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Do you ever feel like you’re failing to help your kids cultivate brother and sister love?
Let me tell you a story!
The sun was baking our skin off and the freedom of summer called our names. But I made all three of my big kids sit down and take a spelling placement test anyway. I won’t lie, there weren’t many “happy hearts” sitting at that table, including my own.
I called out the words to all three of them, figuring that the youngest wouldn’t get many correct and that the oldest was going to breeze through it. Despite their age differences, they were all still supposed to start with this placement test, so it only made sense to get it all over with at once.
Until I saw the tears. We had finished grading the test and one of my children had scored the lowest out of all three. And she wasn’t the youngest. She was embarrassed. Jealous. And pretty much just downright mad.
I had totally failed her.
I knew she wasn’t going to do very well. I even had a sneaking suspicion that her brother would blow her away. But I was more concerned about saving time and getting it done. I didn’t even stop to consider the effect it would have on her.
Ironically, that night we were working on Week 2, Day 3 of My Brother’s Keeper and the entire message was about putting your siblings above yourself. I found myself shrinking deeper and deeper in the chair as the conviction washed over me like a hot shower on a sunburn.
I didn’t put my daughter above my own desire to get it done faster. I didn’t even stop to consider her at all. And worst of all, I had set her up to dislike and cause dissension amongst her siblings.
Parenting is hard enough without this fleshly beast of “self” that I carry around on my back. I went to bed that night wishing it was easier, half ignoring the real need for me to change something.
But I couldn’t let that little episode go. The next day I called her in and asked her to forgive me for not thinking of how she would feel about going up against her brother. I reminded her that God gifts us all in unique ways and we talked about how it wasn’t so much spelling for her. We laughed and hugged and she sang me the latest song she had created.
As I think back on that day I am reminded that our job as parents is not an easy one. It’s far easier to fall short and disappoint. But I’m also reminded that God has put these children in my care and He indeed wants me to protect them not just from the evil of the world, but also the snarls of their siblings. How can I do that if I’m not careful with my own behavior? Ephesians 6:4 spells out this command like this…
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Have you ever considered the ways that we as parents might be provoking our children to anger, causing strife amongst siblings? I’d love to share a few of the ways I’ve thought of.
How to Cultivate Brother and Sister Love
Brother and Sister Love Doesn’t Compare
This one probably comes as no surprise to you, but you probably don’t realize how much you do it. Even if it’s ever-so-subtle, comparison of your children will not only harm their self-worth, it will create a volatile battle ground between siblings. Not comparing means we don’t talk about how Johnny is better at math than his brother. It also means that we are intentional about protecting them, too. Don’t pit them against each other in a math facts contest.
Yes, a little healthy competition could be good for children when their peers are involved, but siblings are not peers. Don’t use one child’s weakness or strength to motivate another child. It’s a costly mistake when it comes to sibling relationships.
How to fix it ~~~> Instead, help them appreciate their uniqueness. Praise each child for things that God has uniquely gifted them with. And then have their siblings share things, too. Sometimes we do this while driving. I call it a “pat on the back party.” I name a particular child and then we take turns sharing something we love about them or something we saw them do well this week.
Brother and Sister Love Isn’t Jealous
Ok, so this is a piggyback on number one, but it bears mentioning. Are you content with how God gifted your child or are you constantly pushing him/her to be more like a sibling (or a friend’s child)? Your immediate gut answer is no. But it’s probably not the whole truth. Just think about it for a minute. Are you ok with your child’s academic struggles? How about their athletic struggles? In your heart of hearts, do you want them to be an amazing musician?
If you answered yes even a tiny bit, then it’s time to step back and appreciate what God is already doing in their lives. Our society has already produced way too many copycats. God is amazingly creative in the way He gifts each one of us. Our job is to find that gift and use it to glorify God.
How to fix it ~~~> Spend some time praying and asking God how He has uniquely gifted each of your children and then ask Him to help you stop pushing them to achieve in other areas. (I’m not saying that means non-academically inclined kids should quit school, but it would be ok to let up on the quest for MENSA scholar, ok?) Find one specific way that your child can use his/her gift now. Perhaps music lessons, art class, a debate team, mission work. Anything!
Brother and Sister Love Isn’t Selfish
When I was growing up, every single thing I owned had my initials on it. When my sister got a gift, so did I. And it was always the same. My mom worked diligently to keep us from fighting. But actually, this practice does the opposite. When we start labeling and staking claim on property, sibling squabbles are right around the corner. This practice creates entitled children who can’t share anything. So, step away from the label maker!
How to fix it ~~~> If your kids are young, start them off with community belongings. Keep the toys in a central place and encourage them to say “ours” and not “mine” when referring to possessions. If your kids are older, sit them down and tell them you’ve taught them the wrong thing. It’s totally ok to do this and will go a long way in teaching them what to do when they make wrong decisions. Explain to them that you want them to share their possessions and not feel as though those things belong just to them.
Brother and Sister Love Isn’t Possessive
Growing up, all I ever wanted was my own room. Maybe you felt that way, too. It’s funny how we desire that though. Once I left home, I had a roommate for the next 16 years! And I’d still have one if I wasn’t single. All those years practicing with my sister paid off. And that is exactly what I tell my children today.
We are not harming our children by having them share rooms with siblings. In fact, it goes the other way. About six months ago we moved into a new home that had an extra bedroom. I allowed the girls to each have their own room. There were some extenuating circumstances that led to this, but the results were clear. The sibling squabbles have not at all improved. In fact, now they are worse. We are constantly dealing with their hearts over the issue of not allowing others into their rooms.
How to fix it~~~> Obviously, keep siblings in the same room! Avoid assigning designated spaces of any kind, aside from a place to put personal items (like clothes, toothbrushes, keepsakes, etc.).
Brother and Sister Love Isn’t Self-Focused
Last spring my sons played soccer with a local community group. I was surprised as I glanced down the sidelines at how many siblings were not engaged during the games. They were playing on electronics, doing homework, or some other activity. This went on every single week.
This kind of practice bugs me because we lose the opportunity for family-building when we feel the need to be entertained while a sibling is playing a sport. When the girls were in a recital, I didn’t allow my sons to play games. Why would I let the girls do that during the activity the boys enjoyed? I believe participating in the lives of siblings leads to the kind of relationship that we are trying to build. And consequently, it decreases sibling fighting.
How to fix it ~~~> I love to try and find activities that allow all (or many) of my children to participate together. For example, my two oldest are in a community choir two days a week. This cuts down the taxi mom syndrome, too. But if you can’t find that, put away the electronics and talk to your children during the game so they can stay engaged in what their siblings are doing!
How do YOU cultivate brother and sister love?
Are you guilty of any of these? What ideas can you share? We’d love to hear your ideas for cultivating brother and sister love in our homes!
Oh, and by the way… in case you’d like a little more help with sibling relationships and teaching your kids to desire that brother and sister love, check out this Bible study: My Brother’s Keeper. I promise you’ll love what it does for your home!