Friday, September 20th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
When I was around eight, I went with my mother and sister to a flea market. I was still young enough to be excited about buying other people’s garbage, but not quite old enough to understand the complicated dynamics of the sibling relationship. I only knew I wanted to walk away from this thing with at least as much as my sister did. After scouring the general area for about an hour and finding nothing of value, I spotted what I considered to be the real “get” of this otherwise lackluster sale — an orange skateboard. It was plain, it looked cheap and used, but it was a skateboard nonetheless. A few of my friends had them, and I wanted one pretty badly. So I made an iron-clad pitch to my mother, which consisted of jumping up and down and flailing my arms like E. Honda from Street Fighter. It didn’t work. I was told that I was simply too young to own a skateboard. But who wasn’t too young, you might ask? My sister of two years my senior. She was apparently the perfect age to begin her epic journey into the world of ollies and kickflips….or to dutifully toss the skateboard into her closet under her Strawberry Shortcake backpack, never to see the street once. I’ll let you guess which of the two happened.
Before I catch heat for pointing an accusatory finger at my sister or mother, I assure you that I’ve done the same thing with my own kids. Trying to maintain a balance between my sons is potentially the most challenging part of parenting. So whenever I’m tasked with being the reluctant referee between them, I do my best to consider both of their perspectives. After all, the thought patterns of the older child are markedly different from those of the younger. In general, here’s the difference:
Older sibling’s mentality: “I was here first. Everything used to be mine. Suddenly, I’m sharing? What’s that sh*t about? Oh, and I absolutely must have more than [younger sibling].”
Younger sibling’s mentality: “I’ve had to share since Day One. Can I get anything first? A bowl of ice cream, a stapler remover, anything?! Oh, and it would be kind of nice if I had at least half of what [older sibling] has.”
Right from the start, siblings are put into a position to hate each other’s guts. And I certainly see it with my kids. It never fails. My 4-year-old son, Antonio will be building a house with Legos when my 2-year-old son, Nate will nonchalantly stroll over and knock the house down, like a tiny Godzilla. Now, I can 100% understand Antonio’s furious anger in this case. He was minding his own business when someone else came along and ruined his good time. Anyone, child or adult, would at least be mildly annoyed by that. But then there are moments that aren’t so cut and dry…
In another instance, Antonio is eating a donut. Since Nate has a soy allergy and tons of foods are off the table (literally and figuratively), he can’t eat donuts. Antonio sees this as his opportunity to taunt Nate like he’s NFL defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and had just sacked Tom Brady. Nate sees this as his opportunity to squeeze Antonio’s ear like it’s a Hypercolor shirt. Chaos ensues.
Clearly, there’s fault on both sides. And it would be unfair of us to only punish Nate for landing the first blow just as it would be unfair to punish Antonio harder simply because he’s “older and should know better.” So we punish them both. That way, they loathe my wife and I more than they loathe each other. Ultimately, it’ll save us more aggravation later.
So with that in mind, here are some strategies I intend to implement with my sons to make an attempt at curbing the dreaded sibling rivalry.
1. Reward evenly. Punish evenly.
This likely won’t surprise my regular readers, but my wife is much more consistent with this than I am. If we come home from work with a toy for one of them, we (and by we, I mean my wife) make sure we balance out the exchange by bringing one for our other son as well. It’s not only fair, but it helps to ensure one of them doesn’t grow to be resentful of us or their brother. My only concern with this tactic, though, is it could lead to our kids still expecting precisely even treatment into their 30s and 40s. And sorry, I’m not calculating the time I spent at one of their houses for Thanksgiving down to the second. Also, it’ll make us poor.
2. Deflate their heads, when necessary.
We all have egos, and it’s likely our siblings are the ones who have to stomach them the most. A great way to enable the growth of that ego is to raise your children to believe that they can do no wrong. I want my boys to know they are capable of doing plenty wrong. This especially applies to how they compare with kid #2. If my younger son is the less athletic of the two but excels at online chess, I want my older son to know that this is an example of him not being superior to his younger brother. Keeps the ever-precious ego in check and ensures that both my kids know that their successes are equally important to us. Besides, chess players are injured far less frequently (saves on medical bills)
3. Remind them what brotherhood means.
You guys are brothers. That’s a special bond you share with each other and no one else. Are you really going to let a few broken bones, a girl known as “Butterscotch” and a night in jail come between you? That’s what I’m prepared to say if I’m ever at a police station at 4:00 a.m.
4. Lead by example (don’t be a jerk).
If I’m not respectful of my wife, how can I expect either of my children to be respectful of the other? Meaning, if I’m reaching over and simply swiping the remote control out of her hand, I shouldn’t be surprised if my sons are equally as grabby. It’s especially challenging to be consistent with this (because asking “May I please have the remote, dear?” makes me feel like Mr. Rogers) but it’s crucial for us to set the tone and not be jerks with each other. If we’re constantly bickering, they’ll grow up thinking it’s acceptable to act that way. So I plan to do all of our bickering behind closed doors instead, like responsible adults.
Ultimately, my kids will have more than their share of fights. I get that. But I believe if I raise them with a healthy respect for each other’s belongings and offer regular reminders that there’s more than one king (or prince) in this castle, they’ll be well-balanced enough to both stand on the proverbial orange skateboard without falling or pushing each other off.
Do you have any strategies to avoid sibling rivalry, or perhaps an old strategy that disastrously failed? I want to hear about it! Feel free to add a comment below to keep this conversation going! Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero for more parenting stories, inane observations, and acutely specific social commentary.
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