Sibling Rivalry: Equity vs. Equality
I never wanted to have three children. Mainly because I never wanted to manage the "odd-man-out" scenario. But God had different plans for me, and I did end up with three kids -- three glorious, unique, and fair-minded children.
Therefore, on a regular basis I hear:
That's not FAIR!
Why does SHE get to stay up late?
She has MORE candy than I do!
Frankly, the sibling squabbles make me wanna take a big fat nap! Anyone else with me?! 🙋🏻♀️
Sibling rivalry isn't a new thing (obviously) but I do feel like parents just accept it because they don't know what to do about it! Plus, let's face it, managing this biz is a full-time, multi-layered job -- one that's exhausting!
On the one hand, you have children who are competing for our love and attention while also arguing over fairness. These are contradictory terms, however: you can't compete for something and still want things to be equal. So where do these desires stem from?
Faber and Mazlish, the authors of Siblings Without Rivalry, suggest that part of it comes from when we compare our children.
We don't do this on purpose, of course; and most comparisons seem harmless. But unfortunately this establishes a competitive tone between our kids. Take the following conversations, for example:
"Johnny finished his peas...can you finish yours, Rosa?"
"Johnny can keep his room clean...why is yours so messy, Rosa?"
This may seem harmless, but what these statements are telling Rosa is that in order to be noticed or approved by mom and dad she has to be like Johnny.
Faber and Mazlish encourage parents to speak to the child about the behavior that dis/pleases you instead of comparing one child un/favorably to another" (p. 61).
Describe what you see: I see you haven't finished your peas, Rosa.
Describe what needs to be done: Rosa, I need you to clean your room.
This approach is more effective and direct because it leaves the other siblings out of the conversation, which provides more room for addressing the other rival: "fairness".
The picture above explains Sibling Equality vs. Sibling Equity perfectly.
Parenting out of EQUITY means that we parent our kids based on their unique needs. This says to them, "I see you, I love you, and I honor the way God made you." Here are some of my examples:
My youngest child has severe eczema. Would it make sense for me to lather ALL of my kids with expensive oils and creams just to keep things fair? Obviously not.
My middle daughter has a crazy high metabolism. Do I love her more because I give her more peppers and apples in her snack bag than the rest of my kids? Nope.
My oldest daughter is in advanced math. Is her education more important to me because I spend time helping her at night?
You get the point.
Sibling equality doesn’t exist because in order to be good parents we have to parent our kids differently. This isn't favoritism. It's just good parenting!
So let's get practical with how to do this in the everyday.
1) Think of 1-2 things you do for each kid that is unique to just them.
Set up a family meeting and tell your examples to each kid. Explain that you do this because you SEE, KNOW, and LOVE them. They will love hearing these examples too. One of my girls even remarked, "Wow mama...you really do know us!" (That's right kid. Stop arguing with your sisters then!)
2) Practice edification.
Get in the habit of having your kids tell each other what strengths they see in each other (e.g., I see that you are a fast runner; I see that you are kind). This not only makes our kids feel loved, but it allows for deeper conversations about how "we are all parts of the same body" and that "God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well" (Romans 12:4-8).
3) Take each child on dates.
My husband and I schedule these every other month. We don't do anything lavish - sometimes we just walk to the co-op and get ice cream - but we always make sure to tell each kid what we SEE, KNOW, and LOVE about them These dates also hit all 5 Love Languages. Huzzah!
4) Teach the The Golden Rule.
Matthew 7:12 states, "Do to others what you would have them do to you." In practice this means that if one child needs help with her homework, the other one can use the Golden Rule to exercise patience and love towards that sibling while waiting for mom or dad.
5) Pray peace and love over your kids.
Almost every night I pray out loud that my girls will always be friends and that they will be kind and respectful to each other. This teaches them that their relationships aren't just a high value for me, they're important to God, too.
In the end, I refuse to accept that sibling rivalry is the norm because I believe in greater things for my kids: I want them to learn how to love their neighbors. And what better way to start doing that than by loving their enemies, er, siblings. 😏