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Sibling Rivalry

My family jokes that when I was a kid and Grandma would bring gifts over, I’d always tell my sister matter-of-factly that the pink item would be for me, and the purple item would be for her. Girly toys seemed to always come in the standard pink or purple, and purple was clearly inferior. But I was the big sister, and my little sister would have to submit to my decisions.

Once she got a little older, she began to realize that she had resources to combat against getting the shaft. She started pointing out to Mom and Dad that I always got the more desirable object, and once they intervened, it was over. Fairness won out.

We lived through childhood and adolescence in relative peace, but when high school came, we were introduced to a whole new world of sibling rivalry. Suddenly sports, school musicals and friends began to overlap, which was a phenomenon we weren’t prepared for. Boys began to like one, followed by the other one of us. Friends would even call asking for her or me, which infuriated us and unsettled our fragile, still-forming identities. We struggled against the concept of our persons being interchangeable, and having similar appearances and talents made it difficult to figure out what made us individually special. We were suffering from sibling rivalry.

Granted, our case was pretty mild compared to other historical instances of sibling rivalry (i.e., Cain and Abel), but it impacted our relationship and who we would become as adults. In his article, “Sibling Rivalry and Why Everyone (and Not Only Parents) Should Care about this Age-Old Problem,” Dr. William Antonio Boyle defines sibling rivalry as “the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters which manifests itself in circumstances such as in the common children’s family fights.” He describes it as the competition for the parents’ limited amount of time, attention, love and approval. My sister and I experienced this competition with our peers, teachers, coaches and youth pastor as well.

Sibling rivalry pops up in the Bible over an over again and shows itself mainly as jealousy. Cain was jealous of Abel’s offering to God. Jacob was jealous of Esau’s birthright and father’s favoritism. Leah was jealous of Rachel’s beauty. Jealousy between siblings seems so much more powerful than jealousy between friends. Why is this?

As kids, we’re around our siblings all the time. They’re the most available person to compare ourselves to, and something in our human nature just can’t help but compare. And adults in our lives don’t help either. Grandpa wishes Jane applied herself the way little brother Johnny did. Mrs. Johnson, the third grade teacher, thinks Kristen has the same knack for writing that big sis Kelly had. And though it wasn’t a problem that my sisters and I encountered, many siblings face favoritism on the part of the parents (although we laugh about my parents telling all three of us kids separately that we were their favorite child). A friend of mine in college broke down crying to me once because her academic giftedness didn’t rank next to her older brother’s athletic abilities in her parent’s eyes. Another adult friend has a sister who doesn’t speak to her because of jealousy over their father’s unbalanced doling out of attention and money.

Countless resources are available to parents on how to deal with sibling rivalry or how to not magnify it. But there’s not too many scholarly articles out there on how to deal with it once we’re adults and can see the deeper issues beneath how it’s not fair that she got to go on a date when she was 14 and I had to wait until I was 16.

One of the first steps is recognizing that we are all individuals with unique talents, gifts and personalities. Even if a sibling has something up on us, that doesn’t make us any less special. The old cliché “God don’t make no junk” applies here. He made us just how we are, and He likes us that way. Some of us have a healthy self image, but most of us need to be reminded from time to time that we have infinite value because we are loved by the One who created us.

Secondly, some of us have parents who damaged us psychologically by making us feel like we don’t match up to our siblings. Others have siblings who intentionally tried to make us feel bad about ourselves in order to feel better about themselves. Most of us, if we’re honest, harbor some grudge against a family member for something or another. That lack of forgiveness only eats away at us, though, and keeps us from experiencing total freedom. It’s time to let it go. Sometimes total reconciliation isn’t in the picture right now. That’s okay. We can still be at peace if we’ve forgiven those family members. Being bitter forever will only make us miserable. Forgive them today.

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Lastly, realize that your siblings are one of the most precious gifts God has given you. Most friends will come in and out of your life, but siblings are there for the long haul. They link you to you past. They understand why your family is so bizarre. They’ve had a profound impact on who you are. They know you in a way no one else can know you. Don’t let little jealousies and rivalries cause you to miss out on the relationships you can have with them. Maybe it’s time to swallow your pride in order to make something right. Just go ahead and do it—give her the pink My Little Pony. You’ll be glad you did.

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