Siblings, no matter how close, is going to have a hard time getting along sometimes. I have four children of my own, ranging in age from 13 to 6. Two are boys, and two are girls, who are generally happy and get along well. Sometimes.
I don’t allow sibling rivalry its free expression, though. I have a very firm ‘no in-fighting’ rule in our house. I believe that the home should be a safe and welcoming place as much as possible for all family members. Just because a rule is broken on an almost-daily basis doesn’t make it a bad rule. It just gives me something to point to when they break it to show them it’s not right.
Clothes are a trigger factor for sibling rivalry, especially amongst my girls. They are only two years apart, and when the older one gets something nice, it almost always ends up in the younger one’s purse or drawer. I know immediately when this happens, because the voices begin to waft in the direction of my office. The conversation often goes like this:
“That’s mine! Stay out of my things!”
“So what? You never wear it! You’re too big anyhow!”
That’s my cue. This is the part where I sigh and then I go referee if I have the energy. One day I declared that all their clothes and toys were actually mine, and they actually got to use them at my discretion. My little experiment in mini-communism actually worked pretty well, but occasional sibling rivalry spats still break out from time to time.
Cool new games or toys are a factor in sibling rivalry fights. My oldest son loves games of any kind. If a sibling gets a game for their birthday or Christmas, you can bet he’ll be prowling around, finding the right moment to strike. When games and interesting toys go missing, I head for my son’s drawer. There it is, and it’s time for Lecture #45 on personal boundaries.
Food is a big factor in sibling rivalry. My children were born with an intense sense of justice. What’s right is what’s equal. When I buy them treats, I have to buy something that will be evenly divisible by four. Any remainder must either be diced into four equal tiny pieces to share or declared Papa’s in order to keep the peace. I’ve seen scoops of ice cream measured and counted to ensure perfect fairness. I’m guessing the makers of Hershey bars experienced a lot of sibling rivalry, because their candy is already pre-measured out, and I just make sure everyone gets their own little perfect rectangle of chocolate.
Time is carefully rationed among each sibling. If one gets a bedtime story, ALL of them want a bedtime story. Seldom is the story they want the same one. I’ve read to them for hours until they’ve had to tuck me into bed and kiss me goodnight because I’m the one falling asleep. Time on the TV is carefully counted to make sure that everyone has an equal amount of minutes. Never does anyone EVER want to watch the same TV show or video at the same time.
I think, in the end, sibling rivalry comes down to fear. Does Mom love me less than one of the other children? Does Dad like me more? Why are they getting more than me? Is it because I don’t deserve it? I don’t have any easy answers to sibling rivalry, any more than the closest Ph.D. does. I try to pay a little special attention to each child every day, and hug them and tell them I love them. I do. I have enough love and to spare for each and every one of them. I tell them they are different, and special. I tell them that no one can have exactly what everyone else gets, but that’s okay. I tell them to go to school and get their master’s degrees someday, so they can get a good job and afford therapy sessions to rid them of all their sibling rivalry baggage and whatever else their parents may do to them in the course of trying to be good parents.
Then I take a deep breath and let it go. Life is always going to have a certain amount of conflict. Once at the store, my two youngest kids were pushing and pulling and kicking at each other. The cashier, an older lady, leaned over to me and whispered, “You know, my kids are in their forties, and they’re still doing that too!” We laughed, and shrugged. A mother always hopes their kids will grow up someday. Even when they’re in their forties.