Ever hear of sibling rivalry?
Yeah, I've heard about it too. Apparently, it's expected that in any family of more than one child there's always an underlying level of competition where the kids are each vying for attention and putting the others down to manage it. Siblings pick on each other, the common lore goes. The more siblings, the more intense the bullying and the struggle for command. Movies like "Cheaper by the Dozen" (the new version) really promote this concept, and a common breakthrough in a "family" show is when the kids learn their brother/sister is really quite dear to them and not all that annoying after all.
The kids in my family are far from perfect and have definitely been unkind to each other. But this sense of competition with each other has been absent. I suppose I always took this for granted until recently, when someone from a family similar in size to mine told me some stories about her relationship to her family during her growing-up years and shortly into marriage. For her, everything was - and is - a competition to see who's better. Who's smarter, who's more talented, who gets the better boyfriend, who does better in school, who has prettier children, and so on. They love each other; but boy, do they compete against each other.
I listened to these stories and started thinking about my siblings, who would downplay their strengths to keep another sibling from being embarrassed or who would coach a sibling on their schoolwork rather than crow over them about getting better grades. Then I looked at Ben's family and realized one of the things that was always familiar and comfortable to me about them was the relationship of the siblings and the way they take care of each other and don't put each other down. Jenny used to clean Ben's room for him while he was at school just so he could be delighted when he got home, for instance. I recognized that trait and loved it. That's what I want our kids to be like.
The thing is, competitive rivalry - probably better just named "Boastful Pride"! - is actually natural. It's our earliest inclination, the kind of trait that lends credence to the whole idea of "survival of the fittest". The mentality of holding each other up, protecting each other and being selfless is actually the unnatural one, the philosophy that goes against our basic natures.
If loving humility exists among siblings, it means something was deliberately done to cause it to happen.
If something was deliberately done, then that's what we want to do to our children!
I mentioned this to Ben. "At some point, the parents of the other family must've thought the competition was good," he said. "They must've seen it as normal, as making their kids stronger, at just indicating healthy preparation for living out in the world. Otherwise, who would tolerate it?"
Perhaps the first thing - as always - is simply recognizing how ugly this rivalry is. Pride and boastfulness have to be intolerable. Not cute, not normal, not healthy. Intolerable.
Perhaps it's also easy to do our kids an injustice by making them think when they're little that they're the most beautiful, talented, amazing people ever to grace the face of this planet. If they make the mistake of thinking they are, they'll start getting jealous of people not recognizing how great they are. A person's life is about who they are in comparison to what is perfect, not who they are in comparison with anyone else around them. I think it may be when kids start thinking of themselves as pretty wonderful and comparing themselves with their siblings that they start finding out their brothers and sisters can *gasp* outdo them in places and that's where the rivalry comes in. It becomes a fight for each to ensure their status as top-wonderful-person-of-the-family.
So to help our children love each other better and not get blinded by selfish rivalry, I think we're going to be pretty matter-of-fact about their strengths and weaknesses and be on the sharp lookout for the development of "Aren't I pretty great?"-ism. We already love our current little peanut very much, but for his or her sake we're going to have to prevent him/her from getting a big head. Love them truthfully for who they are and point them toward becoming more like God, not toward outdoing anyone around them.
Because it would be so easy to let that pride take hold and the rivalry creep in, and I was deeply saddened by what those things had done in the life of the person I spoke to recently. It has created resentment and jealousy and bitterness and grief through the years and it's bound to create more in the years to come. It's a painful, ugly, cancerous thing - nothing healthy and normal about it at all.
As Ben puts it, "It's a bad weed we have to keep out of our garden."
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
Please don't be shy! If you're reading the blog updates, we'd like to hear what you think. Click on the "comments" link to send us a note.