Sibling Rivalry

I’ve never really had to experience this myself, as I am an only child.  I used to ask my parents for a little brother or sister when I was young, but that never materialized.  After I had my own kids, I saw how little patience my mom has with little kids, and figured once was probably enough for her.  My dad was probably too apathetic about the issue to push it, just like everything else, which is why they’re divorced now.  Because of the apathy, not the lack of progeny.

Anyway, I watch sibling rivalry play out between my kids on a regular basis.  The older one is always too cool to associate with the younger one.   Only recently the young kid hassles the older one back- they try to “outwit” each other with smart, crappy comments to each other.   Then the younger one gets frustrated, and usually invades personal space of the other party, and everyone has to go to separate corners.

The larger view of sibling rivalry is about how they compare themselves to each other.  My mom comments to me about how it must be hard for my younger kid to be the sibling to my older kid due to her positive physical attributes.  I believe this must be true on some level, as my youngest classifies anything that could benefit her appearance as stupid, or not worth her time, or some other excuse.  She goes out of her way to dress like a boy, and to avoid anything “girly”, lest someone think she’s caved to societal pressure and become unoriginal.  My oldest sometimes says she thinks the younger one is smarter than her, and that they younger would do better in school if she made more of an effort.  I can’t separate that, since both of them are really bright kids and intelligence is hard to quantify at this stage.  I try to give them both enough room to be who they are today, and treat them as individuals with choices.  I don’t profess to “love them the same” as parents say.  They are different people, and they need different love, depending on the day.  That is not to say I love one more than the other- how can one even quantify that to start with?

I wish most that they were closer, and supported and shared more with each other.  People tell me this will come as they age, but I don’t see any signs of it yet.  I often wish I had a sibling to share my ongoing family issues with, but as an only child, it all falls to me.  I had two kids partly because I wanted them to always have someone to which they are connected, someone who has always known them and can be their confidant, friend, truth-teller, rescuer, etc.  They don’t see this, of course, and take each other for granted, say terrible things to each other and are generally at a simmering cease-fire most of the time.

They could serve as teachers and sounding boards for each other during these tough teen years.  They could talk about dealing with difficult school friendships, why boys are so weird, how to style hair, clothes, etc., help with homework, lots and lots of things.  Instead, all we get is either snide remarks back and forth, impatience with the other person or just plain ignoring or pretending the other sibling is present, unless forced to acknowledge otherwise.

I wonder what role I have played in allowing this to happen.  I talked about this with another friend of mine, who said they didn’t have to be best friends, but they had to respect the rules of the house.  I’ve lived under that rule for quite a while now, and wonder if I hadn’t preached more about being friends than keeping the peace, would we be in a different place today?  Can you make kids like each other?  Can you force them to see the good in each other, how when they hurt each other they’re only hurting themselves?  I just don’t know.  Maybe since I wasn’t a sibling, I don’t know how to raise siblings.  Maybe I’ve just raised two only children who live in the same house and have the same parents.

I only know I’ve tried to make siblings out of friendships, usually not successfully.  It’s just not the same thing.  Blood really is thicker than water.

When the day comes that they want to call each other first with good news before anyone else, when they enjoy spending time with each other, when they willingly hug each other with love, when they show respect for each other, that will be a great day.  Until then, I cringe when I see the avoidance.

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