Survival of the Fittest? Sibling Rivalry At Its Finest


I grew up the second oldest in a family of four and there has always been sibling rivalry.  I have two brothers and a sister, and we are all four years apart. Growing up, we were pretty close and shared so many fun memories of family trips, weekly dinners, and our 1980s basement antics complete with Nintendo 64, VHS movies of “Goonies” and “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.”

Today, as grown adults, we all have our own lives and are pretty busy. We keep in touch but are not as close as we once were. My two boys are only three years apart, and I see their closeness already.

I am also noticing that it brings up other not so fond memories from my childhood; sibling rivalry. 

Coming from a large family, my siblings and I were constantly competing for our parent’s attention. There were often screaming matches of, “Why can she do that?” “Why doesn’t he ever get in trouble?” and the occasional, “You love them more than me.” I vividly remember as an adult having a conversation with my mom and her saying, I don’t have a favorite, but I love your brother the most!”  

I don’t have four children, but I have two very energetic boys who demand a lot of my attention. I find that they are continually asking for snuggle time or special alone time with mommy. I try to give them each an equal amount of special mommy time, but as a busy, working mom, this is not always so easy. 

My boys are at the stage in life where they love and fight hard. There are times when I sneak up on them and witness the beautiful, brotherly bond they share as they are helping each other build a LEGO set. As sweet as those moments are, I am more likely to enter a room and hear the bickering and name-calling associated with who gets the remote or who gets to stay up later. 

As they are getting older and forming their own personalities, I have noticed that my oldest is particularly sensitive to any attention that his little brother gets. I am trying to be mindful of how I act around both boys or the responses I give to each of them, but man, is this parenting thing hard! 

Research has shown that a child’s relationship with his/her mother significantly impacts sibling rivalry. “Most of the research on children’s sibling relationships has emphasized maternal rather than paternal influences,” says a study by Kramer and Baron. Sure, it’s always the mother’s fault! 

The research notes that it is not just working mothers who have a hard time giving special time to each of their children, but even stay-at-home moms need to find the balance between quality time versus the quantity of time spent. Both parents need to be aware of their time spent with each of their children and take notice when one sibling seems particularly jealous of the other. It’s just another task in the lives of already over-booked parents, but it’s an important one.

I hope that my boys will continue to share a bond as they grow older, and I know that sibling rivalry is all just a part of life. In fact, I asked my dad, who is a psychiatrist, when does the sibling rivalry end? His response was,

“I don’t know, you tell me. has it ended?” 

So, it’s clear that even in adulthood, the competition for a parent’s attention is constant. I need to be sure that each of my boys feels special in their own way. My goal this summer is to incorporate more “dates” with each of my boys alone so that they feel special and can get that one-on-one attention they crave.

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with sibling rivalry?


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