Sibling rivalry: competition between siblings especially for the attention, affection, and approval of their parents.
My two youngest are currently on top of one of those rope-climbing contraptions in our local park. The ones that look like a gigantic triangle tangle of wires designed specifically to alarm parents when their children are at the peak waving manically, whilst not holding on. One of mine is halfway up, and the other (the eldest of the two) is at the top, coaching his younger brother on how to climb and reach his dizzying height. This is a good day, a day where they are friends, a team working together and supporting and encouraging each other.
It's not always this way.
Especially when you add my teenage daughter into the mix.
Don't get me wrong, my children are very pleased to have siblings, but sometimes I think they'd rather not have them around all of the time. Rivalry between people who share blood is inevitable. Even the most placid of personalities can be riled by those closest to them and as a parent it can be frustrating and upsetting to watch.
I have two ways of dealing with the disagreements, which mainly occur when my children are tired and drained of any kind of resolve. If my they are physically fighting, which thankfully is not a regular occurrence, then I tend to dive in and resolve the situation, no-one needs to get hurt because they both want to play with the same toy, and anger should never be allowed to erupt and be directed at another just because they're doing something you don't like or can't control. However, if it is a verbal disagreement then I often stand back and wait, for it's these very encounters where children begin to learn to manage conflict. To understand empathy. To fight their corner. To adapt to situations and manage shit beyond their control.
Imagine we were all thrown together in close contact with people we didn't chose to be with, made to get along with, share bedrooms with, spend more time with than anyone else. A mix of people with different needs, wants, personalities, and beliefs. People who are competing with you for attention and affection. We only have to watch Big Brother to know how those situations work out. Conflict and rivalry seeps in from day one. Siblings are the starting blocks for dealing with a world where everyone is different. For understanding things from another perspective. For learning about compromise.
Whilst also learning quite rightly that the world does not revolve around you.
My children know this, even more so because of the boys' medical needs, and I am in awe of the way my teenage daughter is accepting of the situation. And also how beautifully supportive the boys are of each other; they hold hands during blood tests whilst telling the other one that it's ok, it won't hurt for long. I'm lucky that something so horrible has brought out the best in my children and dampened their rivalry somewhat. My brother and I were not the same as youngsters. Best of friends now, we fought endlessly as children and exhausted our mother because of it. And the stuff we fought over all seems so petty now. What to watch on the TV. Toys. Winning Monopoly. Again it was illness that changed it all. First my brother contracting a bone abscess and being in hospital over Christmas when he was eleven, and then our father passing away when we were in our early twenties. Landing on Mayfair and going bankrupt was insignificant after that. My brother says he didn't know how much I loved or even liked him until he went away travelling for six months when he was eighteen and I balled like a baby when saying goodbye. Something he doesn't let me forget.
Sadly not all rivalries can be contained to childhood. It's sad when families fall out and siblings no longer speak, but you can't force people to like each other even if they are related. You can, however, force them not be to vile to each other, but often in these cases things have gone too far, resulting in estranged families who no longer speak.
And, of course, not all children have siblings. In my novel, currently on its fifth and hopefully final draft, three only children seek to fill the space their unborn siblings have left. And that doesn't end well. Not that I'm saying being an only child is a negative thing, not having siblings doesn't automatically put you at a disadvantage in life, of course. Being an only child, or a sibling of one, or to many all has pros and cons. And I haven't even touched on the horror of losing a sibling in childhood, that deserves a blog post all of it's own. So does writing about half brothers and sisters and the many wonders of blended families, like mine.
There are many angles and things I've not touched on here, I know this.
In this post I wanted to focus on rivalry between siblings and how the inevitable fall outs can help teach children important life skills. There isn't enough tolerance around at the moment, or empathy. The world is a very different place to the one I grew up in and children and teenagers face more challenges than ever before. And I do wonder if parenting now has affected this. Helicopter parenting, tiger mums, over protective adults who strive so hard for their children to be happy that they won't even let them have an argument with their siblings and resolve it independent of adult intervention.
Yes childhood should be filled with love and laughter and play, but it's when the foundations for life as an adult are laid down ready to be built upon.
And a healthy dose of sibling rivalry can help do just that.