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Sibling Rivalry

As I was talking on the phone with a friend, she commented about the quietness of the house: "Where are the kids?"

Me: "Sitting right here, finishing dinner."

Girlfriend: "Wow, they seem really calm."

Me (a little surprised): "Well, how else are they supposed to sound?"

Girlfriend: "You know, you're right. I don't think I've ever heard your children arguing. That's foreign in everyone else's house."

Me (real shocked): "What do you mean foreign?"

Girlfriend: "You are the only person I know with more than one child who doesn't deal with sibling rivalry and sibling bickering."

Me (now nearly at a loss for words): "Uh, yeah, I guess you're right."

I thought to myself, Wow, I guess that is sorta weird. Why aren't they fighting every day? I can hear my grandmother telling my sister and me, "Before you can be friends with someone else, you first be friends with your sister." Most of the time, we fought anyway. We're cool now, but why was that? What is behind this sibling rivalry thing anyway?

I am the oldest of three girls and we are all born under the same zodiac sign — Taurus. In no uncertain terms, my parents were real bullfighters. They had to separate us to stop us from hurting each other a lot. I love my sisters now...though they do blame me for all of their heartache growing up. "If you weren't always the good student/the popular one/the one mom liked the most, then we wouldn't have had those problems." What? I do understand that my mere existence provided pressure for them, but I couldn't help the fact that I was the first-born child and grandchild and everyone harped on my abilities while ignoring the abilities of my siblings. Am I blaming my parents and my extended family for our fights? Well, sorta.

Now I know that I am not going to be liked much after this post, but I can only speak for myself and for, say, a dozen or so friends whose sibling dynamics point pretty clearly back to the parents. Since I don't have the sibling blowouts in my house among my five children consistently (they have their moments), then what am I doing differently?

Hmm... I have this approach that I call individual, on-purpose parenting, which I believe has warded off many potential fights. It involves knowing my children's spiritual gifts and their talents before I give instruction or correction. The cookie-cutter parenting my parents did, although much easier, can lose some people in the shuffle, especially in a large family. What is cookie-cutter parenting? You know, the one-size-fits-all model. Each one of our children is born with different gifts and different challenges. I nurture the gifts and starve, or disarm, the challenges.

Every month I schedule mommy and child days with each one of my children individually. We spend quality time together doing whatever they choose. We sneak out of the house in the early morning, and they plan the whole day. The promise is not to tell the others what we did unless they ask (bragging is unacceptable), and the listener must not compare their day with someone else's because they can choose the same activities if they want. I, also, try not to compare them or group them. Whenever I slip into a comparing situation, my sister reminds me of how awful it was for her being compared to me: "You don't know what it's like being in the shadow of the smart and nice one. You have to distinguish yourself from the other one." And in her case and my oldest son's case, the distinguishing of oneself came in the category of mean-spirited remarks: "I can't wait for you to disappear," or unforgettable actions such as my son's several failed attempts at flushing my oldest daughter's teddy bear down the toilet — but that was when he was 2 and 3 and now it's rare.

I also encourage — okay, okay, enforce — uninterrupted time between siblings, like having the older ones read The Emperor's New Clothes five consecutive times to the younger ones or play Go Fish when they'd rather be playing Battleship. We take conflict resolution seriously, and yes, I even teach people skills.

To some, I'm a tyrant. To others, I've figured something out and it works. For me, parenting is a hit-or-miss kind of game that has most people winging it, and those who look like they're nailing it are faking it. I bring my childrearing pieces to the table, mix them up with my husband's game pieces, and I am not sure what to call the result — Scrabopoly, Cheskers or Sorryble? Hey, if you don't laugh, you'll go crazy.