207. Sibling Rivalry

In this article, I’ll try to capture the essence of some of what goes on in a child’s mind when the child has a sibling. This attempt is not intended for children; when one is in the midst of sibling issues, one is often unable to see the issues clearly. Explanations adults give feel as if they have nothing to do with the problem. The problem, from the child’s point of view, is that the sibling in question is a jerk. Parents usually aren’t able to see this, but for the child, it’s true.
First of all, the sibling really has no business being here. Parents have a job to do – loving and caring for their child. This is a big enough job, and from the child’s point of view, adding another child into the picture is bound to water down the love and caring. I once read something suggesting that adults should try imagining this announcement coming from a spouse: “I have so enjoyed having you as a spouse that I’ve decided to bring another spouse to live with us. I hope you will learn to love my new spouse as much as I know I will.”
The parents can remain the basic bone of contention, long after the child may seem to have accepted – even come to love – a sibling. There may be fighting about space, possessions, and more, but much of the
fighting is actually about who really owns the parents – who gets the parents’ love. Adults may feel that there is no way to quantify and compare their feelings about their children, but children go right on quantifying and comparing.
I know siblings who love each other, and seem to have moved way beyond the rivalry that often begins the sibling relationship. I know some (usually separated by several years) who seem to have started out loving each other and have hardly ever experienced rivalry. And some have the same trouble with each other through decades, and avoid each other’s company, or argue their lives away. When you feel that you love a friend “as you would love a sister or brother,” you may also actually have a sister or brother, and the sibling relationship may or may not live up to the standard set by your friendship.
As parents, we sometimes like to think our children are destined to love each other. We may tell them, in the midst of rivalries, that they actually do love each other. I imagine some siblings thinking, “If this is what love feels like, I don’t want it.”
Sibling issues are complex. I don’t have a final statement to make on the subject; this is only an article of exploration. I once heard T. Berry Brazelton answering questions after a talk he gave. A parent asked, “Do you know a way to prevent sibling rivalry?” I’ll never forget his wise answer. He said, “No.”

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