Photo by Ned Horton
Sibling rivalry has been a thing since the story of Cain and Abel. Our siblings are our first social group. They teach us survival skills and social skills. They teach us how to share and argue and stick up for one another. I have been blessed with my group of siblings and it was for that reason that I always wanted my children to have siblings.
It is not a guarantee that siblings will bond. They are after all individuals. It can be easy for a parent to admonish their children to get along or to play well together but that is not a given. My own children are four years apart and different genders. I could not be sure how their relationship would mesh but they have done very well together. I thought it was my job to referee them and make sure everyone was playing fairly and getting what they needed. However one day at the pediatrician’s office they both had a bit of a meltdown and got into it with each other. I had been speaking with the doctor, a very wise grandfatherly man, when this ensued and we both stopped talking as I watched this exchange escalate in horror and embarrassment. The doctor calmly watched for a minute and then he turned to me and said “You don’t get in the middle of that, do you?’ Seeing my hesitation and the look of doubt on my face, he put a hand on my arm and gently said “Don’t ever get in the middle of that!” Now I was confused. Wasn’t I supposed to pull them apart and admonish whomever had started this melee? Wasn’t I the mom?
Certainly had this happened in a public place, like the grocery store, I would have stepped in immediately. Children should be taught social norms and parents should be the first to model that behavior for them. But I did fail to appreciate the lessons they were teaching each other.
There are challenges with raising siblings. When a family crisis caused us to pay more attention to one at the expense of the other, it caused a lot of pain. I was accused of favoritism, an accusation I tried to justify and negate. But I had been more preoccupied with the one in crisis and nothing I could do could change that. I did try to make it up but I eventually realized that I needed to move forward rather then try to correct past actions. We do treat our children differently. They are different people, different personalities. Children are not cookie cutter beings. They don’t come with a manual.
In the end, I had to forgive myself for not being the mom that could be everything to both my children. If each felt as though the other was favored, I could do nothing to change that perception but continue to love them as best I could.
However, that crisis made me realize that the most beautiful sound in my life was the lull and cadence of their voices as they laughed or talked together. And yes even when they fought together. The operative word is “sibling” in sibling rivalry. It has nothing to do with me. I have my own siblings and when I think of the dynamic of our many years together, I see lots of ups and downs and hurts and miscommunications. But there is also so much love and respect and they are the first ones I go to in good times and bad.
The most gratifying knowledge is that my children love one another. I know they are there for each other and their bond is strong. It’s a relief not to have to be that referee. There is a lot of peace on the sidelines. And sometimes popcorn.