Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Get Along With My Brother and Sister?
ALL brothers and sisters fight! Many youths—and adults—feel that way. And in spite of the fact that over a hundred thousand children a year in the United States reportedly use a gun or a knife against a brother or a sister, an expert on family violence laments: “Most people do not take sibling violence seriously.”
You may thus feel little incentive to make peace with your brother or sister, though both of you may constantly be at odds. Nevertheless, even when such clashes do not erupt into violence, they do upset the family peace. Young Camille, for example, speaks of how her parents react when she and her sister argue: “Our parents hate it. They hate it a lot when we fight—it upsets them.” More importantly, constant bickering arouses ugly feelings and emotions. Says the Bible: “For where jealousy and contentiousness are, there disorder and every vile thing are.”—James 3:16.
A previous article gave some of the reasons why young family members so often disagree.* Among them: a lack of willingness to share, lack of privacy, stepfamily tensions, and jealousies. According to Proverbs 14:6, having this understanding puts you at an advantage because “to the understanding one knowledge is an easy thing.” In other words, your understanding why you have trouble getting along makes it easier to figure out how to get along with your sister or brother. Following are some specific suggestions.
Preventing Fights Through Communication
“Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” So says Proverbs 26:20. This principle is often applied to preventing the spread of forest fires by cutting firebreaks, strips of land where all the trees have been cut down. If a fire does start, theoretically it can advance only to that point, and then it dies out. You can apply the same principle and prevent—or at least limit—disagreements with your brother or sister. How? By communicating and working out compromises before an argument flares up.
For example, is the problem a lack of privacy? If so, at a time when the issue is not raging, try sitting down together and working out an actual schedule. (‘I get the room to myself on these days/hours, and you get it on these.’) Then “let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No” by respecting the agreement. (Matthew 5:37) If something comes up that calls for an adjustment, let the other person know in advance, instead of just thrusting the change upon him without notice.
Are you battling over property rights? One teenager complained: “My stepsister always uses my things without asking me. She even used my makeup, and then had the nerve to tell me I didn’t buy the right kind!” You could call upon your parents as the final arbiters. Better yet, though, sit down with your brother or sister at a calm moment. Try to agree upon some rules regarding borrowing, one of which might be always to ask before taking. Of course, as with so many other situations, the golden rule of Matthew 7:12 is really the key: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”
So communicate! Work out compromises. Set down specific rules. In this way you can watch the ‘fire go out’ before it starts!
‘It’s Not Fair!’
“My sister gets everything she wants,” laments one youth. “But when it comes to me, I get left out completely.” Does this sound familiar? But note those two absolutes, “everything” and “completely.” Is the situation really that dire? When we are upset, we do tend to exaggerate the severity of the situation. The Bible gives this encouragement: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) Being reasonable literally means to be ‘yielding’ and ‘not insisting upon the letter of the law.’ Would it be reasonable to expect perfect treatment from imperfect parents? Would it be reasonable to expect absolutely equal treatment for two different individuals? Of course not!
The danger of being too quick to call parents unfair is illustrated in the Bible’s story of Joseph. His brothers hated him because he was specially favored by their father, Jacob. However, when Joseph’s brothers shepherded their flocks in a distant area, Jacob demonstrated that he also had deep concern for his other sons by sending Joseph to check on their safety. Similarly, you may find that your resentment over a brother or a sister’s receiving ‘special treatment’ is equally unfounded.—Genesis 37:1-4, 13.
This is especially important to remember if you have stepbrothers or stepsisters. Says an article in ’Teen magazine: “There’s an important distinction between equal and fair. People have individual personalities and individual needs. . . . Instead of trying to be treated the same, it’s important to see if your stepparent is trying to meet each of your needs. If you don’t feel as though your needs are being met, then you can talk about that with your stepparent.”
Brothers and Sisters a Blessing?
This may seem hard to believe at times—especially when they are annoying you. But an often untapped aid in getting along with your brothers and sisters is calling to mind the benefits of having them! Child psychiatrist James P. Comer reminds us that “rivalry among brothers and sisters is such a prominent feature of childhood that we sometimes forget that siblings are also companions and friends.” Diane certainly agrees. “It’s fun having brothers and sisters,” she says. She has seven. “You have someone to talk to and share your interests with.”
Her brother Dennis adds: “There’s always someone there to get opinions from.” Anne Marie and her brother Andre concur on the advantages of having a ready companion: “Even though you can go places with your friends, you always have your brothers and sisters. They are always there when you want to play a game or sport or go to the park.” Donna sees another practical advantage: “You have someone to share the chores with.” Others have described their brother or sister as “a special adviser and listener” and someone who “understands what I’m going through.”
Furthermore, consider the future benefits. Later in life, you will experience some of the very same problems with others that you now have with your brother or sister. Jealousy, property rights, unequal treatment, lack of privacy, selfishness, personality differences—such problems are a part of life. So view learning to get along with your brothers and sisters as training in the fascinating and often bewildering field of human relations.
Taking Notice of God
The biggest motivation for working for family peace, though, is knowing that it can improve your relationship with God. Seventeen-year-old Andre echoes the Bible’s words at 1 John 4:20 when he says: “If you can’t get along with people you can see, how can you get along with Jehovah, whom you can’t see?”
Admittedly, it is not always easy to remember this. Anne Marie confesses: “When you’re fighting, at times you don’t think about how it affects your relationship with Jehovah. You just think about how you can make the other person feel stupid or get revenge.” But to maintain God’s approval you must ‘take notice of him in all your ways.’—Proverbs 3:6.
This does not mean that you will never disagree with your sisters and brothers. But you can learn to do so without “malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming.” (Ephesians 4:31) One 15-year-old girl, for example, used to look for ways to start trouble with her brothers or sisters. But after learning to study and apply the Bible in her life, she says: “I no longer look for fights but try to avoid them.” Why not try doing the same yourself? You may even find that having a brother or a sister is not so bad after all.
See “Young People Ask . . . Why Is It So Hard to Get Along With My Brother and Sister?” in the July 22, 1987, issue of Awake!
[Blurb on page 27]
“There’s an important distinction between equal and fair. People have individual personalities and individual needs”
[Picture on page 26]
Do not conclude that it is unfair that a brother or a sister on occasion receives more attention than you do