Home Duties: The Duties of Brothers and Sisters

“Home Duties” by Rev. R.T. Cross was written first in 1896.  I came across the book on our family’s bookshelf.  My great-grandparents had gotten the book as a gift.  Although the book is over a hundred years old and some of it sounds outdated, the principles still ring true, because it was written based on the Bible.  Since the copyright has expired, I am able to share this with you.




Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.” – Romans 12:10.

The Bible in many places, teaches the duties of husbands, wives, parents and children, while at first sight it seems to say little or nothing about the duties of brothers and sisters. But when we remember that the Bible has a great deal to say about the duties of Christians to each other, and that Christians sustain to each other the relation of brothers and sisters in Christ, we have no trouble in finding passages enough on the mutual duties of brothers and sisters.

The text was addressed to Christians, but it equally applies to those who in one family sustain to each other, the relation of brother and sister.

In ancient Sparta children were trained simply for the service that they could render the state. At seven years of age they were taken from their parents and trained together in companies. This method produced a tough, brave, hardy race, but they were great only in physical courage and military prowess. The finer traits of character were wanting. Those can be secured only by educating children together in the family.

Some people would have one family consist entirely of boys, and another entirely of girls, and then keep the two sexes apart through all their education. But God’s plan is a better one. It is that the boys and girls should grow up together in the same family, and be educated together. In family life the two sexes are brought into close and constant contact, and imperceptibly the different traits of each influence the other.

The only child in the family, who is brought up without the intimate association of brothers and sisters, loses an important part of his youthful training. So, too, do those boys who are brought up without the influence of sisters, and those girls who are brought up without the influence of brothers. The influence of good parents is vitally important, but something else is needed, that peculiar reflex influence which brothers and sisters have upon each other.

When two or more persons sustain to each other any relation, that relation carries with it certain duties. What are the mural duties of brothers and sisters to each other?

      1. They should be polite and courteous to one another.

“Politeness is to do and say

The kindest thing in the kindest way.”

Of course in the relaxation of home life there is more or less freedom from the formality that marks our intercourse with strangers and outsiders. But there should be none the less of real and genuine courtesy. Politeness is something which many people put on as they put on a dress, for company. Whatever politeness some people manifest in company they more than make up for at home by being rough, selfish, coarse, or even brutal and cruel. True politeness is a part of ourselves and cannot be laid aside as you lay aside a dress. Much of a person’s real character is shown by the way in which he treats his brothers and sisters.

If any of you young people are thinking that such and such a person will be a fit companion for you for life, I advise you to ascertain (if possible) how that person treats his or her brothers and sisters in the daily home life. As they treat them so they will probably treat you after the honeymoon is over.

Brothers and sisters are entitled to the same courtesy from one another as form a stranger or outside friend. Yet how often it is true that.

“We have careful thoughts for the stranger,

and smiles for the transient guest,

But oft for ‘our own’

The bittern tone,

Though we love our own the best.”

More courtesy and politeness between brothers and sisters in the home circle would make our homes happier. It should not however be a mere outside courtesy, but one that springs from the law of kindness. This brings us to the next duty of brothers and sisters.

      1. Be kind to one another.

So the text commands: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.”

What is kindness? We all know it when we see it, and yet it is a thing difficult to describe in words. Note the twenty-two words that Webster gives as synonymous with “kind”: obliging, benevolent, beneficent, bounteous, gracious, propitious, generous, indulgent, tender, humane, compassionate, good, lenient, clement, mild, gentle, bland, friendly, amicable, affectionate, loving. The last word is the most important synonym. There can be no real kindness without love.

Kindness is love shining in the face, speaking through the lips, and acting itself out in the daily life. It is not a mere impulse of goodness and generosity, spasmodic and intermittent, depending on the feeling of the moment, and changing with the ever changing surface of sensibility. It is a thoughtful goodness, a calculating benevolence, the thoughtful goodness, a calculating benevolence, the result of deliberate choice. It is based on principle, not mere feeling, and it is manifested whether one feels like it or not.

Happy are they who, looking back over the years of childhood and youth, can remember only an unbroken stream of kindness between themselves and their brothers and sisters!

That was a beautiful tribute which a little girl paid to her brother whom she loved very much. He was the older, and was taken ill and died. They laid him out on his own little bed, and the mother took his little sister to look at him. As she stood looking at his sweet face, as white and cold as marble, she wept very much. At last she said, ‘Mother, may I take hold of his hand?’ The mother placed it in hers, when the dear child lifting it up and stroking it gently, said, ‘This little hand never struck me!‘” Children, if you should be called to die, could your brothers and sisters say that of you?

A boy in a fit of anger struck a brother who had been very kind to him. That brother in a few days went away from home, sickened, and died. The other brother, as long as he lived, remembered with pain and regret that angry blow, for which he could never ask forgiveness.

“Be kind to thy brother; his heart will have dearth

If the smiles of thy joy be withdrawn;

The flowers of feeling will fade at the birth,

If love and affection be gone.

Be kind to thy brother; wherever you are;

The love of a brother shall be

An ornament purer and richer, by far,

Than the pearls from the depths of the sea.

“Be kind to they sister! Not many may know

The depth of true sisterly love;

The wealth of the ocean lies fathoms below

The surface that sparkles above;

They kindness shall bring to thee many sweet hours,

And blessings thy pathway shall crown;

Affection shall weave thee a garland of flowers,

More precious than wealth or renown.”

Our duties are all linked together. They grow out of each other. Politeness springs from kindness, and kindness comes from unselfishness, and I mention this as the next duty:

      1. Be unselfish

How often the peace of a family is broken up, how often discord in introduced in to the home, by quarrels between brothers and sisters! When the children are young these quarrels are soon forgotten, but when they are older permanent discord and estrangement are often the result.

These quarrels are often about property. The parents toil hard for years to lay up something for old age and for their children, and then at their death the children often quarrel over the little that is left.

This all springs from selfishness. Both want the same thing, and nether is willing to yield to the other. IT is far better to yield than to quarrel, and he who yields in the real conqueror. He conquers himself and he conquers others. An unselfish child has more friends, and really get more favors, than a selfish child.

Two bears must be kept in every home in order to have love and peace there – bear and forbear.

Selfishness hurts us more than it does others. It causes pain to others for a moment; it will cause us pain for a long time. “Little Anna lay in bed, near the window. The deep flush of fever was on her cheeks. In the same room was her brother Robert, busily engaged in making a ship. His poor sister could ill bear the noise of the hammer; but he worked on as if he did not trouble himself about her. ‘Do please, Robert, give me a glass of water! My throat is so dry, and my head aches so very much,’ said Anna, in a gentle voice. Again was the loud knocking of the hammer heard, and once more Anna begged for a glass of cold water; when Robert called out sharply, ‘Wait a minute, Anna; I can’t fetch it yet.’ At last he poured out a glass from a jug, which was warm with standing where the sun shone brightly upon it. ‘Oh, not that water, Robert! Please fetch me a little, fresh and cool, from the spring.’ ‘Don’t plague me so, Anna; you see how busy I am. I am sure that this water is quite good enough.’ Knock, knock, knock, went the hammer again. ‘Oh, my poor head!” said the invalid, softly, as she took the glass, drank a little, and lay back on the pillow. That was the last time that Anna asked Robert for a proof of brotherly love. The next day she died; and as the little coffin stood in the room ready to be carried to the grave, no one shed more bitter tears than the little boy who would rather have his own selfish way than listen to the wishes of his dying sister.”

Sometimes it happens that one child in the family is a lifelong invalid, a cripple perhaps, unable to run and play with the rest. It is very sad for the child, but it is ofttimes a blessing to the other children, for it helps to teach them unselfishness. I knew such a family once, and often visited in it. One of the many children in that family was never able to walk. She had to be carried to different parts of the house, or wheeled in a chair. Her helplessness was a constant rebuke to any selfishness the other children might be disposed to manifest. They were taught unselfishness by waiting on her and giving her the best of everything.

A certain African tribe has what it call The Brother Rite. When two person take it upon themselves, each opens a vein on the left breast of the other, and eats eats the roasted heart of a sheep, after smearing it in the other’s blood. Then each rubs some of the blood of the other in his own wound. This rite signifies that henceforth they are halves or parts of each other. Each is considered as living in and of the other. Henceforth, should either be in any trouble, the other is to fell, “It is myself that is in trouble, “ and thus do for the other whatsoever in like circumstances he would do for himself.

That is the way brothers and sisters should feel concerning each other. No barbarous ceremony of mingling blood can make them more truly of one blood than they are now, being born of the same parents.

      1. Be helpful to each other.

Help each other to the right views of life. Brothers and sisters can look through each other’s eyes, and thus see how some things are regarded by the opposite see. A young man who has not a pure, loving sister, and a young lady who has not a noble, manly brother, is very apt to get wrong views and impressions concerning many things.

Help each other in forming good characters. A complete rounded-out character is the result of many influences that come from different sources. It cannot spare the influence of God and His Spirit; nor can it well spare the influence of Christian friends, nor the influence of father and mother, nor the influence of brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters cannot live together without helping to form each other’s characters. See to it that the influence you exert is good.

Help each other to resist temptation. Many a brother has been enable to resist temptation, and has been kept from forming evil habits, by the influence of a good sister.

Help each other in your studies, and in getting an education. Help each other in business matters, in financial affairs. If your brothers or sisters are unfortunate in the race of life and in the struggle for a living, while you are succeeding, share your prosperity with them. Do not let them suffer if it is in your power to help them. “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

Listen to the law that God gave to the Jews: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of the gates in thy land which I, the Lord thy God, giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from they poor brother. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in they wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand: and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him naught; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all they works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou halt open t thine hand wide unto they brother, to they poor, and to they needy in they land.” (Deut. 15:7-11)

When brothers and sisters grow up and marry, they are separated more or less. Sometimes, as they find homes far from each other, they lose all trace of one another, and years, perhaps, go by without a mutual visit, or even a letter. This ought not so to be. Happy are those brothers and sisters who settle near to each other, with the privilege of meeting occasionally in the old homestead to call up the pleasant memories of childhood, and keep fresh, even to old age, their brotherly and sisterly love. If this is not possible, let them correspond with each other, writing as often as possible, and visiting each other whenever they can. Let them take the children along, too: for one of the pleasantest features of a child’s life is having cousins and exchanging visits with them.

It may not be possible for some families of children to meet all together again in this world, but all may look joyfully forward to, and live in glad anticipation of that glad reunion beyond the grave, where kindly affection and brotherly love shall continue forever.



      1. Shut every door after you, without slamming it.

      1. Never stamp, jump, or run in the house.

      1. Never call to person up stairs or in the next room; if you wish to speak to them, go quietly where they are.

      1. Always speak kindly and politely to the servants, if you would have them do the same to you.

      1. When told to do or not to do a thing by either parent, never ask why you should or should not do it.

      1. Tell of your own faults, but not of those of your brothers and sisters.

      1. Carefully clean the mud and snow from your boots or shoes before entering the house.

      1. Be prompt at every meal.

      1. Never sit down at the table or in the parlor with dirty hands or tumbled hair.

      1. Never interrupt any conversation, but wait patiently for your turn to speak.

      1. Don’t reserve your good manners altogether for strangers, but be equally polite at home and abroad.



My boy, do you know the boy I love?

I fancy I see him now;

His forehead bare in the sweet spring air,

With the wind of hope in his waving hair,

With sunrise on his brow.

He is something near your height, may be

And just about your years;

Timid as you; but his will is strong,

And his love of right and his hate of wrong

Are mightier than his fears.

He has the courage of simple truth;

The trail that he must bear,

The peril, the ghost and frights him most,

He faces boldly, and like a ghost

It vanishes in air.

As wild fowl take, by river and lake,

The sunshine and the rain,

With cheerful, constant hardihood,

He meets the bad luck and the good,

The pleasure and the pain.

Home friends in need? With heart and deed

He gives himself to them.

He has the grace which reverence lends –

Reverence, the crowning flower that bend

The upright lily-stem.

Though deep and strong his sense of wrong,

Fiery his blood, and young,

His spirit is gentle, his heart is great,

He is swift to pardon and slow to hate,

And master of his tongue.

Fond of his sports? No merrier lad’s

Sweet laughter ever rang!

But he is so generous and so frank,

His wildest wit or his maddest prank

Can never cause a pang.

His own sweet ease, all things that please,

He loves, like any boy,

But fosters a prudent fortitude;

Nor will he squander a future good

To buy a fleeting joy.

Face brown or fair? I little care,

Whatever the hue may be,

Or whether his eyes are dark or light;

If his tongue be true and his nor bright,

He is still the boy for me.

Where does he dwell? I cannot tell;

Nor do I know his name.

Or poor or rich? I don’t mind which;

Or learning Latin, or digging ditch,

I love him all the same.

With high, brave heart, perform your part,

Be noble and kind as he;

Then, some fair morning, when you pass,

Fresh from glad dreams, before your glass.

His likeness you may see.

You are puzzles? What! You think there is not

A boy like him – surmise

That he is only a bright ideal?

But you have power to make him real,

and clothe him to our eyes.

You have rightly guessed; in each pure breast

Is his abiding place.

Then let your own true life portray

His beauty, and blossom day by day

With something of his grace.

  • J.T. Trowbridge, in Youth’s Companion