Parenting thoughts

Sibling Rivalry

by Julie
2002
I really don't know where to begin with this sibling rivalry stuff. It has been a huge issue for me in the past, not for the siblings mind. It just comes natural to them and they don't seem to see fighting or arguing as problematic. But I used to find it really difficult, maybe because I was an only child. I did have friends who had lots of siblings but I guess I never really saw them fight, only heard my friends complain about bossy sisters and annoying little brothers.
I have in the past been really shocked by the animosity that my lovely children express towards each other. I could not understand why somebody would want to lock their little brother in a dark room, knowing he was terrified of the dark, or why my beautiful angelic 5 year old would want to jump on her brother's head. Nor did I realize just how effective hair pulling could be when one wanted control of a situation.
I guess I am just acclimatized to it now. My children fight, just like everybody else's kids. Maybe my problem was that I wanted to be better than everybody else's mother, which obviously meant my children would be perfect. They aren't. But they are lovely, most of the time.
They are very different from each other, which means there are different kinds of rivalry in our house. There is the "Don't go into my room EVER!!!" kind, and the "You're copying me!" kind, and the "I think every body else gets more than me, so I'm gonna make them all miserable," kind, and there is the kind where sometimes they just have different personality types and they just grate against each other.
My perception is the two oldest children, both girls, have the most contentious relationship. Funnily enough it is also the quietest relationship. They just go quietly about being fed up with each other, and it has been that way pretty much since they were little. I wasn't very good at balancing everything out back then. I was a bit more highly strung than I am now. :-) But then again, they are just completely different. One is serious and responsible and introverted, and the other is more carefree and extroverted. I know exactly which of them would like to say, "You need to grow up," and which would say, "You need to lighten up." It may always be like that. Or it could be that when they have both matured a bit, they will find ways to accept their differences and get on better. I expect that to happen really, as they are already showing signs of understanding.
The two middle ones, a girl and a boy, have a strange relationship. There is only 23 months between them and they are a bit too close together to realize how separate they are from each other, but not close enough to be on a similar level developmentally. I get the feeling that the eldest in this pair, the girl, is always trying to prove how much more grown up she is, how much better she is, how she should be treated like her older sister rather than as a potential mate of her little brother. It has been hard sometimes because she has had quite a few friends who have been really mean and horrible to her younger brother and I think she likes that to a certain extent.
I can honestly say that he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He has always been gentle and caring, but, to be honest, a bit high maintenance. In her words, really annoying. He seems sometimes to live in his own world where he has no clue that his actions impact on others, or that other people might want different things. Of course, that is changing as he grows. I still get fed up with him, so I can understand that she gets fed up with him, too. But I cannot stand the meanness. I don't understand why she and her friends will be mean to him just because he wants to join in. I think I find this the saddest thing. I don't understand it, and so cannot excuse it, and yet I have to deal with him getting frustrated and crying. I find it harder to deal with her frustration because it manifests as anger. And in the heat of the moment, I see anger and dominance as transgression. I can understand why she gets angry, and why she probably sees me as being unfair, but her strong personality does make her an easy one to blame.
The thing is, other times, they get on brilliantly. They will climb and make dens, and play games, and practice gymnastics, and appear to have quite a bit of fun. Then the only problem comes if he is better at anything than she is. She seems to feel a need to be smarter, stronger, faster, just plain better, because she is older. Whereas he finds it easy to say "That was great" to his sister, she finds it harder.
I am beginning to feel I need to talk to her more, tell her what I am thinking and offer to listen to her rather than just writing it down in a newsletter.
The two younger ones, this time big brother and little sister, have probably taught me the most about sibling rivalry. They are the best of friends, and the worst of enemies. They will play for ever and ever together, and then I will hear screaming and shouting and "You're an idiot! I hate you!!!" It used to break my heart. But I think I see now that when somebody shouts, "I hate you!" it doesn't mean the same thing to them. Hate doesn't really exist as an abstract concept in their minds. They just mean, "I am sooooo bloody angry with you I don't know what else to say!"
And after years of listening to it, helping them sort things out, ignoring them, shouting at them to stop shouting, and letting them get on with it, I guess I have finally got to a place where most of it doesn't worry me. It still annoys me, and I find it hard listening to sometimes, but as my four children grow and develop, their relationships change, and the things they argue about change, and sorting it all out (or not) is part of that development.
People are different. Just because you are born into the same family doesn't mean you will get on any better than with your neighbours. I still think they have pretty good relationships. They really know each other. And they do love each other, and they do think of nice things to do and say to each other. They will cuddle, or go to one another when I am being horrible, or when they just feel like it. They will play together in groups, and include their siblings in with their mates. And they put a lot of thought into buying presents for special occasions.
So I guess I have gone from being heartbroken when they fight, to thinking that it is good that they get out their anger and frustration. At least they don't have lots of pent up anger and resentment eating away at them inside. Which hopefully means they will be a bit better at getting their needs met than their mother. I may no longer be an idealist when it comes to my children's relationships with each other, but I am still an optimist.

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