Siblings have to share parents. How to help them share good feelings as well
“They say that ‘blood is thicker than water’ but in my case it is the opposite: I have far stronger bonds with my friends than I do with my own siblings.”
“There were only us two girls in the family so you’d think that we’d have a very close relationship. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Even though we’re in our forties, it’s the same as it’s always been — we can never get along. I’ve given up hoping it will ever change. She’s just too crazy.”
“I feel so incredibly blessed to have such close ties with my siblings. We are truly each other’s very best friends.”
Siblings are people who share the same set of parents. Sometimes, that’s all they share. In unusual circumstances siblings can grow up in different homes, even in different parts of the world. More commonly, siblings also share the same house and community.
The need to share resources is a challenge for siblings who, from the youngest ages, fight over who got the biggest portion of the pie and similar territorial battles. And because siblings must share — even if it’s only their parents’ attention — they commonly experience feelings of competition, jealousy, and resentment. Siblings often lack the sophisticated communication tools that might help them negotiate challenges more successfully. As a result, siblings often end up fighting.
Conflict between siblings tends to upset parents. Parents should actually try to recall their reactions to sibling rivalry before they embark on a marital squabble, since children feel pretty much the same way when they hear their parents arguing and bickering. It’s not pleasant for anyone to have to listen to other people fighting. Most parents desperately try to encourage sibling cooperation, not just for the sake of a more pleasant home atmosphere, but also for the sake of the children themselves; parents tend to hope that siblings will become lifelong friends and sources of mutual support.
Despite their good intentions, parents often employ strategies that make things worse. For instance, parents may yell at the kids for yelling at each other. “You two stop fighting right now! Do you hear me? I’ve had enough of this already; you need to learn to speak nicely to each other!” How could that help?
Or, parents may use punishment to try to weed out aggressive sibling behavior — a tactic often greeted with “It’s not fair! You never punish him, only me!” This sentiment can brew long into adulthood: “Yes, my parents always favored my younger brother …”.
Sometimes parents leave the kids to work it out on their own, a strategy that can also backfire: “My brother used to beat me up all the time and my parents just looked the other way. Their philosophy was not to get involved. I still hate my brother and I’ll never forgive my parents for abandoning me like that.”
If this is beginning to sound like a no-win situation for parents, you’re catching on! Fostering healthy sibling relationships is really hard work and, even when perfectly good parenting interventions are employed, no guarantees are offered. Sibling relationships, just like all of a child’s relationships, are not in the range of things that parents can control.
Things Parents CAN Do
While parents can never guarantee that siblings will enjoy each other’s company in childhood or adulthood, there are some things they can do to help foster healthy family relationships: