Last month, I shared the joy of the relationships that I observe between our eight children, especially the six that are still at home. Their ages range from sixteen to thirty (thirty-six if we include the two who are married), so my children are much older than many of the children in the families who are reading this article. I also described their failures and how they now deal with them since they are all adults or almost adults. My desire was to encourage younger moms not to lose heart as they work with their children to facilitate solid sibling relationships. In addition, I wanted to provide some practical suggestions for how that might be accomplished. If you haven’t read that article, you may do so here.
Growing up, our children were very normal children, with conflicts between them—bickering, selfishness, tattling, and other negative aspects of childish behavior toward a brother or sister. We well remember the Christmas trip from Florida to Kansas we made to visit my parents with three little children in the back seat, ages one, three, and five. There was no end to the conflicts that arose between those children. The three-year-old was even unhappy with his brother for looking out his window! While it is laughable to us now, back then by the end of that trip, Steve and I thought we would never take the children anywhere again!
While that was the reality of our little children, it was never where we wanted those relationships to remain. It was always the prayer of our hearts and the direction of our parenting to help our children learn to be kind to each other, settle disputes lovingly, ask forgiveness for offenses, and develop positive, lifelong relationships.
Although daily struggles were the norm when our children were little, they are no longer the norm and haven’t been for a long time. We have the advantage of being able to look at the relationships our children have now that they are grown versus what they were when they were young. The development of those positive relationships was a day-by-day, step-by-step process that took God’s grace and wisdom, plus our investment in time to help those children, work with them, and encourage them. I would like to motivate each of you to do the same and not be discouraged by your daily reality when it doesn’t match the desires of your heart for your children.
I believe the greatest progress in those positive sibling relationships came when we started having consistent, daily family Bible time. That forty-five minutes or so every evening impacted much of our lives, including the children’s interactions with each other. Steve and I became Christians about a year after we were married, and we occasionally heard a sermon that would mention the importance of family Bible time. However, it was years down the road before it became a conviction and then a reality in our home. Once we began having daily family Bible time, there was no turning back. The changes were too good, and our hearts were so filled with our Lord Jesus Christ and His truths that we have continued the habit to this day.
During family Bible time, Steve had the opportunity, in a non-confrontational way, to discuss a verse we would read and how it applied to the way we treated others, including brothers and sisters. He could make the Scriptures real and practical for the children. For example, we might be reading through Colossians and come to these verses: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:12-14). Steve could ask the children what each of those words meant, have them give examples of how they would relate to getting along with their brothers and sisters, and have them think of times when that happened and when it didn’t happen. We might discuss forgiveness and the way Christ forgave us while the children figured out how that could apply to their conflicts with a sibling. We would regularly bring up the fact that bitterness grows with lack of forgiveness.
Did the children get it the first time we talked about it? Of course not. They were children, and children act like children. However, those godly attitudes were always the goal on our hearts for them, and we continued to encourage, admonish, and exhort them toward that end. With each year of teaching, growth, and maturity, the relationships between them also became better.
That time in the Word was the most powerful offensive weapon we had for building strong sibling relationship and hindering negative ones. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Pick out some verses that will help your children in their relationships with each other and then sweetly, quietly, and gently use them. Even a two-year-old can memorize simple verses. Here are a few you could start with:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
“ . . . love one another . . .” (John 13:34)
“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Proverbs 20:11)
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
For younger children, you could just take part of a verse, such as Ephesians 4:32, and have them simply learn “be ye kind.”
To raise brothers and sisters who love each other is probably a desire on each of our mothers’ hearts. Those who have young children are likely to become discouraged when they are daily bombarded with less-than-loving actions, words, and attitudes between their children. I want to encourage you to continue to work with your children, using Scripture to direct their hearts. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). Next month I will address the questions posed by a college graduate who has worked as an executive director but is stumped by squabbling toddlers. Maybe there are many moms who feel like she does.