Siblings without rivalry?

I have confession to make: My kids fight with each other. A lot.

Two recent conversations with friends about their kids’ relentless arguing has me thinking about sibling rivalry. My father once described the job of a parent as part cheerleader, part teacher, part playmate, and part traffic cop – keeping the kids apart during the worst of the fighting.

Thankfully, we seem to have grown out of the physical manifestation of sibling rivalry. My kids, at 10 and 14, aren’t likely to hit or kick each other, though a bit of roughhousing is definitely part of the equation. They love and hate each other, it seems, flipping back and forth on a moment’s notice. They will stand up together against any third party, but when they are not under attack from the outside they push each other’s buttons without hesitation.

As for me and my brothers, oh dear. The fighting was incessant. For example, I recall a huge fight with my younger brother about the gender of our soon-to-be-born third sibling. I was convinced the baby would be a girl, and my brother was insistent that it would be a boy. Obviously, neither one of us had a say in the matter! But somehow we managed to argue about it, at high volume, for days. (In case you were wondering, it was a boy. Actually, he’s a man now, with two kids of his own. But I digress.)

If I hear one more person tell me, “my boys are each other’s best friends,” or, “my kids couldn’t bear to spend the summer apart,” I think it might send me to the looney bin. My kids, um, definitely not each other’s best friends.

But here the thing: I’m OK with that.

Sibling rivalry, in my admittedly unschooled opinion, helps kids learn how to deal with the world. I consider it an opportunity to deal with real life issues in a relatively safe environment. Because, let’s face it, at some point in their lives, my kids are likely to encounter situations where they are treated unfairly, teased, or disappointed by someone. And that someone could be a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a teacher or boss.

When those situations arise, as they will, my kids will have had some experience dealing with it. So far, they’ve learned some important lessons:

  • If you make someone angry, he or she may withdraw in an angry huff, which might actually be the last thing you want.
  • You can miss out on good stuff (like yummy cake batter, or a rousing game of wii Mario Kart) if you are the one who walks off in a huff.
  • If you cheat at board games, no one will want to play with you.
  • Even the people you love may disappoint you. You can still play with them.
  • Yelling doesn’t always solve a problem. Creative solutions work better. (OK, I admit: that’s a lesson I want them to learn, not necessarily one they have learned.)

Life has it’s ups and downs. There may be times when my kids are truly friends, and times when they simply tolerate each other. And that’s OK. It’s part of being a family, part of loving someone, and part of growing up.

I hope that my own relationship with my brothers, now that we are all adults, sets a good example for my kids. They see me speaking to my brothers on the phone, planning vacations around visits to family, and leaning on the love and support that only a sibling can offer. My brothers know me, know my past (and I know theirs) in a way that no one else can. I am exceedingly lucky to have them, and I know it. In the end, my kids will learn from that, too.

Siblings without rivalry? Not in my family!

Photo of my kids, known as Pumpkin and Monkey, July 2009.

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13 Responses to Siblings without rivalry?

  1. Tiger says:

    I wonder what you mean by “best friends”? My sense is that Pumpkin and Monkey are pretty close, dispite the dynamic you describe (which I’ve seen). I think my kids Bongo and Bundles are best friends, and Buster and Buttons are, too. But they don’t fight because they’re not best friends, they fight in spite of the fact that they are. :-)

  2. mollyonmoney says:

    My mom had 3 kids in 3 years and we were constantly piled together ‘forced’ to play with each other. We had friends but spent a lot of time together. In many ways we were each others best friend but the main difference was we could never get rid of or move on from each other. If a friend upset me I could just ignore her for a week (or forever!)- that was not a possibility with my brother and sister! We always had to work it out in our house.

    • I absolutely agree, Molly. Part of the learning is because you can’t get away from your sibling. Just like you can’t always get away from an annoying co-worker. You have to learn how to manage, and get along anyway.

      At least, that’s what I HOPE my kids are learning!

  3. Christy says:

    Amen! My kids, 9 and 13 fight like banshees but then are each others best friends. I feel confident they will be life long friends, especially when they later reminise (complain) about their parents.

  4. mindy jeanne says:

    I absolutely agree with this. My two fight, play, encourage, disagree, torment, love, like…bascially exhibit the gamut of emotions that two people can exhibit towards one another. And yes, deep down I do believe they are friends and do absolutely love each other.

    I believe fighting is natural and way for each to express their individualism to each other. I unfortunately do not have the closeness with my bros to teach them that aspect, but i try and point out when one child has been exceptionally kind to the other and that each are lucky to have the other.

  5. What a mature way to look at an age-old issue! I also think that sibling rivalry varies widely due to personality differences among siblings, age differential, and developmental stages. For example, my oldest is not only 2.5 years advanced over his brother but also very introspective and interested in solo “brain games” like Sodoku. Little brother is physically active and wants to play large motor games…very frustrated when big brother wants to read! Also little brother is only 4.5 — not developmentally capable of learning some of the more advanced nuances of good brotherhood. Hoping this changes with age! Enjoyed your writing — happy mothering!

  6. smileandwaveboys says:

    Pumpkin and Monkey are beautiful. I can’t believe they ever fight. I must remember the bit about “yelling doesn’t work.” Especially when my two are knocking seven bells out of each other…

    • Thanks. And believe me, they fight! I have this gorgeous photo of them from my brother’s wedding (in 2005) where they are sitting together on a swing. The kids look simply adorable and loving. Best part of the photo: it was snapped about 2 seconds before they began trying to shove each other off the swing.

  7. Laura says:

    Our girls are affectionally known as “the Bickersons” because they cannot get through a day with some sort of bickering or argument going on about something. Meiling (14) and YaYu (10) are the worst, and clash constantly, but that’s because they share the same temperament and are furthest apart in age. WenYu (12), also known as “Her Serene Highness,” is the opposite of her sisters and almost always calm. Her sisters try to get her to side with them, but she’s no pushover and usually just refuses to get involved in their spats.

    I fought like cats and dogs with my siblings when I was young, and didn’t care much for them, but we get along fine now as adults. Our girls, even though they fight and bicker, seem to get along much better as kids then I or my husband ever did. It will be interesting to see how that plays out when they are adults.

  8. This is such a wonderful and honest post! Thank you so much for sharing it. I apologize in my delay to get back to you…so glad I finally got over here to read it. This is a very good point: they can learn how to handle many conflicts in a safe environment. I like that. I also like how you question why we think there should NOT be any sibling rivalry…good point.

    So funny, we notice the same thing…they band together against any third party , including us!

    Looking forward to following your wonderful blog, Thank You!

  9. Thanks for coming out of lurkdom on Snapshot! Lurking is okay, but comments are great.

    And thanks for pointing me over to the article. I’m mostly okay with the rivalry too, especially because I do know they love each other, and it’s neat to see them work it out themselves!

  10. Pingback: Parenting: Does discipline require isolation? | 1 Sentence Diary

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