Young People Ask . . .
Why Is It So Hard to Get Along With My Brother and Sister?
SIBLING rivalry—it’s as old as Cain and Abel and as common among young people as the cold. Not that you really hate your brother or sister. Why, you might even begrudgingly admit having some affection for your sibling, as the following youths did:
“At times my sisters and brothers have arguments and I say I hate their guts, but I don’t mean it. We really love each other.”
“I guess I do love my brother even though I don’t really show it.”
“Deep down in my heart, where I cannot feel it now, I guess I love my brother. Sort of, I do.”
Nevertheless, animosity obviously lurks beneath the surface of these sibling relationships. What may result? A 15-year-old girl confessed: “My sister and brother and I; we would get into so many fights—about nothing usually! Those fights were distressing to everyone in the family, and we were all unhappy.” Some brothers and sisters are even openly hostile. (One teenage girl drew a picture of her brothers and sisters being lowered into a vat of hot tar.)
Why does sibling discord often exist?
In an article in Seventeen magazine, family therapist Claudia Schweitzer gives a basic reason why brothers and sisters are so often in conflict: “Each family has a certain amount of resources, some emotional and some material.” The article continued: “When sibs fight, they’re usually competing for these resources, which includes everything from parental love to money and clothes.”
Yes, having a brother or a sister usually means sharing. Eighteen-year-old Camille and her five brothers and sisters, for example, must share three bedrooms. “I want to be by myself sometimes,” Camille says, “and I’ll want to shut them out, but they’re always there.” Of course, even Jesus Christ had an occasional need for privacy. (Mark 6:31) So you may resent it when a brother or a sister barges into your room without knocking, or when you do not have the room to yourself.
This can be a particularly thorny problem in stepfamilies when youngsters must share with strangers. “No one asked my brother or me if we wanted to have two stepsisters and a stepbrother move into our house,” said one girl bitterly. “They just moved in one day and started acting as though they owned everything. . . . I wish they’d go back to where they came from.”
Then there is the sharing of privileges and household responsibilities. Older youngsters may resent being expected to do the lion’s share of the chores. Younger children may balk at being bossed by an older sibling or become jealous when older siblings receive coveted privileges. ‘My sister takes driving lessons and I can’t,’ laments a teenage girl from England. ‘I feel resentful and try to make things difficult for her.’
How can this cycle of resentment be broken? Begin by trying to overcome any tendencies toward selfishness. That means ‘seeking not your own advantage, but that of the other person.’ (1 Corinthians 10:24) Rather than quibbling over personal “rights,” be “ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) This may be very difficult. But one researcher reminds us: “The advantages of having siblings [including stepbrothers and stepsisters!] outweigh the disadvantages. The presence of siblings affords a situation in which the child can learn to get along well with other children. He learns the lessons of give-and-take, to share his possessions.”
Too Close for Comfort
Seventeen-year-old Diane grew up with four brothers and three sisters. She says: “If you see one another every single day, day in and day out . . . And if you watch the same person every day do the same thing that annoys you—that can get to you.” At times, though, our own flaws add fuel to the fire. Young Andre says of himself: “The way you act at home is how you really are. When you go outside and associate with other people, sometimes you put on a whole different attitude. But when you’re at home in an environment you’re used to, you act the way you really are.” Unfortunately, ‘acting the way you really are’ often means dispensing with politeness, kindness, and tact.
The book The Private Life of the American Teenager further observes: “It is often more difficult to get along with people who share some of our characteristics and who know all our shortcomings and pressure points.” True, if you share a good quality with a brother or a sister, you may be drawn to that one. But what if you share negative qualities? Proverbs 27:19 says: “As in water face corresponds with face, so the heart of a man with that of a man.” When we see our bad qualities reflected in a sibling, we often resent the reminder and become hostile.
How can you maintain peace? By following the Bible’s counsel to ‘put up with one another in love.’ (Ephesians 4:2) Rather than magnifying a sibling’s faults and flaws, apply Christian love, which “covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Instead of taking family members for granted and being abrasive or unkind, put away “wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech,” and “let your utterance be always with graciousness.”—Colossians 3:8; 4:6.
‘Mom Likes You Best!’
Probably the greatest battle between siblings, though, is for the affection of their parents. Admits professor of psychology Lee Salk: “There’s no way a parent can love all her children exactly the same because they are different human beings and inevitably elicit different reactions from us [parents].”
This proved true in Bible times. The patriarch Jacob (Israel) “loved Joseph more than all his other sons.” His brothers became particularly resentful of this fact when Jacob “had a long, striped shirtlike garment made for” Joseph, evidently the type of garment worn by a person of rank. (Genesis 37:3) In time their jealousy erupted into murderous hatred. It may likewise hurt if your parents seem to favor one of your brothers or sisters. But some take out hurt feelings on their siblings!
Sibling jealousy is often a result of the fact that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) And “out of the heart come wicked reasonings.” (Matthew 15:19) A young woman named Lynn recalls how she became so jealous of a younger sister that when she broke her arm, Lynn accused her of doing so on purpose! The supposed reason? So that she could get out of helping Lynn fold sheets. Obviously, Lynn’s hostile feelings were more a result of the deceptive reasonings of her heart than actual circumstances.
The same can be true when one is jealous because a sibling is favored by a parent. “Jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30) And often there is no real reason for resentment to begin with. In the case of Jacob, remember that Joseph was the son of his beloved dead wife Rachel. Of course he felt especially close to this son! Yet Jacob’s love for Joseph obviously did not exclude his other sons, for he expressed real concern for their welfare. (Genesis 37:13, 14) Your parents may similarly be drawn to one of your siblings, perhaps because of shared interests. This does not mean, though, that they do not love you. So if you feel resentment or jealousy, realize that your imperfect heart has simply got the better of you. Work to overcome such feelings.
Having a sibling does not necessarily mean sibling rivalry—especially if you make a real effort to apply Bible principles.* True, having siblings has its problems. But ‘the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.’
This will be discussed more fully in a future article.
[Picture on page 24]
Sharing a room with a brother or a sister can create real frictions