Summertime Blues: Sibling Love – Or Lack Thereof
Summertime Blues: Sibling Love – Or Lack Thereof
Prior to having children, I distinctly remember an outing with a friend and her two young children. We sat on a park bench, caught up on life, and listened to her youngsters argue. My weary friend interrupted our conversation several times in order to break up the ongoing argument. I don’t remember what they were fighting about, but I do remember thinking, “When I have kids, they will not fight like that.”
And that hasn’t gone so well for me. On a road trip a few years back, I documented the causes for various arguments: You are totally on my side (I actually considered marking off spaces for each child); She keeps touching the side of my leg (side-leg touches are the worst…apparently); You are the most annoying ever (and so was the arguing); You just smell (truth be told…); Her popcorn is all over my side of the floor (for heaven’s sake).
Whether it’s here, there, or anywhere, sibling fighting is inevitable. I tip-toe into these conversations with other parents, just in case mine are the only ones who fight because a sibling followed them outside.
Seriously? Isn’t the “outside” kind of big enough for all?
Alas, I am not alone in the pangs that sibling arguing can cause parents. In anticipation of the summer schedule, including quite a bit of family “togetherness,” I’ve spent some time reflecting on how we should respond as parents when these struggles present themselves.
Love is the expectation
Our kids are sinners, just like we are, so it’s foolish to expect their relationships to be perfect. This doesn’t mean that disrespect should be tolerated, but if our expectations are realistic, we can be better prepared with how to handle sibling arguing in a godly way.
1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God who he has not seen” The Bible makes clear that we cannot live in a disposition of hatred toward our brothers and sisters. As our children grow, the expectation should not be a conflict-free relationship, but one that models genuine love for each other.
As they mature, that love may be demonstrated in the midst of deeper conflict. Most of us are familiar with Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” In the Hebrew, the analogy is a picture of one man sharpening the face of another. This seems a little strange until you see it in the context that a man’s tool was not suitable for its intended job when dull, but when the face of the sword was sharpened against another iron tool, it became extremely effective. In the same way, as our kids grow and mature, we can expect that their love for one another will include careful but persistent sharpening, which involves both speaking and listening.
I’m grateful to have two sisters who are my best friends, but this was not always the case. We’ve (OK, “I’ve”) gone from cutting off pigtails (my poor mother), sharing little, and fighting over clothes to being best friends who are learning to sharpen one another. What I remember in the midst of many sibling arguments is my parent’s never-ending exhortation to love each other. I might have rolled my eyes as a kid, but I heard what they said, and I listened to their Biblical reasoning.
God has made each of us unique, and because of that, each relationship is going to look different. Some siblings will end up being best friends, others start out as buddies and remain that way for a lifetime, and some siblings may not end up being quite as close. As parents, we can’t control how these relationships will grow and change, but what we can do- what we’re called to do – is pray for their hearts and expect that as they grow in their relationship with their Lord, their love for each other will deepen.
Love modeled and taught
In teaching our kids what it looks like to love, we need to remember that they are watching how we handle conflict. Our children emulate what they observe.
I fully admit that I struggle with this. I have actually stuffed an article of my husband’s clothing in a sauce-ridden pizza box because I was angry with him. This would be an example of what not to do when you’re angry. The truth is, it’s not always easy to work through frustrations with a loved one, so as parents we need to be patient as we teach and prayerful as we learn. With that in mind, there are two important concepts found throughout Scripture that we should regularly seek to model and teach:
First, we must teach what it looks like to control our tongues. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” As parents, it’s important to control our use of harsh words, and we need to teach our kids to do the same. How to put this into practice is where the going gets tough.
Here are two helpful tools to implement, both of which can be useful to discuss when things are calm. First, assist children in learning to stop before they speak and then help them to consider another person’s perspective. Remind your children that when they’re angry, it’s important to stop, take a breath, and wait for even five seconds before they speak. Then take some time to show them what it looks like to consider the other person’s view. Ask questions like: “If you were her, would that have made you angry too?”
Second, it’s equally important that we are teaching and modeling forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Asking forgiveness from a child when we have erred is one of the most humbling things we will do as parents, but it is right and Biblical. We can’t expect our kids to admit when they are wrong if we are not willing to do the same.
Don’t forget to show grace. This isn’t easy when there is persistent arguing, but we’ve been shown it abundantly by an ever-gracious God who has lavished it on us even in our ugliest state. Press on, mom and dad, and enjoy the times of “togetherness,” even when they become trying. The days of anger over side-leg touches are fleeting, but what we can teach them through God’s Word in the midst of it, Lord willing, will last a lifetime.