Letting It Work Itself Out

Siblings can learn a lot from working out their own rivalries.
Two brothers happily playing with matchbox cars on a Saturday morning is a good way to start the day.

It’s a little after 7 a.m. on a summer Sunday morning. I wake up to the sounds of beeps. Not the beeps of my alarm clock, mind you, but those emanating from my two boys, ages 6 and 8. Those sounds are followed by honks, screeches and a whole lot of laughter. I wipe the nastiness out of my eyes, check my phone to see what time it is and go to the bathroom. I can still hear the boys giggling down the hall. Next, I open the door to my oldest son’s bedroom to find the boys in their jammies, completely engaged with their Matchbox cars. I’m so impressed that I snap a couple pictures.

“Are you putting this on Facebook?” Tyler asks. At the time, I told him I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. It certainly gave me an idea for this article.

Seeing my sons playing nicely without arguing (or my youngest son, Chase, crying) can sometimes seem like a near miracle. I have older twin brothers and a sister. Being the “accident” child, I’m approximately 14 years younger than they are. Our bonds are different than the one my twos boys share. I never really had to deal with the whole “sibling rivalry” thing.

Chase annoys his older brother Tyler to no end, while Tyler believes he’s completely in charge of my little guy’s life. Tyler is willing to let his little brother play with him, but their often seem to be quite a few stipulations. “You can only play with THESE cars.” “I get to go first.” “I get to be this Pokemon.” “You have to give me a quarter.” I obviously shut that last one down when I found out about it. I took all the quarters Chase was giving Tyler for the “right” to play with him and donated them to the church when I found out what was going on. You know… absolution.

This dynamic can extend to the adult world of work, too. Think about your co-workers — those you see every day. Over time, there’s always one that annoys you to no end. Most days you can stay calm and laugh off their foibles and idiosyncrasies. Then there are those other days when your annoyance shows, you get testy with them and maybe even say or do things you regret. Well, kids are the same way, especially during the summer. Our boys spend all day together. They even go to some of the same camps. There are going to plenty of moments when they crave a break from each other and need some alone time.

Having not been through sibling rivalry situation myself, I’ve made the mistake (and sometimes still do) of jumping in and attempting to referee the boys’ fights when I really ought to stay out of it. I also make the mistake of separating them. My wife, who has two younger brothers closer to her in age, will say, “I don’t want to hear about it unless someone is bleeding. Work it out.” What she really means is that unless it’s physical or a deep, emotional kind of hurt, give your kids the opportunity to come up with a solution on their own … as long as it doesn’t involve bribes.

Some sibling rivalry is normal and healthy. The arguments over who kicked, punched, wrestled too hard, chased, cheated, laughed at or ignored who make the serene Matchbox car moments even better.  And if that isn’t enough, there’s always the pleasant realization that they’ll be back in school in a few months.