Sunday, November 4, 2012

The oh so complicated sibling relationship

Recently this picture was posted on the Parent's Magazine Facebook page.   At first I thought, "this is great!  I need one of those!"  

We have five children, so sibling fights and disagreements are a daily occurrence at our house.  As a tired and sometimes overwhelmed mom, it is very difficult to find a solution that works, a technique that convinces my children to love one another at all times, play nicely, share, and to think of their brother or sister first.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

After giving it some thought and reflecting on my own adult sibling relationship, I started to wonder if this technique is such a good idea after all.   I have one brother that is 3 years younger than me.  We grew up pretty close and did not fight too much.  Well, at least from our prospective.  I'm not sure what our mother's thoughts on that would be.  I think we played well together and usually had fun and enjoyed each other's company.  However, we were not perfect and we did have disagreements at times.  For example, I could not stand listening to him chew his food at the breakfast table.  It drove me nuts!  I used to yell at him from across the table to chew with his mouth closed.  However, I am pretty sure he did not appreciate being cast as the family dog when my friend and I would play house!

Our biggest challenge as brother and sister came about in our adult life.  Several years ago my brother revealed to our family that he is gay.  I can share this because he is now open about it with our family and friends.  It was a very difficult time for him and us as a family.   We had to and are still working through a lot of our differing feelings, thoughts, and view points on the issue.  Things have been said from both parties that have been misunderstood and at times very hurtful.  I tell you this to demonstrate a messy and REAL life issue.  This goes far beyond fighting over a toy, a turn on the Wii, or in our day the Nintendo, or a he touched me argument.   This is one that you can not possibly prepare for.  How do we relate to one another in this situation?  How do we argue, make our points, work it out together, find common ground, agree to disagree, and in the end still love unconditionally and preserve our relationship while holding on to who we are and what we believe individually. It's tough!

I believe the skills to do just that come from our childhood disagreements.  We were never stuck in a shirt and forced to tolerate each other after a disagreement.  Yes, we had to say, "I am sorry."  I am sure sometimes it was done begrudgingly, but it was still a practice that we had to learn.  The practice of apology takes work.  It is hard, embarrassing, and sometimes painful to say I am sorry and to admit that I was wrong.  Even as adults, we hate to have to do that.   Once we get into the practice of recognizing our wrongs and quickly responding it becomes easier and we begin to do it with sincerity.  I will be the first to admit that in this real life situation, I have not always responded in the right way.

I have to wonder if our parents had simply put us together in a shirt titled "The we will get along shirt"  if we would have learned the skills of apology and forgiveness.  We are now having to call on those skills to hold our fragile and struggling relationship together in a very difficult time.  We aren't totally there yet.  We both have struggled and are still struggling.  Now, I am not saying this technique is wrong, I'm just questioning how effective it is in the long run.  Someone else may argue that it is highly effective because of things I have not considered.

I teach my children that the most valuable friendships they hold are the ones with their siblings.  After all, they are truly the only people on earth that have the same history, that share similar DNA, that have the same childhood experiences and memories.  In a lot of ways, the only ones that really "get" you.  Some even have a secret language that only they understand. Even in the midst of trials, I still believe and hold on to this as truth in my own life and sibling relationship with my one and only brother.  I do love him no matter what and without condition!

I am grateful for parents that taught us how to apologize, how to forgive, and how to love.  I hope and pray that I am doing what it takes to equip my children with the skills they need to relate to the people of the world and most especially to each other as they become adults.   I truly do believe in making brothers and sisters best friends!

What scripture tells us about resolving conflict.

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love."  Mathew 18: 15-17  The Message

"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it."   Colossians 3:13  The Message