I am the oldest child in my family and after almost 6 years of being the only child, grandchild, niece, what have you; my brother was born and I hated him. As adults, we get along and he has become one of my favorite people. But as a kid, he was my biggest competitor for our parents love and attention and I wasn’t into it at all.
About 3 years later, when my sister was born, I was over the concept of sibling and grew up never inviting her into my world. My sibling were a distant part of my life for a very long time and I’ve felt like I missed out on many years that could’ve been spent developing these relationships to their fullest potential.
With this being my only real experience with the relationship between siblings and the effects a new child can have on a family, I was pretty nervous about how our newest child would effects our oldest.
In my mind, all I saw in the future was a toddler full of resentment that lashed out against his parents who betrayed him.
Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but it was hard for me to imagine a child who is okay with sharing attention. Especially a child like mine who has had my full attention for most of his life. How could it ever be possible that he’d actually be fine with introducing a new baby who not only shared my attention, but demanded it most of the time?
In walks Siblings Without Rivalry, the book that I never knew I needed until I read it.
I wasn’t looking for it. I honestly hadn’t thought much about the fact that I could have some influence over how my children interacted. I mean, I knew I’d have some, but I didn’t realize how much parents can effect their children’s relationships until I read the wise words of Faber and Mazlish.
ABOUT THE BOOK
This is a book set in a parenting workshop and follows the experiences of the parents and leaders who have siblings that just don’t get along. The experiences, people, and stories are all based on real life situations that parents have found themselves in with real solutions that helped them navigate the delicate world of siblings.
The stories range from adult siblings, teens, kids, toddlers, and babies. From introducing new siblings to knowing how involved we need to be as our kids get older.
You get to see the realities of what sibling relationships really look like while exploring what the root of certain feelings and actions may be. They offer examples of how changing your reactions and involvement as a parent can help your kids learn to navigate their relationships independently and more effectively.
Siblings Without Rivalry was written to help parents foster, not perfectly loving siblings, but more productive sibling interaction.
MY KEY TAKEAWAYS
This book taught me a lot about siblings and how important that relationship really is. Siblings effect so much of each other and parents effect so much of how siblings view themselves and each other.
While reading, I couldn’t help but think back to my own childhood. The way I interacted with my siblings, the role I took in my family, and how all of that has effected my adulthood and the relationships I now have with my siblings. I thought about how my parents would let us fight and how that’s helped me to be comfortable with confrontation in my adult relationships. I thought about the fact that I’ve felt like a problem at times and a loved part of the family at others and how all of that shaped the actions and decisions I’ve made.
Ultimately, I realized that your family really can shape your entire being so it’s important to do the best you can, as the parent, to make sure each child is given the opportunity to become the best version of themselves and Siblings Without Rivalry has given me the insight to understand how to do that for each of my children.
HOW YOU TREAT YOUR KIDS INDIVIDUALLY CAN DETERMINE THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER
You know those “roles” people play in a family. There’s the perfect child, the problem child, the silly child, the what-have-you child. Humans love labels and as a parent it can be easy to label your children from day one.
I remember going on and on about how my first child would be peaceful and kind before he was even born. As if somehow his gentle movements in the womb could determine his whole demeanor for the rest of his life. In reality, it’s not fair to sum up a whole person in one word. These views are usually based on the actions of our kids when they are little and have terrible impulse control. They may not truly have anything to do with the traits and capabilities of our children, but the impulses they have towards the environment they’re in.
“What I’m seeing now is that it’s up to the parent to set the tone, to make it clear that no one in the family is ‘the problem.’”
The danger in labeling your kids too soon is that you’re putting your kids in a box. You’re not letting them be a whole person. Your perfect child doesn’t get the chance to express their negative feelings which can prohibit honesty. Your problem child doesn’t get the chance to believe they can be good which can make them feel like their only choice is the wrong choice.
And with these labels, our kids can begin to view each other in these roles which can lead to resentment. Your perfect child may begin to believe your problem child is the one preventing them from having the freedom to express negative feelings. Your problem child can begin to believe your perfect child is constantly in the spotlight. And then, these roles can follow them into adulthood, making each child feel like they’re only allowed or capable of being only part of a person rather than a whole entire person.
So for the sake of your children’s relationship and your children’s futures, it’s important for each of them to know they’re allowed to venture outside of their natural tendencies. They’re all allowed to have negative feelings and actions and you believe they’re all capable of doing good.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO LET YOUR KIDS FIGHT
“Not till the bad feelings come out can the good ones come in.”
Whether your kids love each other or hate each other, the way you allow them to interact can shape how they interact with others now and later in life. This delicate relationship between your children is the perfect teaching moment for how your kids should treat peers and how they should expect their peers to treat them.
How you react to your kids stems from how your parents reacted to you. It’s so common for parents to reject negative feelings in their kids and to feel like it’s wrong to express them because so many of us were told it was wrong for us to express our negative feelings. The reality is, the more your force the negative feeling to stay in, the less they will be dealt with and the longer they will stew and grow out of proportion.
“Insisting on good feelings between the children led to bad feelings. Acknowledging bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.”
So when kids are fighting, they’re always fighting about something. There’s always a very legitimate root to every negative feeling. But they’re kids. They don’t have the experience or developmental ability to rationally and calmly explain the exact thing they’re upset about. Half the time they feel something, that feeling is so intense that all they truly know is that they have a feeling, but not always why. So they scream at you, they scream at their sibling, and only after they’re done expressing the feeling can they truly understand and communicate the “why.”
“But here’s the difference: We intervene, not for the purpose of settling their argument or making a judgement, but to open the blocked channels of communication so that they can go back to dealing with each other.”
So we don’t have to let our kids become violent. We don’t have to allow them to be cruel. If they get stuck on a loop, we can help them move forward. But we absolutely have to allow them to have their negative feelings and learn to sort through them together however they need to. It’s completely unrealistic to believe a healthy relationship between two people can come without conflict and fighting. We need to allow our children to experience that in their relationships so they can learn how to deal with real adult relationships in the future. Our job is not to tell them their feelings and expression are wrong, but to give them a safe place to learn to deal with their feelings so they can learn to express them productively and considerately. But they will never learn that as long as we’re telling them to stop fighting and “get along.”
EQUAL IS NOT FAIR AND FAIR IS OVERRATED
I think we all, at one point or another, have said the words, “That’s not fair.” Whether it was when we were young or even now in our adulthood. Fair is another thing I think we all grew up believing was right and unfair was wrong. That unfair meant you were receiving less, even though fair was never really as satisfying as we thought it would be.
“That was when I realized how futile it was to ever try to make things equal. The children could never get enough, and as a mother, I could never give enough.”
I think this comes from the desire to not show favoritism or make one kid feel less important than the other. So when one gets attention, we think the other should get the same amount of attention. The problem is, each child may not need the same amount or type of attention we gave the other. One may be hungry and need extra pancakes, while the other may only want more pancakes now because they saw their sibling get more.
But when you start playing that game, the fair game, you stop addressing the individual needs and qualities of each child. You don’t give them an opportunity to learn empathy for one another. To see and realize that others have needs that are different from theirs and sometimes others will get something they don’t.
Beyond that, “fair” can become “same” and same takes away from your kid’s ability to feel like a unique individual.
“By valuing and being partial to each child’s individuality, we make sure that each child feels like a number one child.”
When dealing with your kids, it’s okay to give one child something without giving every child something. Attempting to make everyone happy and “equal” will not only drive you crazy, but it won’t truly make each child feel special or uniquely cared for in the long run.
“To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely - for ones own special self - is to be loved as much as we need to be loved.”
So if you’re a parent of siblings or simply a sibling yourself, this book can help you navigate the intricate and delicate world of siblings. Not only can it help you allow your kids to flourish independently together, but you may learn something new about your own sibling dynamics that could heal any wounds that may have come about.