Normally, in the course of human events, being left out of a group stings. Even the most popular woman in the world, Taylor Swift, has a story about being excluded from a group of middle school girls she thought were her friends. She asked the girls to go to the mall, and they said they were busy. Only it turned out they were busy having fun at the mall without her. Honestly, I’m not convinced she has recovered from that.

Social scientists tell us that the pain of exclusion harkens back to prehistoric times when, if our forebears were kicked out of their group, they would die of starvation or exposure. We all still have hunter-gatherer DNA stashed away in between the genetic adaptations to hold our breath underwater and digest milk in adulthood (sorry to all the lactose intolerant out there).

Amid the very real evolutionary need to feel part of social groups, there is one particular group in which I am decidedly not welcome, but this time, it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I revel in the fact that I am not a part of my children’s private group text: the sib chat.

In my family, the sib chat is an ongoing conversation between my children that takes place via text. Being an only child, I’ve never had the option of joining one. But my four children did, and boy, did they.

Most weeks, the sib chat is as lively and electric as a broken power line snapping in the middle of the street. It crackles with news and jokes and memes. I only know of this by means of hearsay, and the occasional errant text, which is quickly followed up with “WRONG CHAT!” by any number of my kids, warning me that whatever just pinged on my phone wasn’t meant for me and would likely offend my differing sensibilities. Out of respect for my children — and the sib chat — I promptly delete.

I’m not sure they know it, but the sib chat does so much more for my children than keeping them up to date on what each other is viewing on TikTok. A meta-analysis of 26 studies on sibling relationships worldwide found a wealth of positive outcomes associated with strong sibling ties. From living longer to being happier, those who are close to their siblings seem to do everything better.

Most weeks, the sib chat is as lively and electric as a broken power line snapping in the middle of the street. It crackles with news and jokes and memes.

In December, there was one dissenting study published in the Journal of Family Issues that caused quite a stir with its findings that only children surveyed experienced better mental health than those with siblings. Much of this deduction centers around the idea of resource dilution: The more kids parents have, the fewer resources and less attention they are able to give each child.

But even that study’s conclusion conceded that the data doesn’t consider the countereffect of the attention given to siblings by one another and doesn’t attest to the quality of sibling connections, according to study author and professor of sociology Doug Downey. “It is likely that higher-quality sibling relationships will be more beneficial to children and may have more positive effects on mental health.”

This study also noted that while its findings trend toward the negative, other research has shown that having more brothers and sisters correlates with developing better social skills and a lower likelihood of divorce later in life.

When children are young and whacking each other on the head with Squishmallows, it’s hard to envision a future in which they interact pleasantly and voluntarily with each other as adults. This is even more difficult to imagine when there’s a sizable age gap between the youngest and oldest (the spread between mine is 10 years).

When a sib chat blossoms, it’s as unexpected and miraculous as the first daffodil that breaks through hard, cold soil in late winter. Where, we wonder, did this marvelous thing come from? And how did such a boon come to our family?

My children weren’t always close, and I blame that largely on the gap in ages. Most 16-year-olds aren’t really that into the lives of 8-year-olds. It wasn’t until all four were in their late teens and early 20s that something emerged that looked like a real connection. When the pandemic hit, three of them came home for 18 months, and, for all practical purposes, became each other’s best friends. (The oldest was living on his own by then.)

It turns out that, pandemic or not, brothers and sisters tend to grow warmer toward each other as young adults. A 2018 study that looked at relationships between siblings in “emerging adulthood” found that even with gaps in communication, “sibling relationship quality appeared to improve with participants, indicating they were happier with their sibling and felt more like equals and had a better understanding of one another.”

My youngest daughter knows that one reason she exists is because I wanted her older sister, who had only two brothers at that point, to have a sister. Not having had a sister myself, I imagined it to be a magical relationship, and indeed it has been, at least from my vantage point.

They talk daily, and like to go out with each other for walks and meals. They have watched all 327 episodes of the hit TV show “Supernatural” together, some more than once. And while my own relationship with my daughters is strong, I know that they can relate to each other in ways that are different from the way I relate to them, particularly since I don’t understand half of their jokes.

When children are young and whacking each other on the head with Squishmallows, it’s hard to envision a future in which they interact pleasantly and voluntarily with each other as adults.

The sib chat isn’t just there for the prosaic daily messages. It’s also there for when my kids need support from one another. I believe another one of the psychological advantages of people with siblings is knowing they have people who have known them the longest in their corner, which becomes all the more important as our parents, our original defenders, grow older and frail.

This sort of built-in protection in a family unit explains why researchers find positive physical and mental health outcomes associated with having siblings. One study conducted in Canada examined the effect of sibling relationships when a family was faced with stressful events. They found that strong bonds between brothers and sisters help them make it through difficult times. “Notably, the protective effect of sibling affection was evident regardless of mother-child relationship quality,” the authors wrote.

The group chat my children have is just that — an expression of sibling affection. A way that siblings can share joys and weather storms together even when they’re no longer living under the same roof, just the way God and Steve Jobs intended it.

Yes, the content may be light or utilitarian — When is Grandpa’s birthday again? Who has a Hulu account? This meme! — but don’t be fooled by that. There is deep love lining the riverbed here that often goes unexpressed among siblings who grow up being gruff to each other, which is something that is pretty much required in the teen years.

Later, when they moved out of the house and realized that those people they left behind (or who left home before them) comprise a large part of the small society of people who will know them for all of their lives, this bond became a remarkable gift — for them, and for me. Their sib chat is a chattering, dinging, meme-infused, daily reminder of that gift. And a reminder that when I leave this Earth, I can leave confident that they will continue as a tight family unit, together.

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.