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Brotherly love -- and rivalry
Scripps Howard News Service


June 12, 2005

Love and jealousy are two sides of the coin we call sibling rivalry. Cain allowed the dark side of love to overwhelm him. Thus he killed his brother Abel. He couldn't find a balance within himself. Hate tipped the coin and he suffered as all those do who succumb to inner jealousy.

Love becomes a problem when jealousy gets in the way, as it so easily can. Every child wants to be first with his parents. That's one reason why only children grow up feeling strong and never fear failure. They know they can do no wrong and have no idea what sharing is all about. They never suffered from sibling rivalry. Parents may love their children with all their hearts, but perhaps without realizing it they reward one child more than the other. Or at least, one child perceives his sibling as the favorite.

It's simple to say nice things to a child who's easygoing and pleasant. But if the child who's aggressive and hardworking gets overlooked because he seems stronger than his sibling, what was a natural rivalry begins to escalate. Since we can't read our children's minds, and even though each child is equally important and precious, we fail to realize that one child is feeling left out and angry.

The natural reaction to this state of family relationships is for one child to try to knock down his rival for his parents' affections. Children do this by criticizing a brother or sister. They tease a sibling meanly, make fun of him, demean him openly and among others, or give a sister a whack when no one else is looking. Some children overcome jealousy by becoming hypochondriacs to gain the attention of parents. This "weakness" puts all the other children in second place in the family dynamics.

Sibling rivalry starts as soon as a new baby comes into the world. It's a perfectly natural situation. For instance, I remember the first time my older grandson, T.J., took a look at his new baby brother in his mother's arms as she lay in the hospital bed. His 2-year-old brain focused on his infant brother and it was easy to see that T.J. realized he had a rival for Mom's affection. It was fantastic. It was also a harbinger of the future that all parents should understand and deflect as quickly as possible.

Every child has his own personality. My older grandson takes life very seriously and his responsibilities as an older brother as his mission in life. His younger brother plays it cool. He knows just which buttons to press to make his sibling suffer. This is all playing itself out with T.J. fighting to be the boss and Dan allowing it to happen - up to a point. As the boys get older and begin to have more separate lives, their relationship is changing. They are becoming more equal physically and mentally. Dan is a very bright youngster and a formidable rival for his brother. Sibling rivalry is a child's first lesson toward preparing him to become an independent adult. When young adults go out into the world and compete with others, they will be ready if their sibling rivalry has matured and developed into love and respect for each other.

T.J. still rules over his brother. As he grows older, T.J. is learning to understand his jealousy and ease up on himself by turning this negative energy into something positive and fulfilling. Dan is already starting to assert himself as he gains in years. If all goes well, when the boys are men, they'll have resolved their differences and brotherly love alone will prevail.


Write Barbara Bova at the Naples Daily News, Features Department,
1075 Central Ave., Naples, Fl 34102 or e-mail babova(at)

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