Sibling Rivalry


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On Tuesday the 31st of March I spoke  on radio to answer a few questions about Sibling Rivalry. 
 Was there sibling rivalry amongst my 8 children? How did I handle it? Are there any easy answers to combat it?

How do my 8 kids get on with each other?
Well starting from eldest to youngest, my one and only son  loves his sisters but as a young boy was often told off for play fighting with them until they cried. His number 5 sister reminds him of himself because she is into sport, does her own thing and finds comfort in her friends rather than in  family.
The 4 eldest daughters have a strong bond between them. They are close in age and have faced many trials together. As young girls they played well and as teenagers they retreated to their rooms to talk a lot. They were like best friends. As young adults, living far away, they still communicate on a daily basis and share each others highs and lows.They have had their personality clashes from time to time but nothing everlasting.
My middle child was totally adored by the older 5 when she was born but as time went on, she was a hen picked by her sister, 7 years above her. And then when the younger sister arrived ( 5 years later), my little adored  5 yr old sat on the floor in the hallway and cried. "No one loves me anymore."  Of course that wasn't true, but thats how she felt, especially when the baby received all the cuddles and affirmations.
My second to youngest child did not tolerate being mistreated in any way and made her voice heard  since before she could talk. Unfortunately, she was so outspoken and aggressive that  her relationships with other family members were strained and she often got growled. To this day she will put her fingers in her ears if she feels she is being corrected too often. When my last baby girl arrived, there was noticeable sibling rivalry between these two youngest ones. They often accuse each other of "jealousing,'' the other. Yet they both share a room and are actually the best of friends. Number 7, as out spoken as she is,  has a nurturing side and  looks out for number 8. Just recently she gave the youngest a pamper package, cutting up cucumbers to put on her eyes and massaging her feet with coconut oil.
All in all, the children have had their moments of fighting and competing for status and validity but overall they do love and accept one another. Each of them has had their fair share of saying , "Im sorry," "I forgive you,'' and "Dear Lord, help me not to do it again!"

How do I make sure each of my children gets equal attention? And is this even possible?
That is such a hard question. As babes they each got my undivided attention. I would breastfeed  them til it was 'time,' to get them off. In total I breastfed the 8 of them for 14 years. They  got a lot of skin to skin bonding time with me. 
My son, the first born, was the only child who had me, for 13 months, all to himself, before the siblings  arrived. After that, everyone had to share resources, time, attention and money! The younger 3 children  received better quality food than the older 5 as well as newer and more clothes.  But, the younger 3 have  to share me with  5 older siblings and now a 5 month old niece. 
The older 5 have experienced living in NZ with me as a single parent, so the bond of compassion and gratitude we hold is different to the bond I have with the younger 3, who have had a Dad to turn to when needed.
The older 5 have blessed me with many gifts, hugs and understanding when times were tough in my 2nd marriage and forgiven me for decisions I made that affected their lives. 
Some of my older children have needed me in different ways that the others haven't needed me in. One time my son crashed his car and I stayed on the phone with him until he got help from a friend,  another time he cut his thumb nearly off and was in hospital by himself and I couldn't be there.  I rang his birth Dad in NZ to get him to talk to him. Just recently my eldest daughter was in surgery in NY and all I could do was fast, pray, send flowers and text to show her my support. My other daughter became a single mother and  she and our grand baby lives with us.  I shouted my 20 yr old on a trip to NY with me last November. I helped the two older children  get their licenses but didn't do  that for the next  3 in line. I have borrowed money to some more than others. I have spent more physical time with my girls than with my son. I am flying to NZ soon, so I hope I get some quality time with him then. I gave my 3rd daughter a laptop for her 21st which was a bit more than I gave the others. I have spent more money on private education for my middle child than I did with all the others. My youngest two have slept in my bed more than the others.  Sometimes I have felt guilty for giving more "things," to some than the others, but in my heart I love  them all with the same love and where I can be 'fair' I try. But sometimes equity outweighs equality. Some children have different needs and some have bigger needs than others.  I have often prayed and interceded for each of my children  and where I lack, I ask God to make up for it. Sometimes HE  uses other people to bless the children with the attention they need in ways I can't give. 

Are there some simple ways to diffuse sibling rivalry?
Setting boundaries is always helpful:
 No name calling 
 No hitting back out of revenge
Say 'sorry,' if you are in the wrong
Say 'I forgive you,' if someone is apologising to you
Separate offenders/time out

Sibling Rivalry is normally caused by jealousy, unmet needs, or divisive behaviour, modelled by parents and other family members. 
In our case, I have had to work on communication, anger and stress management techniques to help my husband and I be better models of 'love.'
(We both came from families where there was disrespect and discord in our parents)
I have tried to "use words first," to discover why the child is displaying aggressive behaviour to another.
I always encourage the discouraged child with affirmation. Notice their talent or special quality.
I try to notice the kind and considerate actions they do and verbalise them.
I have tried to upskill the children in clubs, sport or music to grow them and give them outside opportunities for their needs to be met and opportunities for them to give and share their talents and time with others.
I have tried to nurture their friendships with healthy others so they have  outlets for good communication and fun.
I have tried to encourage the children to notice other peoples attributes and affirm other people. (Sometimes life is not always about us.)
I have held family meetings to share and air concerns, celebrations and goals.

Some families are better at team work than others. In our case we have tried and are still trying, to pray together, play together and stay together. 
Its better to be friends and not foes.

When does it start getting easier and the children actually help and provide company for each other?
In my experience sharing a tough time seems to help family members to bond. The need to survive and thrive kicks in and the family pulls together forgetting differences. I once read that going on camping trips or family holidays is good for relationship building. In our case, going through a divorce caused the older 5 to bond.
Moving countries propelled my 4 older daughters to find friendship in each other.
Being close  in age and of the same gender can help provide the support and commonalities that each needs. My 4 older girls and my 2 youngest girls have each other as friends.
Older siblings looking after  younger ones can help foster care and respect. My older 5 were very caring to the younger 3. Now my younger 3 are learning to be caring to their new niece.
Sharing rooms and resources can help children to be less self centred and more thoughtful about others needs. My younger 2 share a room and they have to work together to keep it clean.
Sometimes having less can breed  jealousy amongst siblings, so giving the children opportunity to earn their own money helps satisfy a need for provision and security. 
Overall I think it gets easier when the older ones start maturing and modelling more thoughtful behaviour and the younger ones are required to pitch in and work as a team.
Its all about balance and that takes daily practise. If families can have repeated exercises of honest, controlled, communication; repeated acts of kindness, tolerance, patience, forgiveness; repeated times of joy and celebration,  the family relationships will build.

Proverbs 14:1 (CJB) Every wise woman builds up her home, but a foolish one tears it down with her own hands.