Mom likes me best: Sibling rivalry (part one)

One of my boys’ worst moments as brothers took place on a sledding hill. It was late in the day, and I was at the bottom of the hill lugging their 2-year-old sister to the car. Suddenly I heard a yelping noise from the hill. I turned to see Jacob, then 8, charging angrily across the hill toward his little brother, Liam, 5. Unable to leave the toddler alone to prevent Jacob from reaching Liam, I tried yelling to Jacob from where I was standing.

“Stop!” I screamed. Jacob leapt on top of Liam and the two started tumbling down the hill. From my limited vantage point, I couldn’t see exactly what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t looking good for Liam. I hoisted my daughter onto my hip and began running up the hill. By the time I made it to where the boys were, Jacob had let go of Liam, and both boys were sitting on the hill crying, trying to explain at the same time why the whole episode was the other’s fault.

Looking back at that incident now, five years later, I can’t remember what the boys told me about how it started, but I still remember my feelings—how frustrated I was that the boys ruined what had been a great afternoon with an ugly fight.

Teaching our children to love each other as “neighbor” may be one of the most difficult jobs of parents. It’s also nothing new. Adam and Eve couldn’t get their sons Cain and Abel to get along, and Jesus was called in to stop the bickering of sisters Mary and Martha. Teaching siblings how to love each other, however, is one of the most powerful things we can do as parents. 

At Mass when the priest refers to how we are all one family in Christ, he says, “My brothers and sisters.”  For children to understand why we use “brothers and sisters” in this sense, they must first feel the strength of the bond with their own siblings. Roommates and friends come and go, but brothers and sisters are here for the long haul.  

Reduce the need to compete: In Parenting With Grace: Catholic Parent’s Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids (Our Sunday Visitor), authors Gregory and Lisa Popcak stress that parents must resist the urge to compare children. It’s difficult to act with love toward a rival. The authors say that while parents may think a comparison—“Your sister did so well in school”—will help one child to work harder, it almost always has the opposite effect: creating resentment between the siblings.    …more on this topic next time

By Annemarie Scobey from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter

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