Why do we often hear regarding siblings that they “fought like cats and dogs”?
Children seem to have a love/hate relationship with each other when growing up in a family together at the best of times. Yet when it works it can be a precious thing to behold. Most parents hold the dream that their children will care one for another in their hour of need, that family means we all stick together! Most parents feel proud of the times when their kids get on well, when they pull together to support each other or show care for each other even and especially in the small and day to day matters of life. But when it all goes awry brothers in reality can despise each other and likewise with sisters, sadly even to the point when they “mature” into adulthood of cutting each other out of their lives.
The boys that kicked a footy together in the backyard and the girls that shared their intimate secrets with each other can seemingly barely mask the bitterness they hold for each other as their lives develop and take different pathways. Cut offs in families are passed down generations and the damage perpetuated ad finiteum.
One of the main dynamics between siblings is often envy and jealousy.
Although they may even be quite unaware of it, they often feel that one or another gets a better deal in the family. It might be that one is perceived as being the favourite in the eyes of mum or dad and that gives them a special status. This is not an advantage in any one’s life! The burden of “being special” is an onerous one indeed. The pressure to live up to the position of special or favoured one may give special privileges with mum or dad, but it also ensures that the other members of the family are unlikely to be close to that special one. A distance and a separation occurs that creates divisions that can scar for a very long time.
So how can parents work together to facilitate harmony between siblings?
For one thing, they can attempt to reduce competition by being as fair as possible. However, it’s also good to give the message that life is not always fair and that children need to learn to “swing with the punches” so to speak. This helps them develop resilience. As long as the overall aim is fairness, it is not of paramount importance that one child seems to be treated differently on one occasion than another. What matters is that parents are seen to be trying to be fair and that it can all be talked about. Resentments that go undiscussed can be harboured for years causing a root of bitterness that can be difficult to remove. The main thing for children to learn is that it’s “swings and roundabouts” that what goes their way this time might not next time around and vice versa; that it will all end up even in the end. Bitterness develops when children perceive that one child is routinely singled out for special attention or focus and this needs to be guarded against and discussed.
Parents can value each child individually for who they are in the family not for what they do or achieve. This can reduce competition enormously and can also communicate a healthy value system. While we all admire achievement it is not the be all and the end all. Children learn that being a person of integrity is more important than winning at all costs. They learn that mum and dad support one another and that they can do the same for each other. They can do this by being interested in each others lives and being prepared to spend time together. Brothers and sisters are often more sensitive than they let on and so care should be taken with these precious intimate relationships that can easily get taken for granted or neglected. Of course you never know the role you may play in your sibling’s life by being available to talk to them or by showing in some small way that you value and admire them. And when the reality is contrary to that, when you cannot get over grudges and irritations then you need to take steps to deal with the issues rather than let them fester for years. You can try talking with your brother or sister or enlist the help of an impartial other to help mediate. Parents can play an important part here.
Siblings themselves can learn a great deal while growing up in a family which will help them with relationships all throughout their lives. They can practice learning to be assertive and respectful. Parents model this and can create the ground rules for effective conflict management. It is normal to have conflict in families where human beings rub up against each other in the daily grind of intimate living. By expecting conflict and approaching it with a certain sense of normalcy as well as a sense of humuor, we can reduce the distress that conflict can bring. With the obvious exception of violence, both physical and verbal abuse, it is the way that conflict is managed that provides the greatest learning opportunity. By accepting and in fact celebrating that siblings are different one from another and by not expecting them to be the same, parents can alleviate any pressure children might feel to compete with one another. By providing a safe structure
in which to negotiate grievances and differences parents model this process of sorting out differences that children will take into their own adult relationships.
It also helps if parents can look at their own upbringing and their own relationships with their siblings for clues as to some of the unconscious expectations they may be communicating to their children. It is healthy for parents to become aware of what their unacknowledged or unfulfilled hopes and dreams are for their own lives, for most likely these too will be passed on to their children. All of these can affect the relationships of the children in the family as each child “takes on” certain expectations from mum and dad.
Families can be a precious treasure when they work well and can cause unimaginable heartbreak when they do not. Siblings are often underrated for their importance. Give your brother or sister a call today or a hug. Remember you are hugely influential either by what you do and say, or by what you fail to do and say, in the lives of your siblings even though it may not be evident. It is true as John Donne said no man is an island. Our most formative relationships are the ones in our first family of origin so it’s worth putting time and effort into making them as good as they can be. They are the patterns which our relationships will follow throughout our lives.
© Margie Ulbrick
If you would like some support with your relationships or creating greater happiness in your life, please contact me on 0403 814 477 for a free 10-minute consultation to discuss your needs.