In this series of articles about developing lifelong sibling relationships, I am trying to encourage young moms who are in the trenches dealing with the day-to-day skirmishes of sibling rivalry to stay strong. As a mom with grown children, I can well remember those days with little ones, but I also can see the solid, loving relationships my children now have as adults. Looking back, there were things the Lord directed Steve and me to do that I can share in a practical way with moms who have younger children. If you haven’t read the first three articles, here is the link to them.
As a follow-up to last month’s article, I want to tell you about our “offense-clearing” time. We learned this from some dear friends of ours who shared about it in a newsletter they used to produce. Throughout the day, we suggest that our children clear their consciences and rebuild broken relationships by asking anyone whom they have offended, wronged, or hurt to forgive them. However, the practical reality is that this doesn’t always happen during the day.
At the end of our family Bible time, Steve asks each of us, if there are any offenses that haven’t been righted already. If so, we are given the opportunity to ask forgiveness then so we have cleared the sin before we go to bed. Steve’s question allows us to consider our failures of the day and take care of them with the other person as the Lord would have us take care of them.
I believe that learning to clear their offenses helped our children to become more sensitive to being careful with their words, attitudes, and actions toward each other. There is an accountability that takes place when we know that we will confess to the other person how we have wronged him and ask forgiveness. It also helps to avoid bitterness that can grow when hurts are committed but not dealt with. “I was wrong. Please forgive me,” are powerful words in relationships when stated sincerely.
We did not allow our children to be physically aggressive toward each other. They were not to hit, pinch, pull hair, or do anything to hurt one of their siblings. We have seen families where those kinds of actions are ignored, winked at, or thought a normal part of childhood. What we have observed is that where sibling aggression is tolerated, the sibling relationships suffer. We didn’t even let the boys wrestle with each other because we learned early on with our first two boys that when they wrestled, one got hurt. If there was to be rough housing, it was with Daddy on the living room floor.
We were careful to teach the children that anger was wrong. “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). We didn’t let them yell at each other, belittle each other, call each other names, or have other expressions of anger toward one another.
With our older three children, we discovered the damage that friends did to sibling relationships. When the children played with their friends, they were unkind to their siblings, and they came to prefer their friends to their siblings. There were hurtful words and actions from one sibling to another because of the desire to spend exclusive time with the friend. Steve and I knew that the lifelong relationships were the sibling relationships, and those were the ones we chose to protect. We did that by limiting individual friends and moving to family friends where the children could all play together in the setting of two families spending time together.
We unexpectedly happened upon the power of doing family work projects for building all family relationships, including those between siblings. Through the years, Steve has always been a dad who was willing to slow down whatever project he was doing in order to allow his children to work with him. It would have been much more productive as far as completing the project for him to do it alone. However, by involving his children, he not only gave them practical skills that they take with them when they start their own families, but he also built sibling relationships.
During those hours of working on a project, there is talking and fellowshipping going on—lots of it in our family because of how much we enjoy each other and like to talk to each other. If there were hard situations between the children, those would often come up, be discussed, and worked toward resolution. For the project to be completed, the children had to work together. Family turned out to be the perfect place to learn teamwork.
When Steve involved the children in his projects, whether it was car repair, home repairs, remodeling, yard work, or a building project, he was doing it to help them learn that they could tackle almost any home project. Steve’s mom had given him that attitude, and he wanted to pass it on to his children. The side benefit we discovered as the years advanced was that not only were the children learning to be self-sufficient with home tasks, but they were also becoming better friends. When siblings are working together toward a common goal, they are on the same side pulling together toward the finish line.
The final suggestion that I can pass on to you are Steve’s weekly meetings with the children. For about twenty years now, Steve has had a one-on-one, planned, weekly meeting with each child from the time that child is four or so until he is married. During the meeting, the child is free to bring up anything that is on his heart—issues with Steve or me, with their siblings, with their walk with the Lord, or with what they are doing. Concerning sibling relationships, this has allowed Steve to give comfort, guidance, and encouragement in how to deal with the challenges that will come to sibling relationships. It allows the child to talk about a problem, stemming the possibility of bitterness growing because of issues that had been kept bottled inside and unresolved. Since the meetings are personal and consistent, the issues are addressed on an ongoing basis, helping the child work toward resolution.
Remember the undergirding for all these relationships between our children will be prayer. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Pray when there are problems, and pray when there aren’t that the relationships can be strong and sweet. It is the Lord Jesus Who works in hearts.
We have watched our children grow from the normal squabbles of young siblings into adults who enjoy being with each other. There is always laughter and conversation between our children, who are now all adults except for sixteen-year-old Mary. They are quick to help each other, admonish each other, and ask forgiveness when they have wronged each other. We think you want those kinds of relationships for your children as well. Perhaps some of what the Lord was showing us to do for a positive outcome in sibling relationship will be helpful to you with your children.