Greetings from the other side, my friends. And by other side, I mean the almost dead side.
Jiminey Christmas I had a horrible flu! I think I’m done with it, but I still have this cough that sounds like a cross between old school consumption and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It’s violent, I tell you.
But I think I’m done.
Ever since my little sister’s wedding I’ve had this particular blog topic cooking in my head. You see, I got to hang out with my siblings and their spouses all at once, and you know what? I had a blast with them. My siblings are my best friends and this is a gift I want to pass onto my children. So I thought we’d talk about how to raise siblings to be friends.
If you have any brothers or sisters, you’ve dealt with some level of sibling rivalry and conflict. “Rivalry and conflict” are tame words to describe the kind of craziness that went on in the household I grew up in.
My brothers used to pin me down, hock loogies into my mouth, and then feed me grass as a chaser. Conversely, they have scars all along their forearms from my fingernails.
My younger brother’s head went through the china cabinet, and he also lost a fingertip in the doorjamb thanks to our older brother. My sister was hogtied and left in the laundry room…by me. And as violent as all that sounds we all had the wits and tongues to lash each other to pieces.
Oh yes, we had some brutal battles.
And yet, through all the conflict my parents would drill into our heads that our siblings were our best friends. It sounded ridiculous, and we would all swear the contrary, but somehow that idea stuck.
We would fight like cats and dogs with each other, but when it came to neighborhood or school friends, we had each other’s backs.
I am almost thirty years old and I can honestly say that my siblings ARE my best friends. No, it’s not perfect. Yes we sometimes fight. And I will say (without getting into details) that my oldest brother is estranged from us at this time. But at the end of the day, my siblings are my people who have my back no matter what.
So how do I make sure this happens with my kids? Well, nothing is guaranteed. BUT I’ve done some digging, and here is the best of resources I could come up with. I believe these tenets are the foundation for raising kids to be friends.
1. Your siblings are the people you will have to forgive the most.
If there is ever a time to practice forgiveness on the daily it is when you’re a kid. Lets face it, forgiveness never gets “easy” but it is an act that takes practice. Every time one of my kids says, “I’m never forgiving you!” I have a chance to tell them how much they have already been forgiven. And how much more forgiveness they’re going to need in this life.
2. Your siblings teach you how to have relationships with other people.
My pastor once said, “Every element of your life hinges on your ability to maintain healthy relationships.” The first relationships we have are with our family members, and it is in the home that we get to learn how to cope with other people.
If we understand this as parents, we can communicate the goal of friendship to our children more effectively. This is where we use phrases like, “Your brother is the best friend you will ever have.” Even though she’s only five years old, my daughter understands when I tell her that she is “practicing” friendship by spending time with her brother. She might want a different friend, and in fact, she does. But the simple fact is we don’t get to choose who is in our immediate social network. Our family IS the bottom line, the fundamental social sphere. We have to work with what we have.
3. Comparison is the thief of friendship within families.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” right? Well, I think it is also robs people of healthy relationships.
It is so easy to compare the brother who is being a “good boy” to the sister who is “being naughty.” In fact, I am so guilty of doing this when I want one of my kids to understand how awful they’re behaving. However, comparison is what sets rivalry in the hearts of siblings.
Even as an adult, there have been times when I or one of my siblings finds resentment in a supposed “comparison” with another sibling. We have had to hash out old hurts and feelings to move forward. There was even a time when rivalry threatened to finish off a relationship with one sibling, and I am so thankful we were able to find enough grace and forgiveness to move past it. If I can help it though, I would love to avoid this kind of pain with my own kids.
As a parent, it is my responsibility to recognize them as individuals who have unique needs. Therefore, they cannot be parented in the same way. Dr. Christine Carter has some interesting things to say about what comparison does in siblings.
4.) Vulnerability is OK.
I’m pretty sure childhood is the most important stage in life. For me, it is what defines everything else. All of my experiences–whether they be joy or pain in childhood have resurfaced as an adult, and I have to deal with them accordingly.
If there are any issues between our children (like what I talked about here) we need to have a safe place for them to discuss it. I love what Dr. Tim Kimmel says about vulnerability :
…our vulnerabilities have the power to define us if we aren’t careful. Legalism, strident or rigid parenting models, and preoccupied moms and dads can keep children from growing beyond their vulnerabilities. Grace is the key that unlocks the door to a balanced adult life. Your willingness and ability to come alongside your children’s vulnerabilities with grace helps them work through their difficulties…They might feel stupid, foolish, gangly, out of place, or out of touch. They need a grace that offers love instead of lectures, understanding instead of ignorance, and a plan instead of dismissal.
What does vulnerability have to do with siblings? Well, it goes back to that comparison thing. Part of dealing with other people is dealing with how they make you feel about yourself. Kids who grow up with siblings view their failures and success in light of their brothers and sisters. If we allow them to be vulnerable with us, we can understand and better handle what is coming between them as siblings.
5.) Getting along is always a choice.
Sometimes conflict between siblings is best handled between them. My mom had this famous trick where if two of us would not stop fighting she would make us stay in a room together until we could be friends again. UGHHH! I hated that. Sometimes it would take hours, but we would come out of that room civil with one another. Sometimes we even came out laughing.
What I love (now) about this exercise is that my mom taught us that forgiveness is always a choice. Reconciliation was at our disposal and it made the most sense to use it.
So, what do you think?
For more from Dr. Tim Kimmel (who is awesome!) click here.