Originally published in Home Educating Family Magazine.
It was a beautiful fall day in Bavaria, Germany. Our family of six was hiking along the breathtaking Partnach Gorge near Garmisch-Partenkirchen with its sheer cliffs, icy blue water, and gorgeous waterfalls.
An idyllic setting. And my kids were Driving. Me. Bonkers.
Two children, in particular were being a challenge (names withheld to protect the obnoxious), and we’d gotten after them repeatedly. For a while now, all I’d heard was,
“Mom, he won’t stop poking me with the stick!”
“Move—stop getting in my way!”
“I can’t see! Dad!!! Tell him!”
I attempted to ignore them and enjoy the beautiful scenery. But apparently, living in the close quarters of a cabin over the past week had gotten to these two and they couldn’t have gotten along if you’d paid them. Just as I was about to flip my lid, my husband turned to them with quiet authority and said, “If I hear one more thing from you boys, you’ll hold hands the rest of this hike!”
The culprits (both teenagers) were shocked into silence. This was no hollow threat. A military man, my husband’s word is his bond. The threat bought us a few moments of quiet, but only a few. Soon, the bickering started back up. My husband stopped, pointed at their hands, and…those big boys miserably walked hand-in-hand the rest of the hike. You’ve never seen such downtrodden souls. Or heard such blessed QUIET.
Now, before you think we are cruel and unusual parents, rest assured it was only a few minutes of utter humiliation! And we really do all laugh at this family story now.
If the first parents on earth, Adam and Eve, dealt with sibling rivalry (remember Cain and Abel?), why do I imagine our family would be any different?
One of the biggest myths fed to homeschooling moms is that all this togetherness will cause our children to instantly be best friends. It’s a bit more complicated than that. We may not be able to be rid of sibling rivalry entirely, but I do have a few tricks in my parenting bag from decades of experience that I’ll share with you.
Don’t get sucked into their conflict.
As a mom, this seems harder for me than it is for my husband. I’m not sure if it’s my empathy gene or the fact that, as a homeschooling mom, I am around the kids all the time, but I seem to get much more spun up when the kids are in conflict than he does.
If I remind myself to step back a moment, look at the situation objectively, and realize this is not about ME at all, then I can deal with it better. That, and remembering that even though I used to be perfectly evil to my little sister (the claim has been made that I was a hair-puller, but she had a nasty habit of getting into all my stuff), we are now the best of friends! This too shall pass. And someone has to be the adult. (Shoot. That means me!)
They must be kind.
Regardless of who’s right or wrong in the conflict, our rule for our kids in dealing with each other is that their only requirement is to be kind. Not the sickly Eddie-Haskell-ish “kind” like, “Oh fine, of course you can have your way again…”
If they are not able to be kind, it’s a sign they probably need to be alone for a while! And by “be alone,” I don’t mean all snuggled up in their room with electronics. I mean scrubbing-out-a-bathroom-alone. But more on that in a sec.
This is one of the best lessons I’ve learned from watching my husband deal with our kids’ fights. I think one of his maxims must be, “Wear them out and they’ll get along!” If they have enough energy to fight with each other, that means they also have enough energy to do push-ups, scrub baseboards, or some other sort of manual labor. (And if they are on a long hike and still want to bicker, I guess it means they want to hold hands!)
Another idea is to have the kids write 100 sentences with a positive reinforcement, such as “I will speak nicely to my sister and not slap her in the head with a ruler.” Also, behaving badly to a sibling repeatedly means forfeiting an outing or time with friends.
Sibling rivalry—can we defeat it entirely? My experience says no. But we can rise above the fray, be creative in our dealings with our kids, and refuse to be drawn into the pettiness and immaturity that are hallmarks of growing up. If you somehow manage to conquer it, please tell the rest of us your secret!