Sibling Rivalry

It’s as old as the story of Cain and Abel.   Fighting, sparring, competition, anger, resentment.  Harold Kushner in How Good Do We Have to Be? states that the concept of original sin refers not to the Adam and Eve story, but rather from the belief that there is not enough love to go around.  This belief, he says, is the basis of sibling rivalry.

Furthermore,  the personal and family issues that we fail to resolve are passed to our children, which now become the family legacy.

But must it be our destiny?

My guess is that these sibling relationships are formative, i.e. where we learn to have intimate relationships with non-parental others.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have parents or other role models and mentors that can provide early guidance as to how to love and accept others despite their differences and close proximity.   If we don’t learn these skills as a child, we will hash them out in our friendships and love relationships.  And that can get ugly.

Additionally, some of us are slow learners and late bloomers.  We will struggle with sibling and romantic relationships alike.  Some of us may have more than one attempt to get the marriage-thing right. And unlike marriage, your sibling will always be your sibling, even if your spouse may not be there ‘til death do you part.  Therefore, since – though it may not feel like it – your sibling will always be “there”, and whatever issues you don’t resolve will get passed to your kids, you might as well try to make the relationship the best that you can.

Here’s what I would’ve told that bratty teenaged/twenty-something Susanna:

  1.  Reality – Just because you’re sure “this is how it is” does not mean that your perception is actually reality.  Your sibling has a completely different reality which is just as valid.  You’d try to understand her reality if you weren’t so stubborn and/or feeling hurt.
  2. Favorites – There are no favorites.  Mom and Dad love us equally, but treat us differently.  Duh.  We are different people.
  3. A Problem – If you think your sibling is a problem, then it’s really you who are the problem.  Focus on how you can be more loving and supportive because that’s all you can change.
  4. Someday you’ll need to depend on each other – Don’t burn that bridge.
  5. An asset – If you’d quit being so full of yourself, you’d learn that your sisters are really actually quite amazing and wonderful people, whose differences are really an asset to you.  Stop judging what you don’t understand.  Stop thinking you understand because you have no clue.
  6. There are very few people in this world that will always be “there for you” – Stop taking that for granted and treat this special relationship with the respect it deserves.


Like everything else I write about in this blog, this by no means suggests that I have the best sibling relationships in the world.  In fact, my sister recently told me, “…and I don’t think we really like each other.”  However, the fact that she was able to say that to me reflects how far we have come.  She trusted me enough to hear that in the spirit for which it was offered.  Besides, who ever said that “like” has to come with “love”?

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