Monday, October 11, 2010

Guest Post: What Level of Sibling Rivalry is Healthy?

I am so happy to have Daria from Mom In Management sharing on sibling rivalry. 

Bio: Daria is a working mom of 5 in Colorado.  During the day she leads a team of employees.  At night and on the weekends, she and her husband lead their family team.  She writes with a sense of humor about her life – including leadership tips and business trends, parenting, marriage, and saving money.  You can find more insights from her at her primary blog Mom In Management.  She also writes periodically for Marketplace Mommies and Simply Stunning, LLC and can be found on twitter @MomInManagement and Facebook.

What Level of Sibling Rivalry is Healthy?

My husband and I are both only children, and yet, we have 5 kids!  Two boys came as a package deal with my husband and then we had three more together – two girls and another boy.

It has been interesting to watch the sibling relationships play out.  Neither of us have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to have brothers or sisters, so it can be fascinating for us to sit back and watch our kids interact with each other.   It is very much a foreign language to us. 

There have been plenty of times over the years that I turn to two kids squabbling and say “I don’t understand why you’re fighting all the time.  Just STOP!”  This is usually at the top of my lungs, and often followed with a profound statement such as “You should be grateful you have that brother or sister. Love each other, damn it!” 

As you can imagine, screeching ultimatums to love your sister to a 4 year old, or 14 year old even, doesn’t usually ever work. 

One of the perplexities that I’ve had along the years of learning to be a mother is “What level of fighting is normal?”  Everyone we talk to says “Oh, that’s just siblings.”  Really? Hitting your sister with a golf club is “normal”?  Flinging a skateboard at your brother’s head is “normal”?

Are you saying they are going to grow up and look back fondly on these years of mutual torture?  Why would they do that?  Someone terrorizes me for years and I would think the smart thing to do would be to avoid them. 

I have been very worried about this actually, because I very intentionally did NOT have only children.  I wanted my kids to have siblings - built in friends to comfort and support them throughout their lives. 

But as I’ve traversed this foreign land of siblings, a few things have started to stand out to me. 

1.      I’ve noticed a pattern that the older sibling generally pushes the younger siblings’ buttons in a very sneaky quiet manner.   The younger sibling then lashes out very physically and loudly.  This seems to be very satisfying to the older sibling, because then they get to squeal “Mom! Little brother hit me!”  We’ve had this happen in three sets of kids now, so I’m beginning to believe this is common between most families.

a.     Our oldest would often sit in the car and pinch his brother where we couldn’t see his hand in the rearview mirror.  Brother (JR) would then punch him and we’d of course yell at JR for punching his brother for no reason.
b.     Our middle child (Jag), sits in the back seat and makes faces at her little brother (Tev) or hums under her breath.  Tev then screams at her to stop looking at him and we of course chastise Tev for yelling about something so silly.  
c.     Close quarters (ex: the car), is the scene of a lot of bickering!

2.     Kids can literally be pounding each other to a pulp on the floor one minute and then best friends 5 minutes later.   It is astonishing to me every single time I see it.  Grudges amongst siblings?  Not terribly long lived. 

3.     When the kids are legitimately scared or hurt, the other siblings are very caring.  We recently moved into a larger house.  Our 8 year old and 6 year old have bedrooms in the basement.  They were both nervous about sleeping down there and so they decided to sleep in the same room for the first few days.  Well, it’s been 6 months with no end in sight.  They will fight like cats and dogs during the day, but bedtime?  They are quiet and well behaved.  They don’t want to risk having me separate them.

4.     No matter how much it seems like the kids don’t like each other, just go ahead and take one of them out of the picture for a little bit.  The one left behind will almost ALWAYS start asking “Where’s brother?  Where’s sister?  What do you think they are doing?  When will they be back?”

5.     Kids get into the most arguments when they don’t have a focus.  Give them an activity – playing ball, painting rocks, cleaning the house even – and they cooperate pretty well together.  It is in unstructured time that the most conflict arises.

All of us are learning this parenting thing as we go.  After all, none of these children came with an instruction manual!  And maybe you knew these things based on your own relationships with your siblings.  But, for 2 only children trying to figure out how to raise all these siblings?   It has been very comforting to see that these squabbles don’t seem to indicate long term hatred of each other.  When it comes down to a foundation for lifelong friendship, it seems like this fighting is just part of building those memories.   

What do you think?  Is fighting amongst siblings normal?  What is the worst fight you ever got into with your brother or sister?  Are you still friends now as adults?

If you liked what you read, please visit Daria at Mom In Management or follow her on Twitter or Facebook


  1. Very interesting, Daria. I am an only child too but am trying very hard to give my daughter a sibling.

    Growing up, I romanticized the idea of brothers and sisters so much. But according to my husband, who has a younger brother and sister, idyllic moments were few and far between. They're all really close now as adults though, so my fantasy remains intact, despite repeated stories about his sibs being "boxed out" at Easter and the boys thumping each other until they had bruises.

    It doesn't always work out that way though. I know many people who downright hate their siblings, over things that seem fairly petty to me as an outsider.

    The lesson I learned? Don't have another kid to provide a sibling. Have one because you want one and hope for the best.

  2. Too true Jen. I cringe when I hear of families that don't speak to each other. I SO want my kids to be close to each other as adults!

    I absolutely know it's because I project my own wishes for having an older brother (not just for his friends :) ) onto my kids and think they ought to know how lonely it is to be an only child.

    Of course, they don't know any differently than what they have and I can absolutely see why sibs wouldn't speak as adults - They torture each other as children!

    I think I see glimmers that they may like each other someday. I hope.

    I did, in fact, have our children for each other. I hope it works out well for them. And hubby and I are pretty glad they are here too... :)

    We had our 3rd after seeing hubby's great grandfather die and watching all 5 of his kids interacting around his death bed. I wanted that bond and support for my kids.

    I was pregnant with our 3rd that week. No guarantees they'll be close to each other though!

  3. Right now I only have my little boy (he's only 13 months old) but I also want him to have siblings, but I also know from experience how tough siblings can be on each other as kids.

    I think it's reasonable to expect certain amounts of rivalry and teasing, but parents should also monitor the amount of fighting and make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Excessive teasing and bullying from siblings as children can (in my opinion) cause resentment as adults.

    Great writing Daria.

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