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Proudly Supporting

Sibling Rivalry - Brothers, Mothers and Manlets

By Carol Duncan - 5th August 2010

Wow, isn't this potentially murky territory?  The love/hate relationship we can have with our own flesh and blood.

I have three older brothers.  The eldest one - I don't actually remember living in the same house as him.  He's about 12 years older than me and he left home aged about 14 or 15 to accept an apprenticeship.  Funnily enough, he is the one that I now have the closest relationship with.  My own two sons adore him.  It's a great relationship all ‘round.  The middle one I get on well with, but he keeps to himself a bit ... it's fine, no problems whatsoever.  But the one closest in age to me - at this stage let's just say there is no relationship.  That's a story for another day.  Maybe.

I didn't want a daughter - I was such a handful for my own mother that I dreaded the thought of it!  And so I was spared - I have two sons.  They're still little, just 7 and 8 years of age, but they light up my life.

My husband talks about the problems he had growing up with his older brother and I suspect that's just the way life goes.  Siblings.  Can't live with them.  Can't shoot them.  (My mother used to say this with a giggle about in-laws ... again ... a story for another day.  Maybe.)

The relationship between my own two sons swings wildly from love to warfare.  Sometimes I worry about it; I worry that one day they will only have each other and I desperately hope that nothing comes between them.  At least nothing of a permanent nature.  They're such different people, as all our kids are I guess.  These two are classic first and second born children.

Number 1 son is a little bit anxious at times, has a bit of a sense of entitlement ahead of his younger brother, and bosses his brother around in the most outrageous fashion. When enraged by his 'pesky' little brother's antics, Number 1 son demands of me, "Why do I have to have HIM?"  

Son number 2 is a far more laid back character.  Funny, sunny, oh yes definitely 'pesky' and knows exactly which of his big brother's buttons to push to light his wick.  But ... would defend his big brother to the death.  

Sometimes I wonder if this is "Sibling Stockholm Syndrome" - on more than one occasion Number 2 son has been known to offer himself up to save his big brother from getting in trouble, has begged me not to send his brother to quiet time - even when he has utterly deserved it for his behaviour towards Number 2 son! 

We had a very funny incident when Number 1 son started kindergarten.  He had been coming home for a few weeks telling us about another boy at school who hadn't been very nice to him.  We went off to school one afternoon to pick him up and Number 2 son tore out of my grip, ran up to the first small boy he saw and shouted, "Don't you be mean to my brother!"

And yes, I know, there are a million books on 'raising boys', 'sorting out siblings', 'pecking order' and so on and so forth.  Personally, I prefer to engage with these two pint-sized ‘manlets’ when they become too aggrieved with each other, and discuss their 'problems', try to help them sort through their own issues (sometimes complete nonsense) and sometimes ... just sometimes ... I tell them to go sort it out themselves!

My deepest wish, though, is that these two fine little boys will grow up to be fine young men who are always there for each other regardless of the challenges that are thrown at them as individuals, and as brothers.  

What are your own thoughts as you watch these relationships being negotiated between your own children?  And how have your own relationships with your siblings affected your reactions?

Comments (2)

CarolDuncan's picture


Hi Sarah,

Aren't we funny animals. I don't remember ever longing for a sister as all the friends I knew who had one seemed to fight with them! LOL My eldest brother got married when I was about 9 and I instantly fell in love with his wife - they divorced years ago but I still love her, she's a wonderful woman. Of course her two children, my niece and nephew, are now grown with their own families.

You know those occasions when you go out somewhere and your kids decided that THIS is the day that they'll arc up and be utter horrors to each other? Mine don't do it very often, thank heavens, and I'm always mortified when they do.

Strangely, I love it when other people's kids are rotten to each other because it reminds me just how much like everyone else we really are.

Our kids are works-in-progress, we can try to guide, try to shape, but ultimately they will find their own path.

Hopefully without taking too much skin off on the way!


SarahLiebetrau's picture

Sibling rivalry

It's so interesting, so many sister-less women I know fantasise about how awesome it would be to have a sister, and for some women it is awesome, but a close sibling relationship depends on so much more than just gender. People often debate the age gap and how that affects things, or whether two of the same gender is best - I really think it comes down to the individual components that are unique to each family. My sister and I are 18 months apart, two more different individuals you could not find. I love her dearly yet find it frustrating to spend much time with her (I imagine but am not sure that she feels the same way).

I am glad I have a boy and a girl because my sister and I suffered from endless comparisons being made by others throughout our lives that were not helpful to either of us. People tend to compare a boy and girl less in my experience. My kids are 2 years apart and still very young but don't display much rivalry at all so far, of course they do battle for parental attention and the odd toy, but by and large there doesn't seem to be a battle for dominance or one stronger personality than the other. The eldest is the sensitive one, concerned with doing things by the book, and the younger child seems to be a more relaxed and cruisy individual, very self-determined and prepared to boss her brother around as and when she deems it necessary. He generally takes this in his stride but sometimes uses his clout as the older and wiser of the two to triumph. It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops as they grow up.

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