Today’s Table Talk on the benefits of sibling rivalry is generously provided by our friend Kathleen Fischer. If you haven’t read her previous blog,Getting Clutched by Acceleratorstake a look. Thanks Kathleen! Great stuff for our moms with multiple kiddos.

… and thanks for walking the road with me.


As a girl with three older brothers, I would have been the first to propose the virtues of only children! I hate to admit that they too would likely have been thrilled to unload me. Take the day my next older brother tried to convince me that Mom and Dad didn’t love me as much because I was adopted. As sure and certain proof of my inherent “otherness”, he pointed out, they were all boys. If I were really a family member, I’d be a boy too. His logic confounded me and I went wailing to my mother. It took yet an older brother telling about his memory of the day I was born to convince me I did indeed belong! Ah, siblings! The only thing worse than having them is not having them!

Let’s begin by considering that for most young children, they begin life asthe center of the universe, or so they believe. For a while, everything does revolvearound them. If that arrangement continued, those kids would grow into adults whoare arrogant, self-centered, demanding, inconsiderate, obnoxious jerks. Enter siblings, to the rescue!

The thing which makes brothers and sisters so perfect for the job of socialization is that Mom and Dad love them as much . . . equality is built in.

It takes hardly any time at all before siblings have differences of opinions about exactly who is the center of the universe, and therefore deserves the bigger piece of cake, and so on. Before we know it, the family feud is off and running…. And it’s long lasting, can become almost constant, and, did we mention, annoying to all. *

But before we’re too quick to command peace (can that really happen?),let’s consider the value of fighting in your home.Yep, I said “value.” What we’re about, after all, is preparing our kids to live in the real world. One adage says, “Don’t try to prepare the road for your kids; try to prepare your kids for the road.”Doing battle with their sibs certainly prepares kids for parts of the road.

It often begins with sharing, almost a developmental impossibility before age three. As our six year old (or older) tries to get our two year old to share,frustration begins to mount.Maybe tolerance will prevail for a moment. If our six year old is self-restrained, he may not hit. We’ll know for sure he’s making progress when we see him employ tactics of diversion or compromise. He may learn only to open those enticing crayons when the door to his room is closed and he can work in private.By the time all the kids know how to talk, maybe long before, arguing has begun in earnest. Voices rise, negotiations fall apart, someone is in tears. We’re shouting, “Use your words, use your words!” to little avail.We begin to notice that although the younger child often gets out talked, out bargained, out maneuvered, she is beginning to learn her own ways of settling the balance. After all, there is always whining and crying and the ever popular grab and run. When all else fails, tattling often brings down that oh-so powerful older sib. But, it turns out that if you “win” today’s battle by anti-social means, your brother or sister doesn’t like it. Tomorrow, he won’t let you in his room or touch his stuff or go with him and his friends. Then again, another day, when his friends are at summer camp and he’s bored, you may be tolerated if you observe the rules of play and power.

Built into siblinghood are Life’s greatest social challenges::

– compromising to get what you want;

– learning to deal with people who just don’t want you around;

– waiting your turn;

– not hogging the swing/ball/bike/video game;

– not being a know-it-all even if you do know the answers;

– acting nice because there is something in it for you (read: self interest).

When someone argues with you, someone who carries the equity of family membership, you have to learn to fashion an argument, how to hold your ground even when you can’t explain why. And perhaps, most important of all, when feelings get hurt and someone is genuinely treated badly, the offender has to figure out how to mend things. Apologize? (My brothers would rather have died!)

Compromise? A silent peace offering? An open gesture of good will, even born ofguilt, can get things back on track. In Life, it is required that we know how to have falling outs and continue along in relationships.

I have recently been working with families who have young adult children; in one situation, an only child. These young folks are great “kids”: bright, accomplished, great looking; polite and socially polished; pursuing impressive educational goals. But what has brought these people to my attention is some quirks in relationships which have brought them to their knees. One perfect example is The Girlfriend. More than one of these young men has a Girl Friend From the Black Lagoon; girls who make bizarre and selfish demands; girls who attempt to control these guys beyond any reasonable relationship. The guys’ greatest flaw, it seems, is that they’re too nice. Psychologists might call it “setting boundaries.” As I listen, it occurs to me that these fine young men missed a couple of installments of a whining, bratty little sister who cried if she didn’t get her way. I am reminded again of the value of fighting.

So, this week or this summer, when disagreements arise and tempers flare, remind yourself that his or her future room mates or future spouse will thank you for allowing fighting to shape and refine that precious kid’s social skills. Put on your I-pod, sip your lemonade, and work outdoors until the Truce has been arranged.

* While I believe there is much to be learned from the normal wear and tear of family living, including the unpleasant “fighting,” I am, of course, NOT a fan of unfair fights, continuous bullying or devastating teasing. One child should never be constantly on the receiving end of abuse. The “fighting” I’m talking about here is the typical, albeit wearing, sibling junk. One way to discern “typical” is, as you overhear the argument, to ask yourself, “Does he have a point?” The challenge then is to let them work at making their points and solving the situation.

{Kathleen M. Fischer, longtime Dallas resident and mother of three, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. In a career spanning more than thirty-five years, she has worked in public health settings; taught in public school and at the university level; and presented professional educational seminars. Kathleen continues to be a popular speaker in corporate, professional, church and community settings, often presenting topics from her recent book,Bringing Our Boys Through the Second Decade. Please visit her website ( to purchase a book or learn more about Kathleen.}

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