Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sibling Rivalry

I am still on a mission to understand sibling rivalry from a parenting perspective.  I remember the fights with my siblings all too well (like the time I actually threw a rock at my sister's head) and it always seemed like my parents overreacted to them.  Now, as a parent, their shrieking, pinching, yelling and fighting has my nerves frayed. I know there has got to be a better way.  There was a book my mom read when we were younger and its yellowed cover is still on her bookshelf.  I asked to borrow it for some insights.  It's aptly called, Siblings Without Rivalry.

It's written by two women with grown children that did not end up killing each other so I figure they must know what they are talking about.  I powered through the first few chapters and had a few new things to try.  First, they took me through an exercise to understand where my children are coming from.  They encouraged me to imagine my husband coming home with a second wife because, "I was so perfect he just had to have another one like me."  They asked how I would feel when everyone paid lots of attention to her.  They asked how I would feel if I talked to my husband about my need to get her out of the house and he responded with, "Get used to it.  She's part of the family now.  I love you both the same."  Wow, right?  I wanted to kill this fictitious wife before I even finished the exercise!  

The point was to remember that our children need their feelings validated as much as we do.  Wouldn't it make a difference if my husband said, "You must feel like your whole world has turned upside down," instead of, "get used to it"?  I read through example after example of what this would look like in a parenting role and, armed with a few ideas, I went in the field to try them out.

It took exactly two minutes for a fight to break out.  "DREW!  I said LEAVE MY LEGO BUILDING ALONE!"  my oldest exclaimed from the other room.  "Me play with it, Lukey!" my toddler replied.  "No! I worked really hard on it!" my oldest tried to explain.  Then I heard the Lego building crash to the floor. My oldest ran into the laundry room where I was folding clothes.  "Drew just crashed my Lego building after I told him not to!" he said forlornly.  Before, I would have said, "work it out with your brother," but now I knew that he needed empathy not advice.  "You must be so frustrated!" I said to him.  He cocked his head to one side and studied me for a minute.  This was not what he expected.  "Well yeah, I really am."  By this time, my toddler had followed his brother into the laundry room.  My oldest said, "Drew, next time I ask you not to crash my stuff, don't do it okay?" he requested.  "Okay.  Sorry Lukey," my youngest replied.

I just kept my eye on the clothes I was folding hoping not to break the spell.  I was amazed that they had worked it out themselves.  I used the same technique (just verbalizing their feelings of anger, frustration, etc.) and over and over again they would go back to playing after a quick apology.  After a few hours of this, my oldest came to me and said, "Remember when I cut Drew's finger on the airplane?"  "Yes, I do," I said tentatively.  "Well, I didn't really mean to hurt him at all.  I just wanted the armrest down.  And then he was bleeding and everyone was mad and I really just wanted him to be better," he explained.  "You must have been so scared when that happened," I said.  "Yeah.  I really was, Mommy," he replied.  He hugged my leg and went back to playing.  It was the first time he had ever talked to me openly about this incident that happened six months ago.  Somehow, he must have started to feel safe and heard.

This parenting thing is not for the weary.  It is filled with constant challenges every single day.  But when I stop to remember that they are small people that still need the same things I need, it suddenly gets a bit easier to understand them.  Every one, big or small, needs to have their feelings validated even if they seem totally irrational.  Once we feel loved and accepted, we can get real and so can they.  I'll keep reading and sharing with the hope that I can make your day a bit easier, too.

Do you validate your children's feelings or try to rationalize with them?  How can you put yourself in their shoes a bit more today?

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