Anyone who knows me, or has followed my blog for a little while has probably figured out that I don’t have the most fantastic relationship with my older sister. Our clashes thankfully do not have the public spotlight of some famous sibling rivalries – a la Olivia de Haviland vs. Joan Fontaine (above) – but do seem to have the same penchant for the overly dramatic. I certainly do not subscribe to the popular theory that certain behavior should be ignored/allowed “because you’re family,” so I’ve reached a point in my life where I do not allow ANY toxic relationships in my life, end of story. And I’m much happier for it!
Now that I’m having children of my own, I need to address the personal issues I have with sibling dynamics, and start to make decisions as to how I would deal with such situations, as a parent. I’m well aware that it’s not an easy position to be in – you can’t choose sides (even if you would like to) and your initial reaction is probably just to try to defuse the situation. While this is a good temporary solution, it doesn’t really fix things in the long run. The instigator still got to act however they wanted and say whatever they wanted to say. They may make a big show of apologizing afterward, in order to get back in favor with mom and dad, but if given the chance, they would do it all over again. And they do. They do it over and over and over, because there is never any real consequence for their actions….until the day finally comes when the BIG consequence happens, and now nobody’s talking to each other. All because the real core issues were never directly dealt with, and simply talking about what was going on was never encouraged.
So what do you do, as a parent? You can’t have a deep, logical conversation with a young child who is having a regularly scheduled meltdown because they aren’t allowed to take a spoonful of peanut butter “to go” as you’re trying to pack up the car. You need to acknowledge the current issue at hand from the child’s point of view and then get to the real root of the matter – that your attention appears to now be focused on their recently birthed little sibling, for example. As someone who has personally been dismissed with an offhand “just get over it” or “well, it’s in the past” (all of 5 minutes ago!) instead of actually being listened to, I know how frustrating (and unproductive) that dismissal is. I am a firm believer in starting with acknowledging the other person’s feelings. You don’t have to agree, or engage, just acknowledge. Admittedly, I have no actual first-hand parenting experience using this method, but I have watched it work successfully when used with friends’ children, and even when used in dealing with other adults! And it most certainly works when used in dealing with me…and isn’t that the first rule of any relationship – treat others how YOU would want to be treated?
I’m sure there will be times where my good intentions fall flat, and I lock myself in the bathroom under the guise of “needing a moment of privacy” instead of immediately dealing with a temper tantrum. But I want to at least have the intentions, to want to treat my children with respect so that they then can learn how to treat others that way. Granted, we know now that we’re having a baby boy, which takes away the familiar “problem” of producing an older sister, but I’m sure families of boys (or mixed-gender siblings) have their own special blend of issues too. No matter the sibling combination, how these issues are dealt with in the formative years will continue into adulthood. I hope to do my best to keep the conversation open in our family, so that no one ever feels like what they have to say is not worth being listened to.
What are your opinions and experiences with “sibling rivalry?” What advice do you have for a noob mom like myself?