine Brent writes for CBC Parents, "We are free to choose behaviors that will support our child's emotional well-being rather than repeating old patterns."

For some pregnant people, their mom's advice is welcome and needed. For others, their mom may not be emotionally or physically able to support them during this time. If you have lost your mother through estrangement or death, you still do not have to do this alone. Aunts, mothers-in-law, sisters, grandmothers and friends are the ones some pregnant women turn to.

Whatever support looks like in a mother's life it should be respected. Our moms and our aunties may not be experts on the latest medical and child-rearing recommendations, but they are in our corner and that matters even more.

News

If you've ever sat down for a family feast only to learn that your mom thinks you should feed your son more veggies; if you got judgmental looks from an in-law when you handed your daughter an iPad after dinner; or if you felt a grandparent was unfairly comparing your kids' milestones to your cousins' offspring you are not alone.

Over the holidays plenty of parents will encounter criticisms that loved ones mean as helpful advice, but that actually feel a lot like mom-shaming. A recent poll done by Similac's parent company Abbott found that 71% of parents with young children said unwanted comments about their parenting style came from close family members. The things they felt most judged about sound pretty familiar: screen time, discipline, milestones, feeding, education, sleep training, working and staying at home.

FEATURED VIDEO

To help build better boundaries in advance of the holiday season we spoke with child and family psychologist Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, author of the book Mommy Burnout. She believes it's possible to not just survive holiday get-togethers, but to enjoy our gatherings more if we employ a few of these tactics:

1. Prepare your team.

If you're married, you two have to be a united front before your family gatherings. "It is really good to do some talking ahead of time and anticipate the [problematic] areas—'Your mother always says something about what our kids are eating,' or whatever it might be," Ziegler suggested. "Just say, let's not get sucked in... Let's pick and choose our battles. That can be done with humor when you're driving over [to a family visit]. It's almost like the two of you are a team."

As a team, you can then use the following other tips.

2. Listen before reacting

This a challenge for some of us whose natural instinct is to defend ourselves at all costs. But what if we didn't react to the commentary right away?

"Go into [your family gathering] being like, 'I'm just going to listen more than I'm going to speak,' " Ziegler told Motherly. She doesn't literally mean that you shouldn't talk during dinner, but rather that you make this your go-to plan for any time someone says something that feels like shaming or judgment to you. Internally, you're not agreeing with them, but externally you're saying, "Thank you, next."

"It is hard, but I've used this strategy myself, and it is really effective," she added.

You don't have to just take the critique, but this strategy allows you to address the wounding comments at a less stressful time than when you're carving the turkey.

3. Find common ground

Rather than fight your loved one on a point, you can make like a diplomat and pivot to something you do agree on. Ziegler used the example of an adult commenting that you aren't making your child eat green beans. "I would divert from, 'Yeah, my kid's not going to eat green beans,' to, 'I see, you're eating turkey. Johnny loves turkey too.'"

4. Focus on the grownups

Not everyone's going to be able to carry off #3 , especially since we're sensitive where our kids are concerned. Instead, you could try to turn this into a conversation about yourself and the adults in the room. This could begin with a question about when the other adults in your family got potty trained, for example, and then transition into a slightly more current topic.

We never thought we'd say this, but maybe this is when you do want to talk politics at the table!

5. Follow the Golden Rule

"Don't talk poorly about other people, because when you do that, especially around the holiday table, it invites criticism," Ziegler says. Negative comments about anything, even a topic unrelated to children, can set a tone of negativity that will come right back at you. Speak positively to others, and you have a better chance of everyone speaking positively to you.

We all believe in standing up for ourselves and parenting in the best way that works for us. But Ziegler's tips may help us make it through the holidays in a peaceful, even joyful way—without compromising our values.

"Go in with the mantra, 'I'm going to choose joy over judgment,'" Ziegler says. When things get tough repeat it to yourself under your breath or on a break in the bathroom. When you say something like that enough times, it might just come true.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.