Why Are My Brother and Sister So Hard to Get Along With?
SIBLING rivalry—it’s as old as Cain and Abel. Not that you hate your sibling (brother or sister). One youth admitted: “Deep down in my heart, where I cannot feel it now, I guess I love my brother. Sort of, I do.”
Why does animosity so often lurk beneath the surface of sibling relationships? Writer Harriet Webster quotes family therapist Claudia Schweitzer as saying: “Each family has a certain amount of resources, some emotional and some material.” Adds Webster: “When sibs fight, they’re usually competing for these resources, which includes everything from parental love to money and clothes.” Camille and her five brothers and sisters, for example, 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.”
Battle lines may also be drawn over sharing 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 may 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.’
Sometimes sibling discord is simply the result of personality clashes. Seventeen-year-old Diane says of her siblings: “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.” Young Andre adds: “When you’re at home . . . , you act the way you really are.” Unfortunately, ‘acting the way you really are’ often means dispensing with politeness, kindness, and tact.
Parental preferences (‘Mom likes you best!’) are another common bone of contention between siblings. 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 was true in Bible times. The patriarch Jacob (Israel) “loved Joseph more than all his other sons.” (Genesis 37:3) Joseph’s brothers came to be bitterly jealous of him.
Putting Out the Fire
“Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” So says Proverbs 26:20. The spread of forest fires is often prevented by the cutting of firebreaks, strips of land where all the trees have been cut down. If a fire does start, it usually advances only to that point and then dies out. Similarly, there are ways to prevent—or at least limit—disagreements. One way is to communicate and work out a compromise 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 or her 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. But better yet, sit down with your brother or sister at a calm moment. Rather than quibble over personal “rights,” be “ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) Try to agree upon some rules regarding borrowing, one of which might be always to ask before taking. Work out compromises if necessary. In this way you can watch the ‘fire go out’ before it starts!
But what if a sibling’s personality simply rubs you the wrong way? Really, you can do little to change that one. So learn to ‘put up with one another in love.’ (Ephesians 4:2) Instead of magnifying a sibling’s faults and flaws, apply Christian love, which “covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Instead of being abrasive or unkind, put away “wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech,” and “let your utterance be always with graciousness.”—Colossians 3:8; 4:6.
‘It’s Not Fair!’
“My sister gets everything she wants,” laments one youth. “But when it comes to me, I get left out completely.” Sound familiar? But note those two absolutes, “everything” and “completely.” Is the situation really that dire? Not likely. And even if it is, is it realistic to expect absolutely equal treatment for two different individuals? Of course not! Your parents may simply be responding to your individual needs and temperaments.
But isn’t it unfair for parents to favor a particular child? Not necessarily. Recall how Jacob favored his son Joseph. The reason? Joseph was the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who had died. Is it not perfectly understandable that Jacob felt especially close to this son? Jacob’s love for Joseph, however, did not exclude his other sons, as he expressed real concern for their welfare. (Genesis 37:13, 14) Their jealousy of Joseph was thus unfounded!
Your parents may similarly be drawn to your brother or to your sister, perhaps because of shared interests, similar personality, or other factors. This does not mean that they do not love you. If you feel resentment or jealousy, realize that your imperfect heart has simply got the better of you. Work to overcome such feelings. As long as your needs are being met, why become disturbed if a sibling seems to get extra attention?
Brothers and Sisters—A Blessing
This may seem hard to believe at times—especially when they are annoying you. But young Diane reminds us: “It’s fun having brothers and sisters.” She has seven. “You have someone to talk to and share your interests with.”
Anne Marie and her brother Andre add: “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.”
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. Learning to get along with your brothers and sisters is good training in the field of human relations.
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?” Disagreements with your brothers and sisters will occur from time to time. But you can learn to share, communicate, and compromise. The result of such effort? You may well decide that having a brother or a sister isn’t so bad after all.
Questions for Discussion
◻ Why do brothers and sisters often clash?
◻ How can you prevent fights over privacy and property rights?
◻ Why do parents sometimes favor a particular child? Do you feel this is necessarily unfair?
◻ Is an only child disadvantaged?
◻ What are some advantages of having brothers and sisters?
[Blurb on page 52]
“There’s no way a parent can love all her children exactly the same because they are different human beings.”—Professor of psychology Lee Salk
[Box on page 54]
‘I’m an Only Child’
If this is your situation, you are not necessarily disadvantaged. For one thing, while other youths may have difficulty getting along with their siblings, you can hand pick your close companions (with your parents’ approval, of course). You may even have more time for study, meditation, or the development of certain skills or talents.—See Chapter 14 on loneliness.
Young Thomas points to another advantage when he says: “As an only child I had the total attention of my parents.” True, excessive parental attention can make a youth self-centered. But if parents show balance in rendering it, parental attention can help you to mature more quickly and to feel at ease around adults.
Since you do not have brothers or sisters to share things with, however, there is the danger of being selfish. Jesus advised: “Practice giving.” (Luke 6:38) Try sharing things with friends and relatives. Develop an eye for the needs of others, offering your help where possible. People will respond to such generosity. And you may find that although you are an only child, you are far from a lonely one.
[Picture on page 53]
I often miss not having a sister; yet I do have certain advantages