I was sitting in the health unit the other day with the kids - waiting the customary 15 minutes after another round of immunizations - and I noticed the parenting pamphlets all along the wall. I was feeling a little smug as I glanced at the titles - potty training, starting solid foods, developmental milestones of the first year - thinking of the more "inexperienced" parents who might find that sort of information helpful; thinking, I've got 3 kids, people. I'm wa-a-ay beyond all that.
Then I glanced at a title that read "Sibling Rivalry" and my pride was squashed.
Yep, I grabbed it and read it hungrily - looking to glean any tidbits of wisdom that would help me decrease the amount of yelling and hitting and teasing and time-outs and loss of privileges, etc. that goes on in our house on an hourly basis.
Some of it was not surprising - the fact that each child needs our attention and unconditional love. It went on to say that competition for my attention is at the root of a lot of the problems. OK, this makes sense - but I try to give them individual attention (of course, I can always improve on giving more focused attention to each one every day). But, it went on to give examples of how we often compare our kids to each other, like:
"Micah, why can't you learn to eat tomatoes like Keziah?" or "Micah stays in his bed so well at night, why can't you do that too, Keziah?"
Those are more obvious negative comparisons - and I admit we say things like this at times. But telling them to be more like their sibling is probably not the healthiest form of motivation.
Then there are the less obvious comparison comments, like these:
"You're so great at colouring, Micah. Keziah can't even stay in the lines yet!" or "Keziah, you're so much braver than Micah at trying new things."
We mean to compliment our kids, but really we're just reinforcing the sense that we, as parents, are measuring our children against each other.
And how about those frequent comparison comments - made to other adults, but within earshot of our kids:
"When Micah was 4, he could already print his name, but Keziah hardly knows any of her letters yet."
Yep. Guilty, as charged.
So, Erik and I have been much more aware of our language these days. As well as being more intentional about spending time with each child and encouraging their individual interests.
All of this is easier said than done. Comparing our kids is a natural part of being a parent. But even though we know that their differences don't affect the amount we love and value them, our kids may not understand.
We haven't seen any major changes in our house yet. There's still a lot of fighting. And teasing. And threatening to "hate each other for the rest of the day", or better yet, put the other in prison (still not sure why they haven't figured out that their sibling does not have the legal authority to actually do this). The pamphlet did not contain a miracle cure (despite my high hopes...) BUT, it did help me see some small changes we can make that will - hopefully - help decrease the frequency of fighting in the long run.
And as much as I sometimes think we are the only home in the world that endures this much fighting among siblings, I know I must be wrong...