How do we prevent sibling rivalry?

As a mom of three kids, two of whom are twins, one of my biggest challenges is keeping sibling rivalry at bay. I realize that some form of sibling rivalry is inevitable and it’s been happening since the beginning of time (thank you very much, Cain and Abel). My sister and I certainly fought and competed with one another growing up. But I always imagined — before having children – that my kids would love and support one-another, growing-up to be best friends. There were even signs that this might happen when they were very little. My eldest doted on her baby brother and sister when they came home from the hospital, bringing them her blankets and stuffed animals when they cried. When they were toddlers, my twins would waddle out to the playground hand-in-hand, or help each other up when they fell. It was so sweet and heart-warming…and lasted precisely 19 months, 16 days, 3 hours, and 27 seconds.

Now, here I am today with a teenager and two pre-teens. Mornings are torture as they snap at each other, blame each other, and try to boss one another around. Mealtime is filled with arguing over whose turn it is to talk, trying to get one another in trouble, or telling us about what the others did wrong at school that day. And car trips. Oh, don’t get me started on car trips! They are the worst! If I had a dollar for every time I said “no more talking, looking, or breathing at each other until we get home,” I would be able to afford that $30k a year private college my teen is eyeing.

Those pre-children dreams I had of raising three best friends are a distant memory now. Most days I’m just hoping nobody gets pushed down a well or sold to traveling Ishmaelite’s (thank you very much to all of Joseph’s brothers for planting that idea in my kids’ heads)!

I may not be able to completely stop the fighting and bickering that happens between my three, but one area I haven’t been willing to give up on is keeping them from the comparison trap. I never want any of my kids to feel like they aren’t as good as their sibling(s), or that they are expected to be the same. I know that this type of sibling rivalry will only create resentment and separation. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed as they get older this seems to be happening more and more, and it literally keeps me up at night worrying about the impact to their self-esteem, and their relationships.

Despite the many nights spent worrying and praying over this, and my resolve to not let it happen, I can tell you that [spoiler alert] I unequivocally have not figured out a perfect formula to prevent it. But there are a few things that seem to help more days than not, and I’m sharing these with you in hopes you will also share what is working in your family. Maybe together we can create our own play book on how to prevent a lifetime of competition and animosity between our children.

  1. Help them choose goals that are specific to their talents and abilities. This year all of my kids decided to run cross country. The three of them have varying degrees of athletic ability and experience running and if they all had the same goal of coming in first in their age group or running the same time, it would create a lot of frustration, disappointment, and comparison. So I talked to them regularly about what their individual goals were, focusing on improving on their previous times, and achieving personal bests, instead of all vying for the same goals. We do this with grades, too. My youngest daughter has really struggled with her spelling grade, so our focus this year has been on improving that. While my high-schooler has a history of late or missing homework assignments, so our focus has been eliminating those. This way we can celebrate when each child achieves a personal milestone that is meaningful to them, instead of only celebrating who got the most A’s and B’s.

 

  1. Privately encourage the older siblings to mentor the younger ones in specific areas. Now, I realize this may not work in every sibling situation. But my teen is great at making others feel included. She’s always been the kid who seeks out the loners and sits with them at lunch. Meanwhile, my younger daughter has been struggling to balance different groups of friends and the hurt feelings that can come between middle-school girls. Frankly, she doesn’t always like my advice or listen to it because, well I’m her mom – what do I know! So I’ve asked her sister to talk to her about it because my younger daughter looks up to her big sister. It lifts her up to think her big sister is taking a decided interest in her life. Meanwhile, it makes my eldest feel needed and important, instead of feeling annoyed by her little sister.

    If there is something one of your younger kids is struggling with, consider bringing in an older sibling, sharing only what is necessary and appropriate so as not to break confidences, and encourage them to help out. It inspires the older sibling, showing them what an important role they can play, while potentially opening doors to a pattern of siblings confiding in and supporting each other.

 

  1. Never, ever compare one sibling to another out loud. Notice my caveat of “out loud” here. What I really mean is don’t do it in front of your kids. The psychology magazines will tell you we, as parents, shouldn’t compare our kids at all. But just being real here, that’s not easy for me. Always in my head I look at my younger two and wonder how they are twins when they are SO different in every way. I look at my oldest and wonder how it is her sister is so organized and she struggles. I look at my son and wonder why dental hygiene seems to be so much more important to his sisters than it is to him. But I try very hard not to say these things out loud.

    If my children pick-up that I’m comparing them to their sibling and see one child doesn’t quite match another in a specific area, then they start to do this, too. Not only does it become a slippery slope to one feeling inferior to another, but it gives the other sibling a sense of superiority that I don’t want any of my kids to have (ok, well except maybe with the dental hygiene thing – if only my son cared enough about it to be shamed by his sisters!).

 

Those are three tactics I’ve been trying to employ in my house, and have found success, to varying degrees. I would love to hear what works for you and your children!

3 ways to prevent sibling rivalry

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The 52 days that gave me strength and hope

“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” – Psalm 46:4

Recently I was looking at Facebook and a collection of my “September memories” popped up. At first glance, I smiled thinking about all the joy and special times that had come in September. But the reality is there were also a lot of not-so-great moments, struggles that left me feeling very depleted and scared.

In late-August my son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an Anxiety disorder. It came as a shock to us. We had started seeing a new doctor in May to help with medication management for ADHD, which he’d been diagnosed with when he was six. We never expected that the new psychiatrist would tell us he actually did not have ADHD, but instead had OCD and Anxiety.

The last week of August he came off his ADHD medication and began to take medication for OCD and Anxiety. The first week he didn’t sleep for five days straight. It was awful.

By day six he started to sleep and we thought the worse was over. But then he began having these fits of rage and complete loss of self-control. He’s always struggled with controlling his emotions, something that we thought was part of the ADHD and now know is due to his anxiety — but this was different. The first time it happened we were at a playground and he was fighting with his sister so I made him sit down and lose play time. He got so angry he tried to flip over the picnic table and I thought for a moment he might strike me. It really took me by surprise.

Then the next week he had a similar incident at school where he couldn’t gain self-control and ended up screaming at a teacher and kicking over a chair. When I got the call from the school I cried the entire 30 minute drive to pick him up.

It’s a terrible thing to see your child struggling and feel completely incapable of helping him.

But I do believe that God always equips us with exactly what we need to survive the trials and hardships we go through. And it just so happens that the same week we received the formal diagnosis of OCD and Anxiety I had decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. In fact, it was literally the day before my son started on the new medication that I began this challenge. Two seemingly unrelated things. But I can tell you now, 53 days later, this was not an accident.

Yes, September was hard. I had a lot of fear – fear of not being capable of helping my son, fear of not finding the right medicine, fear of having made the wrong choice to allow him to be medicated, fear we didn’t have the right physician to help us, fear that I was completely unequipped to help a son with OCD and anxiety, fear of how others were watching and judging my son for his behavior, fear we would have to pull him out of school.

Many days I felt completely drained by the time evening came. And in those moments I think it would be easy to stay consumed by that fear, to feel hopeless, and empty. But because I had this need to find something to be grateful for each day or to do something for someone else, I wasn’t able to be consumed by my own fear and hopelessness.

I believe when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises.

Yesterday was Day 52 of this journey. We were in church singing about miracles when I felt my son’s hand on my arm. I looked down and saw he was trying to tell me something. This is not unusual, my kids are always trying to ask me something right in the middle of worship. Usually something really important like, “Can I get another donut?” or “Can I go sit with Kaley’s family?” But as I leaned down close to his face to hear what he was saying over the worship music, his words caught be by surprise: “I love you.” Those were the words he had to tell me right in that moment we were singing about God’s miracles, the words that were so important they couldn’t wait till later.

I know our journey with OCD and anxiety, with medication and doctors, with fights over homework and stress about chores is not over. But as I stood there feeling the warmth of my son’s hand on my arm and absorbed the urgency of his words, I felt hope rise up. And as I look at the photos and posts from the last 52 days that Facebook put together, I can see some of the fear, worry, and fatigue that was there, but I mostly see the joy and gratitude I sought after each day.

It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last 52 days I have looked for something to be thankful for and every day for the last 52 days I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine and that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

By living in intentional gratitude, I have been able to lean into God and find hope and strength in Him; I’ve felt the warmth and urgency of His “I love you”.

Psalm 46:4

If you are interested in beginning the practice of intentional gratitude, download this free Bold, Brave & Blessed journal. It can be saved to your computer, or printed to help you recognize your fears, live in gratitude, and put your trust in God.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs LA Photowalk Kid via photopin (license)

The tiniest seed

Have you ever had one of those weeks, or months, where you keep seeing the same message over, and over again?

Usually when that happens to me it’s because God is trying to get a message across. And for the last several weeks it’s been all about a seed.

A mustard seed, to be exact.

How many of you have seen a mustard seed? It’s pretty small, right? Smaller than a 1 carat diamond, tinier than a grain of rice. But did you know it can grow into a tree that is between 6 – 20 feet tall, with a 20-foot spread of branches?!

I only know this because God has put this verse in front of me so many times over the past month that it instigated my need to understand more.

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”  And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”  And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:14-20

One moment Jesus tells his disciples that they are lacking faith and that’s why they could not heal this little boy. But then in the same breath he says all you need is the tiniest amount of faith — just the size of the smallest seed you can imagine — and it is enough to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. At first, I could only gather that Jesus is telling the disciples that their faith is seriously lacking and doesn’t even amount to a tiny seed.

But as I continued read and research more about the mustard seed, and the other times Jesus had used that analogy, I began to understand that it was less a rebuke of the disciples lacking faith, and more a picture of just how big God’s part is compared to ours.

I think what Jesus is really saying is that all you need is a little bit of faith, and God will provide the rest. He will provide the sunshine and rain, and fertilize the soil so our mustard seed size faith can grow and expand to be a 20 foot tall tree.

We bring just a little to the table in comparison to what He brings.

I don’t know about you, but this is such a comfort to me because sometimes I feel like I have just the tiniest bit of faith. When I’m filled with fear, doubt, and anxiety my bold Sunday-morning, tree-sized faith starts to crumble and crack.

When things get really, really bad I let the words from the enemy consume me and my faith shrinks even more.

And then, just when I think I’ve been through every kind of hard there is, when I think my faith can’t possibly be stretched any further, I find myself on my knees sobbing, and crying out, “Lord I don’t think I can do this, I don’t know that I have enough faith to get up off the floor and move forward.”

And He whispers back, “I will pick you up and be your crutch. Lean on me.”

When I think that I’ve done everything God has asked of me, and I’ve trusted him with my future, my marriage, my children. But then my husband is in the hospital, or my child is suffering and scared, I find myself driving down the highway saying, “God, I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know that I have enough faith to trust you to heal them.”

And He says, “I am the divine healer.”

When I’ve said, “Yes, Lord, I want to obey your calling in my life, I am prepared to be your follower, your disciple, I’ll lead small group Bible studies and women’s retreats.” And then right in the middle of a really bad day, when my son is melting down and my husband and I are fighting and 8 friends are about to walk through our front door for Bible study, I think, “God, I am not equipped for this, my faith is too small to offer hope and encouragement to others.”

He says: “It is my hope they seek, not yours.”

This verse reminds me that God does the heavy lifting, not us. We don’t need a huge, mountainous supply of faith because we have a God who more than makes up for our shortcomings. He knows that I will struggle and sometimes my faith will feel really, really small. He knows there are times I won’t feel bold and brave, but scared and broken.

His promise is that as long as I cling to Him with just the thinnest thread of faith, HE will do the rest. He will give me power to move mountains. Because my strength comes from Him, and not from me.

 

 

Matthew 17:20

Bold, Brave & Blessed – A free gift for you

About a month ago I decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. I’m now 35 days into the challenge and it’s blessed me so much more than I expected.

This past weekend I shared with the ladies at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat how the day I started this challenge just happened to be the day before my son started a new medication. What followed was four of the hardest parenting weeks I’ve had in a long time. There were many days I faced my own limitations, fear, and anxiety as I struggled to help my son, seek answers, and trust the doctor.

And I believe that it was no accident that during this time I was also living in intentional gratitude because I had committed to the 90 day of thanks and giving challenge. In many ways, focusing on being thankful each day has kept me centered and tethered to Christ.

You see when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises. It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last month I have looked for something to be thankful for, and every day for the last month I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine, that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

Gratitude keeps us aware of God’s active presence in our life. It can help us overcome fear and anxiety. It enables us to lean into God and find comfort, strength and hope in our relationship with Him, instead of pulling away and being consumed by our troubles. Because of the gift this practice has been in my life, I also wanted to arm the ladies at the retreat with a tool they could use to help them practice intentional gratitude. So I designed the Bold, Brave, & Blessed Journal: A 60 day journey to overcoming fear and trusting God.

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Each day has an encouraging verse of scripture, as well as a place to complete the following statements:

  1. Today I am afraid of….
  2. Today I am asking God to…
  3. Today I am thankful for…

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I’ve been quite overwhelmed with the positive response I received at the retreat and in the days following over this journal. In fact, I’ve received numerous requests for a copy from women who weren’t at the retreat, and so I’ve decided to make it available here for anyone to download and print, for free. All I ask is that you subscribe to my blog first, if you are not already a subscriber.

The journal is designed to be printed front and back, and then folded in half. Below is a picture tutorial on how to print and assemble your journal. I used beautiful hand-painted artwork by The Autumn Rabbit, purchased from Creative Market, so it looks best when printed in color. But the journal works just as well in black-and-white. I also recommend printing on a slightly heavier weight paper. I used 28 pound bright white paper.

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Step 1: print page one, which includes the front and back cover.
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Step 2: print pages 2-30 EVEN on one side, then print pages 3-31 ODD on the other side of the same pages.
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Step 3: Fold each page in half and begin to assemble the book so the days appear in order.
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Step 4: Once you’ve printed and folded you can either saddle stitch (staple at the crease) or tie with thread to bind your booklet.

 

Feel free to print as many copies as you like and share with friends. However, I do ask you don’t load the file to your own blog or website for distribution, and instead link back to this site if you want to share online or via social media.

Click here to subscribe and download your free “Bold, Brave & Blessed” journal.

 

No time for grace

My face flushed and my heart started to race as I felt all eyes on me. The guy in line behind me gave a heavy, dissatisfied sigh, and the cashier trainer muttered to the trainee at the register, “welcome to summer.”

I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and disappear. I was on vacation with my family and friends and had gone to the local grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food and supplies. I was distractedly going through my list, comparing it to what was in the cart to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when I spotted the shortest check-out line and walked up. I began to unload my full cart onto the belt and said hello to the cashier who mumbled a quick hello back. A few moments later a line began forming behind me and the aforementioned guy directly behind me pointed out, in a not-too-polite way, that I was in the express check-out line. I looked up and for the first time noticed a sign that said 15 items or less.

My friend, who is much better in these situations than I am, tried to lighten the mood and said, “I bet you just love when summer comes and all of the tourists arrive.” And he said, very matter-of-factly, “Actually I hate it.” He might as well have said to me “I hate you.” Because that’s how it felt.

Despite numerous apologies and explaining I didn’t see the sign, I left the store and left behind a bunch of very aggravated locals, as I got in my car feeling totally humiliated.

For weeks, months even, I replayed that scene and thought of all the things I could have said, should have said. I vacillated between being embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Then I wondered “why did it bother me so much?” I would never see these people again, why did I care how they reacted to my honest mistake?

Eventually I realized the root of the issue was I had received no mercy from the people at the store; no hint of forgiveness or understanding.  They were in a hurry and I was slowing them down. There was no time for grace.

I confess that when I looked deep in my heart I knew that there were many times I, too have been guilty of believing there was no time for grace.

I’ve stood in a check-out line behind the woman with 45 coupons and sighed heavily at the delay it meant for me.

I’ve zoomed past a slow-moving car in the left lane and muttered under my breath an uncharitable and unkind sentiment about their driving skills because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

I’ve lost my temper with my children because they forgot their lunch/shoes/clothes/bag in the house and had to run back inside while the rest of us waited in the car, already late for school or practice.

Because of my plans, my agenda, and my timing I have been unable or unwilling to stop and extend grace to someone else.

I’m so grateful my heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. If he was like me, I can imagine he’d sigh-heavily, roll his eyes and say, “really Jelise?! How many times have I shown you what to do? I’ve given you a better way, and yet you still haven’t gotten it! I’m done waiting. I’ve got more important matters to attend to. I don’t have time for children who don’t read the signs.”

But there is no limit on God’s grace for us.

Psalm 103 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8, 11-12)

As far as the east is from the west, that’s how big God’s grace is for us. His grace knows no end.

And then, the inevitable question: if God’s grace for me knows no limits, wouldn’t He want me to try and offer the same to others? I don’t have to wonder because scripture tells me He does.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

Psalm 103:12

So here I sit, asking myself, “what makes me and my life so important that I can’t find the time to show patience, compassion, and mercy toward others?”

Maybe that lady with the 45 coupons is trying to feed a family of four on minimum wage and the only way she can afford groceries is to clip those coupons. Maybe that guy in the left lane just received bad news, is consumed by worry and doesn’t realize he’s in the passing lane. Maybe my kids need an extra 15 minutes in the morning to get themselves and their stuff together because when I rush them it makes them nervous and causes them to forget things.

Why is my need to get where I’m going, on my timeline more important than extending forgiveness or understanding? It’s not.

That scene from the store at the beach still plays in my mind. But now I think if I could go back and do anything differently, I would simply say, “I’m so sorry my mistake is impacting your day. I hope you can forgive me and extend a little forgiveness, since we could all use more grace in our life.”

And then I would try and do the same thing for them.

Romans 8:38-39