While channel surfing I was drawn to a segment on the Dr. Phil show regarding sibling rivalry. There were two sets of sisters, all with such deep sibling issues that they have made their relationship an all out war which has continued well into their adulthood. I noticed that even though both sets of sisters had a tremendous amount of damage to get through if they were ever going to heal their relationship, there was a big difference in how the healing could even begin within each family.
Shannon, who was the older sister of Jodi, spoke often of her sister wearing her clothes without permission, while mom and dad ignored that this was an important issue to her. However, she also said that their sibling problem was not about her sister wearing her clothes. It seemed as if the disrespect she experienced when her sister rummaged through her closet, seemingly with parental approval, symbolized her position in the family. She felt as if what she wanted or needed wasn’t important to her parents. So, she took her frustration of feeling unloved by her parents out on the one she believed they did love, her sister Jodi.
The most telling thing Shannon said during their segment on the show was this:
“Jodi thinks it’s all about sibling rivalry. I happen to feel it has more to do with my parents’ inability to love me.” Shannon’s resolution to their sibling problems was for her parents to “give her the love and respect she deserves”. Of course her mother, who spoke over the phone, replied “I think I have enough love for everybody in this family.”
Even though the viewpoints of mother and daughter seem to contradict each other, they are probably both accurate and honest statements. The complications of family relationships makes them both right. I have a favorite saying that goes to the heart of such a family conflict:
Even when you love someone the best way you know how, you still may not love them they way they need to be loved.
So as parents what do we do, when even our best isn’t enough? What can we do, knowing that our actions can have long lasting affects on our children’s emotions? There are no guarantees, but here are a couple of parental tips that may help you address this cause of concern in your family:
Ask each child their preference for feeling loved. Do they want to be shown physically with hugs and kisses? Or would they rather it is verbalized using endearing words? Ask them to tell you why, as their reasons (if they can express them) can sometimes be a quite insightful.
Now ask yourself how you show each child love and examine the results. Are you matching up to your kids needs, or do you find it too difficult to hug or say loving words or both? Try to accommodate the preference of each child, especially in stressful times, even if it means getting out of your own comfort zones.
I’ve found this tip to be very helpful especially in the midst of sibling problems. Have a one-on-one talk with each child, allowing them to express themselves freely but with one exception – no mention of their siblings allowed.
This actually makes the child think deeper as to what their needs are when they cannot bring to the table a laundry list of complaints of unfair treatment when compared to their siblings. They are also forced to focus on things that are within their own power to change, such as their own behavior.
It’s also helpful if you ask for their plan to resolve each of their issues going forward. When a child understands that there is not always an easy and absolute solution immediately available, they may become more open to compromise. I’ve personally had a great deal of success with this approach.
I hope that Shannon, her parents and Jodi can come to an understanding which will allow the entire family to at least start the healing process. It seemed as if both sisters wanted to find a happy ending and with an ailing father, time is of the essence. As far as the other battling sisters, twins with very diverse personalities, they face a different struggle which has far less to do with their parents. But that’s a topic of discussion for another day.