Monday, June 8, 2009

A Book Review: The Hope of Siblings Without Rivalry

The title of the book caught my attention right away. My second child hadn't arrived yet. In fact, I had just found out I was pregnant. I was ecstatic and crazy happy when I went in for my twelfth week ultrasound. It was confirmed I was having a baby.. a sibling for TJ.

Along with the excitement of giving TJ a sibling, however, I was very sobered by the fact that sibling rivalry is a very real threat to the brotherly bond I was hoping for the two of them. I know from personal experience in my own family that having a difficult sibling in your life can mar your childhood and nightmares can happen during the daytime.

My sister is happily married and all grown up now. Although we are cordial when we visit with each other, I've always felt an ache for the loving sisterly friendship that some women have with their sisters. Some friends say, "My sister is my best friend and the first person I turn to." (I think of Nicole Kidman, who upon finding herself divorced, found comfort in the safety and support of her parents and her sister, Antonia.)

So along with sending out the "I'm pregnant!" emails to friends and family, I searched Amazon for a book on dealing with Sibling Rivalry. And ordered "Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You can Live Too" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

I was really drawn to the part of the title that said, ".. So You can Live Too". After all, I didn't want spend my motherhood years being overshadowed by the conflicts between my two kids. But, like sleep training and potty training, I knew that learning to keep peace among two brothers was going to be hard work, challenging beyond advice any book would give.

I didn't have a good role model on how to parent siblings successfully from my own mom, so I was hoping the book could give me a good reference point. And go from there.

And the book did not disappoint. Even though CJ is three months old, I have already benefited from the insight this book has offered to promote harmony between the two brothers.

Here are my top three:

1. Sibling rivalry is serious. It can affect children into their adulthood. The book's introduction chapter talks about how grown ups who are responsible citizens can still feel the negative impacts of how their siblings treated them or how their parents treated them as a result of their sibling.

It impressed how significant my role (and my husband's role) is in shaping and influencing their development. It's been said "boys will be boys" or "all kids fight". Although both statements are true, there is a fine line between letting it go too far. I hope I can learn to be aware of times where that line is being crossed to avoid having a bad dynamic develop.

2. Instead of Dismissing Negative Feelings About a Sibling, Acknowledge the Feelings. This was helpful because whenever TJ would say things like, "Oh, gosh! CJ cries too much!"

Without the book, I would have responded by saying: "No, CJ doesn't really cry that much. He's only hungry. That's all."

The authors are saying that by invalidating or not acknowledging CJ's feelings, there would be a subtle message I was conveying: your brother is more important than you. Which is the crux of sibling rivalry: importance.

Instead, the book taught me to respond: "I know. CJ cries so much, doesn't he!? It's so noisy, huh? .. You know, that's the only way he knows how to talk... ." Sure enough, it worked. The next time baby would cry, TJ would say, "CJ is talking again! What is he saying?"

3. Don't Give Your Attention to the Aggressor. Attend to the Injured Party Instead.

Ooooo, this one is a good one! Without this little tip, I know I'd naturally jump on whoever is doing the harassment. Meanwhile, the child who is hurting would be put to the side. And the aggressor would think, "A-ha! I'm getting the attention."

The simple act of going directly to the injured person ("Come on, let me give you a hug. Let's go get a yummy snack" and walk away from the other person temporarily) would put the aggressor on the sidelines. It would teach him that it actually doesn't work in his favor to be difficult, 'cuz his sibling would get all the goodies!

I haven't used #3 yet, but I like it already because I cannot tell you how many countless times as a child, a moment has been ruined for me because my sister was acting out. Instead, she got all the time and attention from my mom. And I was often left to be by myself whenever my mom was off trying to calm the hurricane.

There are a ton more practical techniques and strategies the book outlines. I have used them several times throughout my week. The brothers are getting along well so far, so I think the little tidbits I've applied have helped lay the ground work to a peaceful and loving relationship between the two -- and in our home.

Of course, I am just at the very beginning of this long journey. And much is still theory until it's practiced. I know that there are gonna be hell on earth days when my boys fight. We are all human, which means pain is a part of the human experience. And there is nothing that's perfect really.

But an amazing healing thing about becoming a parent is that it replenishes hope for all that is wonderful and beautiful in life. Even if past experiences have been less than ideal, there is something about parenthood and the innocence of children that gives me hope for a better future. One filled with friendship between brothers.


Eric said...

No doubt sibling rivalry is a real issue ever since the first brothers were born. And it must be dealt with by strategic parents. Glad you have taken the time to do research and find some practical steps. Keep pursuing wisdom in raising your children!

Bonnie Gray said...

Thanks, Eric! You hit the nail on the head -- wisdom is that special ingredient in parenting that Hubby and I need everyday. I think that's why it's a find when a friend or a book can pass on what they've gleaned. And hopefully enable us to avoid heartache by learning from them. btw, good luck with your new venture at!

It's a tough birthing process to bring about a new business... keep at it -- and be kind to one another on the journey when it gets rough!

Eric said...

Thanks Bonnie, I really appreciate the kind words.