The sibling struggle is real.
Lately, it seems like every day is the same. I wake up, filled with resolve and optimism that today will be better. Today, I will lovingly guide my children to treat each other kindly. I will remember that I am here to help them learn how to treat each other. I will remind them that there is enough (love, food, toys, art supplies, ride-on vehicles) to go around. They will manage to behave toward each other like compassionate human beings instead of wild juvenile tigers.
Then, before breakfast (or sometimes during breakfast), it all seems to fall apart.
Someone sits in the wrong chair. Someone takes all the cereal that someone else planned to eat. There’s not enough milk to fill someone’s bowl the way he wants it. The last banana got eaten yesterday by the baby and there isn’t one to top someone’s oatmeal.
Tears. Wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Smacking of siblings.
Usually, I end up raising my voice to be heard over their arguing…and I wonder, What are we doing wrong?
I feel like we’ve tried everything: singing songs about patience when things get tense, practicing the Golden Rule, memorizing scripture about kindness, instituting a “kindness jar” where anyone can put a sticker when he or she catches someone else being kind. We even started charging each other money for name-calling. You have to put 5 cents in the jar if you call someone an unkind name.
Nothing seems to be working.
There is nothing quite like a malfunctioning team of siblings to make a parent feel like a failure. Why can’t they love each other…or at least work together? What are we missing in our struggle to raise a family that can hang together through thick and thin? I’ve read parenting books, talked to friends and family, and prayed over the situation until I feel I’m out of prayers.
And then, help came from a most unexpected place.
A little book, published in 1951, found its way to our home. If Jesus Came to My House, it read, by Joan Gale Thomas. I didn’t expect to like it. It looked too old to be charming and had rhyming verses on each page.
“If Jesus came to my house and knocked upon the door,
I’m sure I’d be more happy than I’ve ever been before.”
The story continues with the little child imagining Jesus as a visitor to his house- a little boy Jesus, about the same age and size as the narrator. They would sit by the fire and have tea. They would play with toys and walk in the garden. The little boy Jesus would bless the garden and the house, and the child narrator would share his best toys and give the best he has to offer to Jesus.
As we read the story, I was surprised to find all of my children listening intently. No one was shoving or hollering that he couldn’t see the pictures. No one was demanding to know how many more pages there were or if she could pick the next book. Everyone was just waiting to see what would happen next.
Near the end of the story, the child narrator realizes that although Jesus can’t come to visit him for tea the way he has imagined, he can treat others the way he would treat Jesus. This moment in the story changed everything for me. With a lump in my throat, I read about the boy sharing his toys and his garden flowers with those around him, and by the time I closed the book, I knew I loved it.
When the story ended, there was silence until my seven-year-old said quietly, “I don’t think I’ve been treating my sisters the way I would treat Jesus.”
Tears of surprise welled up in my eyes as his sisters solemnly agreed with him. Together, they made a pact to try harder tomorrow to treat each other more like they would treat Jesus.
It remains to be seen whether this will make any lasting difference in the ongoing sibling battles we’ve been having. Somehow, I have hope that it will. It seems like this particular book might just have been an answer to this mother’s prayers for seeds of peace to take root among her children.
Do you have siblings? Are you raising siblings? What advice can you share for helping brothers and sisters to get along well?
Copyright 2016 Abbey Dupuy
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