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.