The other night my kids spent 20 minutes fighting over who would get to sit next to the baby at dinner. Our 9 month old daughter Poppy is especially popular right now. She is of course, the “queen of all the babies” and can do no wrong at this point in her life. I’m sure this will not last.
My 4 & 7 year olds on the other hand, insist on fighting like dogs and I can hardly take it. I know they adore each other, but it’s off and on again like a high school romance. Yesterday they argued (about him leaning his head on the headrest of her carseat) the whole way to pick up our car from the shop. But then as soon as we switched cars and her brother hopped in with dad, she turns to me and says, “I miss Sawyer.”
I have dreams of my kids growing up to be each others biggest fans. Ones that can always turn to each other, ones that want to turn to each other. Celebrating, supporting and sitting around big dinner tables laughing about how they drove each other nutty through the years. They are after all, built in companions.
Their first lessons in sharing, protecting, fighting for their rights, facing fears, exploring and grieving will be with each other. The amount of experiences they will share before (and after) they leave home is second to none.
I am the middle child of three and I depend very much on the love and support of my sister and brother. We are still finding new ways that we need each other. Life isn’t getting easier (surprise, surprise) and those years of building trust with each other is really paying off.
Apparently my eyes light up when I talk about my siblings. A friend pointed that out to me years ago and then asked what my parents did to help that happen. While I can guarantee my parents did not have some well thought out plan to make us adore each other and they are not ultimately responsible for how it all panned out, they did (and did not do) certain things that have shaped our relationships.
So many things- personalities, gender, birth order, age span, family dynamics, tragedy, faith, wellness, etc, impact sister/brother relationships and no family is the same. But I believe these 7 things can help parents fan the flame of sibling love.
- Celebrate their uniqueness. It’s a lifelong process to embrace the unique person we were created to be and to become comfortable in our own skin. Parents can help that journey start in a positive way. Verbal affirmation from you is a powerful model. It helps kids identify their personal strengths as well as the strengths of their siblings. Teaching them to admire each other (as well as feel thankful for their own gifts) is a beautiful thing. At the same time, we need to (constructively) help them see areas that need growth and help them accept that some things just won’t come naturally to them. As you guide this process, be cautious not to label them. They need the freedom to grow, change and not be stuck in the way they’ve “always been.” The language we use can make a big difference.
- Don’t be afraid to give attention to one child’s special moments while the others sit back and cheer them on. It is good for kids to watch other kids get recognized. It’s his “end of the season” party, her recital, his award, etc. Harper’s birthday doesn’t need to include gifts for Sawyer and Poppy. It’s not about them. Just make sure to find the strong and special in each family member and celebrate them in turn (mom & dad too!)
- Don’t allow one child’s (talent, sport, hobby) to dominate the family’s time and attention. When one child is especially talented or is involved in something you love, the temptation (and pressure from others) is that you must be on every-all-year-expensive-traveling club. The cost of time and resources on your family can take away from the other kids and communicate that you value their sibling above them. I know some families are able to keep the balance while one of their kids becomes a superstar, but it must be hard to do well.
- Don’t use comparison as a motivator. This is a natural temptation for most of us, as we do it to ourselves daily. I want to say, “Your brother could ride his bike when he was 5.” “Your sister isn’t crying about that.” But I am trying to let them be themselves and not pit them against each other. Positive peer pressure is really effective, but there is a difference between using it to inspire and using it to shame. I’m trying instead, “Your brother really enjoys riding his bike without training wheels and I think you will too.”
- Develop a strong “Home Team” identity. The trust that is built inside our home is foundational. We are a family. We help each other. We tell the truth. We pitch in around the house. We comfort each other when something hurts. We eat together around the table. We speak highly of each other. We have each other’s backs. We are a unit and we work together and play together and no matter where we move or what trials we face, we have each other for support.
- Take family vacations. Get them away together and make memories. The #1 thing people say when I ask how their parents fostered good relationships among them is “taking vacations.” The adventure, the absence of distractions, the close quarters and the concentrated time together goes a long way. But I’ll bet the real magic is in the message it sends- “We value this family so much that we will take time off work and money out of our pockets to have this experience together.”
- Talk through the conflict. Teach them to “live at peace as far as it depends on them.”(Romans 12:18) Teach them to confront, forgive and reconcile. If you suck at that yourself, start working on it in your life. You can’t model something you don’t wear.
It’s easy to believe that it’s too late to help your kids love each other well (or to appreciate your own siblings) but I believe there’s always a chance for restoration. And I also believe that there are hard seasons that might just turn into sweet ones down the road. Sibling love is one of the most precious kind and it’s worth aiming for greatness.
Two wise women who ADORE their siblings share their stories…
Rachel + her sister
When you asked about being friends with my sister, I had this distinct memory of us playing school in our parents’ living room. My parents always encouraged us to play together, but it was never said out loud that we had to be friends. They just raised us to be good, decent human beings and love everyone. And that extended doubly to each other.
They also just let us be ourselves. They didn’t micromanage as parents (though my mom did have to tell me several times that I was not the mom of Marissa). They let us sort out our own arguments, though there weren’t that many of them.
And my parents made family dinners a priority. Even through high school and various practices and rehearsals for both of us, pretty much every night we sat down at the dinner table (TV off) and enjoyed one another’s company.
And lastly, they taught us to have a sense of humor about life.
Stephanie + her brothers
The number one thing that my parents gifted my siblings I and with was time with each other. We took long road trips together in a motorhome – like, weeks at a time -, and we would spend months during the summer on a little lake in Washington for close to 15 years straight. Those long, uninterrupted times that we had together as kids were spent playing games, making up stories, wrestling, and finding adventures. We didn’t have any tv or technology with us, so all we had for entertainment was each other
When my middle brother and I were 18 and 20, my parents bought us round trip plane tickets to Europe, gave us $2000 and a couple travel guides, and told us, “we’ll see you in 6 weeks!” We landed in London with no place to stay and no idea what we were doing. We ended up getting eurail passes and visiting 8 countries. We returned from that trip with a bond that will be unbreakable to the end. I know a trip to Europe is not realistic for most people, but we talk all the time that it wasn’t that we were on another continent that was significant; it was the uninterrupted time and problem solving in the unknown together.