For several years, my husband and I each had our own dog-eared copy of Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too within easy reach on our individual bedside tables. The classic, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish became our bible during the seemingly endless period when our two boys viewed each other as the enemy, and Bruce and I were the territory to be conquered. We even learned how to tag team -- one of us stayed put and kept the boys from killing each other while the other ran upstairs to frantically flip through the book for a refresher course.
"May you have children just like you," many a mother has wished on her squabbling children, and my own siblings and I certainly tested my mother the way mine tested me. A famous family photo shows the three of us, still grade-schoolers, at eye level to the three drinking glasses placed before us on a coffee table, monitoring whether one held a smidge more Coke than the others.
But more likely than my sons' rivalry being the result of some karma or curse, it probably reflects the fact that all children compete. Humans are hardwired that way.
"You're dealing with very primal stuff, Biblical, Darwinian," says Adele Faber, one of the co-authors of my life raft of a book. "Two sharks in utero will fight to the death so that just one is born. Two baby eagles, the mother ignores the weaker one and the older one will just peck it to death. It's a constant battle. It's like the pilot light on the stove, you can't put it out, but you have to keep it down to a mere flicker."
Speaking of primal, meet NeanderDad. Garrett Rice, a father of two who works in the tech industry, invented the persona to give voice to his feeling of being the helpless, clueless, bumbling father trying to figure out his children.
He has agreed to write periodic essays for Parentlode (you can read the archives of ones he has already written here.) This first is about sibling rivalry (you've figured that out if you have read this far, right?) and his discovery that he had unwittingly sparked it by...well, I'll let you go read for yourself.
Thinking he needed some advice, I called Faber and had her read Neanderdad's dilemma for herself, too. Not surprisingly, she had some advice:
What a discovery he made. Competition can really motivate kids, who, it's really exciting. But the fallout is really terrible. The fallout creates a toxic relationship, it creates a winner and a loser. And you don't want that. Studies have been done about competition at the workplace, and the hostile environment and physical and emotional symptoms of stress it creates. You don't want that in your home.
The goal, she continued, is to replace competition with cooperation. To do this, you might just have to trick the combatants -- as Neanderdad does.
Instead of beating each other, how about getting them to beat the clock. Things like "can the two of you clean up this room in five minutes? what an amazing team you are!" Or "pick a song on the iPod and see if the two of you can put on your pjs with teeth brushed and ready for story time before the song is over.
That is not exactly what Neanderdad did. You can read his essay here. Then use the comments to discuss sibling rivalry at your house -- and please, share any strategies that have worked...