I Love Hate You! Sibling Rivalry and How To Beat It

by Nikki Newhouse - Date: 2007-04-17 - Word Count: 841 Share This!

It is pretty ironic that, tonight, as I sit and contemplate, procrastinate, fidget and generally nibble my way through this column, the main focus of my article has gone up in a puff of smoke. Instead of the usual screaming, arguing and general beating each other round the head with the nearest thing to hand, my kids got along really well today. How inconvenient. Usually, we teeter precariously on the knife edge that is sibling rivalry, something that, I have to confess, totally stumps me. Yes, I can appreciate all the childcare guru analysis about stages, needs, acting out and pushing limits, but, as an only child myself, I simply cannot begin to comprehend what it must be like to have a sibling in the first place, to have to share the people you love most in the whole wide world and, on top of that, to have to share them with people you don't even like all the time. It is profoundly weird for me to imagine my mum giving another child a hug and a kiss and a bedtime story. I found it tough enough to share her with the cat, for crying out loud. My immediate family is quite suffocatingly small and so I did all my growing up in a pretty hit and miss way. Now, as a mother of three, I look back and wonder what on earth I actually did with all that time I would have used punching my sister, had I had one.

Tweenager was 5 when Goldilocks came along and the surges of pure guilt I had when we brought the new bundle home were staggering. Instead of giving her a sister, I felt that I was taking away half a mother. I didn't know how to share her and I didn't know how to let her share me. We stumbled along and all went OK, mainly because Tweenager was still so young, but this was the quiet before the storm as all hell broke loose when Squidget came along. I was frequently off with baby, pureeing mush or squirting milk everywhere and suddenly, my kitchen turned into a permanent arena for what, to me, looked like some kind of bizarre, no-rules extreme contact sport of pushing, shouting and random acts of lying on the floor and screaming. Sibling rivalry had entered our home and I was flummoxed. I sought help. Alpha Female in London is one of five sisters and delighted in making me turn puce with stories of how she and her sisters would viciously scratch each other's faces or throw one another down flights of stairs - over a stolen make up brush. Busy Husband told me story after story about trips to casualty after his sister stabbed his hand with a fork for attempting to steal a chip from her plate, or purposeful and deliberate breaking of each other's fingers. My blood ran cold and I watched and waited for my kids, now aged 8 and 3, to inflict untold misery upon each other in the name of 'normal' sisterly love.

I don't know about you, but I think it is incredibly stressful to live in a house where emotional fireworks might go off at any given time, even if they are those of a toddler and young child. I try to pre-empt explosions before they happen and, if the grenades do go off, my natural inclination is to wade in there each and every time, referee-style with my cap and whistle, and resolve the conflict, usually by just adding a few decibels to the noise levels - not very helpful I admit. So I huff and puff and promise not to get involved and to let them 'find their own way', but after half an hour of combined whining, screeching and unexplained thumps and crashes, I always give in and, ultimately, don't make it any better. Then, five minutes later, they astound me by chasing each other around the garden, beaming and giggling like long-lost best friends.

Sibling rivalry is like watching Darwinian theory in practice: the competition to get attention/love/approval/a new hamster is fierce and the game is (usually) one worth winning. Busy Husband and I really set ourselves up for a fall by having 3 girls: oh, the horror stories I have read about same-sex sibling rivalry and its propensity to cause emotional problems, mental illness, global warming - you name it, they'll cause it, in themselves and others. And yet, as individual kids, neither Goldilocks nor Tweenager are jealous or unreasonable types. Bolshy, stubborn and loud, yes, but pretty laid back. We have done all the 'right' things: given them space/more attention, not favoured one over the other/reprimanded unacceptable behaviour, set out 'rules of engagement'/left them alone. To be honest, we have probably temporarily succeeded in sufficiently confusing them into realising the fight just isn't worth it. Perhaps that's why they made my heart melt today with their affection and general cuteness towards one another. Having said that, I don't think I'll be packing up my hard hat just yet…

Related Tags: children, family, parenting, babies, tantrum, parenting skills, brother, fighting, arguing, siblings, sister

Nikki is a freelance writer whose work is regularly commissioned by and published in a variety of international magazines and newspapers. As a mother of three young daughters, her writing often focuses on parenting and lifestyle issues but, secretly, Nikki also has a 'proper' job, as an expert writer on overseas real estate investment. She acts as a consultant to agents and developers, identifying and marketing key emerging markets. She is currently collaborating with Property Club International. See more at http://propertyclubinternational.net

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