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Oh Brother, Oh Sister

by on March 29, 2017 10:12 AM

Beyonce and Solange. The Kardashians. The Jacksons. Donny and Marie. The Wayans brothers. The Olsen twins. The list could go on and on when it comes to sets of siblings that have shared the spotlight. And it turns out, sibling relationships have plenty of benefits, according to Meghan Fritz, a psychotherapist who practices in State College and writes her “Living Well” column for Town&Gown each month. 

“Growing up with siblings teaches you how to communicate effectively and learn to resolve conflict from a young age,” she says “You are constantly learning how to communicate your needs, share, negotiate, argue, and make up. It can set the stage for helping you have healthy relationships with your peer group as well as romantic relationships as a young adult.”

While sibling relationships have perks, there also can be challenges, particularly if parents are overly involved in managing sibling relationships. 

“When siblings are taught by their parents to work it out amongst themselves and learn to compromise and negotiate, they learn to be unified and are more likely to be peacemakers instead of conflict starters in all of their relationships,” Fritz says. “When parents micromanage the relationship between siblings, splitting occurs causing issues of favoritism and competition.”

The relationship for siblings who also are multiples often displays a more rooted connection. 

“Twins, especially identical, share a special bond that connects them for life,” Fritz says. “Many identical twins develop a nonverbal language that only they can understand. When you think about it, multiples have had to learn how to work together, connect, and share space as they develop in the womb, so their bond can be deeper than siblings who are not multiples.”

When it comes to both biological and adopted siblings, the type of relationship the siblings develop is mostly determined by the parents. 

“One of the biggest predictors for how siblings will get along regardless if they are biological or adopted is how the parents shape and foster the connection between their children,” Fritz says. “Parents model and set the stage for how siblings interact, connect, communicate, and deal with conflict.”

 National Siblings Day, organized by the Siblings Day Foundation as a way to recognize siblings the same way Mother’s Day honors mothers and Father’s Day honors fathers, is April 10. The day has become popular on social media as people post photos of their siblings and express their love toward them.

Here are a just three stories of siblings in Happy Valley.


Individuals operating together

In State College, parents Stacy and Kim Sublett have nine children, ranging from toddler to 21-year-old. Three children are biological, six are adopted. 

For their son, Levi, the oldest, he values his role as big brother. 

“As the oldest, I have siblings who are close to my age who I can hang out with as friends, while the younger ones help me learn new responsibilities as I help care for them,” he says. 

For 17-year-old Isaac, whom the Subletts adopted from China when he was 12 and is the second oldest male child, he looks forward to time spent with his older brother, whether it is basketball, playing video games, or watching TV. 

“I’m really thankful for Levi,” Isaac says. “I really want a brother who can look out for me.”

As the Subletts added to their family, they knew they had to focus on building relationships between all of their children. 

“The best way to bond was to play,” Kim says. “We went to the park and played. We just played a lot and bonded through that playful place.”

The Subletts also focused on one-on-one sibling time and noted that all of their children are easy-going, which helped the relationship-building process. 

“It’s a normal teenage house with normal teenage squabbles, but at the end of the day we’re all on the same team. We’re all individuals, but we operate together,” Stacy says. 

Each time the Subletts have adopted a child, the dynamic of the family has changed, especially when the new child is an infant. However, the Subletts have seen the positive impact of bringing a new baby into the home, specifically for their older adopted children who came from challenging orphanage situations. 

“I think having babies has helped our adopted children see that babies are valued,” Kim says. “Watching our adopted children walk through the nurturing of a baby has been redemptive for them.”


Seeing double

For parents Kathy and Ryan Ridenour of State College, they saw double on the ultrasound for Kathy’s first pregnancy. Twins. Five years later, twins again. 

Leah and Abigail are 10; Madison and Kaitlyn are 5. For each set of twins, the Ridenours say they always want to be together, share bedrooms, and can get anxious when they are not near their twin, such as when one stays home from school because she’s sick.

“Anytime I go to school without her [Leah] it makes me feel sad and makes me realize that I’m really connected with her,” Abigail says. 

Even if the older twins, Leah and Abigail, consider signing up for different activities, they ultimately decide on the same. For now it is ice hockey, musical theater group, and piano lessons. Although, the pair did deviate when choosing other instruments — Leah plays clarinet; Abigail plays saxophone — but both instruments are ones their mother plays.

While all of their children are close, Kathy and Ryan say that there is a different bond when comparing the relationship within each set of twins to that of their nontwin sisters. 

“There is definitely a closeness between all of them, but I wouldn’t say it’s the same,” Kathy says. “They treat their twin as an extension of themselves and their other sisters as sisters who they are still close with but separate people.”

When asked how the twins will manage their relationships in the future, say for college or marriage, they quickly developed a plan that included buying houses on their parents’ street —so that they will always be close. 


Brothers in arm bars

There has always been a strong bond of brotherhood in the Penn State wrestling family. And over the years, there have been plenty of actual brothers who have contributed to the success of the program, including in recent memory Andrew and Dylan Alton, Josh and Scott Moore, and John and Russ Hughes. 

But there can be doubt which set of brothers who have had the biggest impact on Penn State wrestling. A decade ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that the Sanderson brothers, Cael and Cody, would have an impact on Penn State. 

Cael and Cody and their two other brothers, Cole and Cyler, were raised in Heber City, Utah.  Cael and Cody wrestled collegiately at Iowa State, which is where they had been coaching together for three years when Penn State came calling. 

All they’ve done in the eight years they’ve been at Penn State is capture six national titles, including back-to-back titles the last two seasons. 

Although Penn State wrestling has a history of success, it had won only one national title in more than 100 years of competition before the Sandersons and Casey Cunningham, who might as well be a Sanderson brother, arrived in Happy Valley.

Cael is the head coach, Cody is the associate head coach, and Casey is the assistant head coach. But Cael just looks at those as titles and considers the coaching staff a team of equals.

 Cody is three years older than Cael, who is arguably the greatest wrestler in US history. Cael went 159-0 with four national titles at Iowa State and won Olympic gold in Athens, Greece, in 2004. 

“Growing up, Cody was always my hero,” Cael explains. “He was the guy that set the example with his work ethic in both wrestling and school.  So I followed him in college, and then after college, he helped me train for the Olympics.”

Cody’s wife, Sarah, says the Sanderson family has always had three priorities.

“From the day they were born, I think God, family, and wrestling have just been intertwined for them,” she says. “I don’t think you could separate those things from each other for them. The way they live their lives is based on how they were brought up, and those three things all played a big part. For them, it’s all about being good people, giving your best effort, being grateful for what you have.”

The Sandersons' formula for success is trust and loyalty. 

“We work well together, for sure,” Cody explains. “I mean, we’ll argue, but we’re brothers.  I think brothers fight. That’s really what got us into wrestling. Our dad was a coach and we fought all the time, so he put us on the wrestling mats. But I think it’s really healthy now. We hold each other accountable, we help each other out, and we hold each other and ourselves to high standards — and I think we push each other to keep doing our best. I think we definitely help each other be better coaches.”

It is hard for the Sandersons to imagine being at Penn State and coaching at this level without each other.

“One of the unique things for us,” Cody states, “is being able to do this together and having our families so close to each other. Especially being so far from where we grew up now, there’s tremendous value in having each other and our families be able to grow up together, and I think it has only strengthened our bond.”


Jennifer Miller has worked in journalism since 2001. She currently works as a writer and adjunct professor at Penn State.
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