Siblings - 10 tips for building great relationships

Psalm 133:1 gets a hearty "Amen" -

How good and pleasant it is when brothers (sisters!) dwell together in unity! 

That's certainly what all parents want but what can we do to foster that?

I've had it pretty easy in this department because my kids really do love and enjoy one another. It's an absolute delight to have them all together and watch them have fun and reminisce.  And I have to choke back tears of gratefulness when I get a glimpse of their counsel to, confidences with and comedy alongside one another.

 But we've certainly had our share of tears and misunderstandings and pleas from Mom to "can't you just get along???"  I've stumbled through some parenting landmines, setting some off and taking some hits myself in this area.  Here's some things I've learned along the way that might help at your dwelling place....

1.  Talk often and with sincere joy and enthusiasm how wonderful it is to have siblings.  Point out all the benefits (there are some, you know!!!) of growing up with brothers and sisters. Do this early on and they will catch it.  Speak well of your own siblings.  This is big.  Set the example so they will think it is normal to have good sibling relationships.  This is probably overstating it a bit but I'll say it anyway - do not complain about or criticize one child to another.  DO NOT. It's OK to let them vent to you about one another but help them see the other's point of view and accept their own responsibility for the problem.  Set the tone and the expectations for acceptance and grace and the ability to overlook an offense.  (BTW - this will drive your kids crazy because sometimes they want you to side with them about how awful their sib is.  Don't let that bother you!)

2.  Set them up as "a team".  Have them work together to accomplish chores or activities.  Paul used to play a game of catch with 2 or 3 at a time and the goal was to see how many times they could collectively pass/catch the ball around.  Emphasize teamwork over individual achievement. And this point is important - be willing to be "the common enemy".  Lots of times I knew mine were ganging up together to be mad at me or to complain about how unreasonable I was but I let it roll off my back because I was just glad they were a team!!

3.  Treat sibling relationships with greater priority than friends.  I learned this from a Mom of four precious girls.  If they weren't getting along with each other, she didn't send any of them off to play with friends.  Instead, she instructed them that they had to learn to be good friends at home before they could be good friends away.  It worked!! These four gals have grown up to be the best of besties!

4.  Don't reward tattling.  Granted, you have to be able to recognize a genuine concern for her brother's safety (as in "Mom, Baby Chip slipped out of the gate and is in the street") but don't encourage one child to rat out the other.  Instead, let the tattler sit in timeout rather than punishing the offender.

5.   Don't overschedule outside activities.  Kids need time at home with just each other to develop good relationships.  Plan family times (but don't become a slave to creating "pinnable" moments...).  Develop some traditions that you rally your family around - these need not be elaborate!  As simple as pancakes on Saturday morning!!

6.  Praise carefully.  It's good to applaud success but don't overdo it so as to create feelings of jealousy among sibs.  The best things to cheer about are character traits, not performance.

7.  Create a vision for their futures that is built on loving closeness between them.  As in "when you and Sissy grow up, you will have so much fun raising your families together.  Cousins are the best!" 

8.  Do not involve one child in another's discipline.  Do not punish one in front of the other and nip it in the bud if one seems delighted that the other has gotten in trouble. Cannot overstate this one.

9.  Realize that sometimes they need a little space.  Some kids need it more than others. Creating a      "team atmosphere" is not the same as a "herd mentality". Resist the temptation to treat them as clones of one another (just because they are the same gender doesn't mean they like the same thing). And don't insist that little sister should be automatically included in every activity.  This can lead to resentment and suppressed guilt and what all else. (For the record, this takes ALOT of emotional fortitude for me to make this point ---- I WAS the little sister!!  And, yes, my feelings got hurt and I am sure I need lifelong counseling because of it but being a parent to 4 has helped me see the wisdom in this approach.  Kids are individuals and eventually they will take individual paths.  Be careful of treating every single opportunity as a "package deal".  )



When they fight, take the time to demonstrate how to resolve conflict.  Guide, but don't referee.  You don't want to take sides.  Try guidance instead.   Yes, this takes time and a lot of energy but it's worth it. Train them to ask for forgiveness and also to grant grace.  Model it yourself and then preach it over and over and over.

Dandelion Bouquets

My Mary made me a CD with some of her favorite songs.  I listen to it over and over and over, especially Chuck Wick's "Stealing Cinderella".  Don't know why I love that song - it makes me cry, every time. 

Why are all those sappy "little girl grows up and gets married" songs from the Dad's perspective?  Moms feel the same way about their little girls!!  But that's not the subject of this post.

I want someone to write a song about how Moms feel when their sons get married.  I still have mine at home but from time to time I contemplate what it will be like when some gal wins his heart.  (Not sure there are any perfect girls out there, but I am speaking hypothetically)

Wow. It's gonna be a strange feeling to watch him confer his allegiance to another female.  I hope I will feel like I have gained an ally in loving him.  But I am bound to question if she will strive to nurture and protect the vulnerability he will hand her....his heart.  I don't want to forever be his main confidante and champion but I am sure I will wonder if she will understand how to interpret that grin - the one that he tries unsuccessfully to hide when he has achieved something he's dying to share...but doesn't want to boast.  And is she going to know what that grimace means?  The one that clouds his face when he is trying to hide some pain?  Is she going to know how to tell if the pain is from his throwing shoulder....or his heart?  And can she cook oatmeal scones and cinnamon rolls and medium rare eye of round roast sliced really thin?

When she looks at him, she won't be able to see the 4 year old that clasped his arms around my neck and vowed to "always love you bestest, Mom".  She won't know about the scores of dandelion bouquets that graced my kitchen table. Or the time he decked his sister because she told him he couldn't marry me.   Or all the sweaty socks I washed...and cried over when they became the same size as his dad's. She will not have logged untold hours in the stands watching ball games and praying for things like double-doubles or a first win.  She can't have the perspective of a view that changed from looking down into his eyes, to one that now looks way up.  She won't realize that the strong, lean hand that she now grasps used to be a chubby grip on my finger.

One day some really lucky gal will get to stand beside my son and vow to arrange her life around him forever.  And I'll step aside and cheer her on. And I will honestly want him to prefer her to me.  But those memories and insights and position  are uniquely mine to treasure.

I hope she'll ask me for my recipe for oatmeal scones.  He always gets those for breakfast on his birthday.

Treasures of truth for the Mommies

This past week brought several opportunities to remember the early years of motherhood.  A tantrum at CVS (by a toddler - not by one of my pharmacists!) A weekend with my (perfect) grandchildren. And an unfortunate mishap most likely brought on by sleep-deprived distraction.

As I watched the power struggles and the infinitesimal patience required and the apparent self-doubt, I recalled a verse.  The last part of one, actually, that has ministered grace and encouragement and hope to my fragile soul ----especially during the early years of motherhood.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:11

He gently leads those that have young.

I still remember the first time I encountered that verse.  Or at least the first time it leapt off the pages to pour water on my parched and despairing heart.

I was in the fellowship hall of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta at some ladies event.  I hadn't wanted to go -- I was tired to the point of tears, lacking confidence to the point of pathetic, and pretty sure everybody else had read some book that I would never know the title of.  I only had two littles at the time and I was seated at a table with "the experts".  Mothers who smiled and had nail polish on and could actually string three words together in an intelligible sentence.  One of these women had SEVEN CHILDREN.  SEVEN!!!!!!!!  That's more hands than two parents have COMBINED!!  And they were all breathing, growing up well, and walking with Jesus, for crying out loud!  I wasn't even sure I could keep these two humans assigned to my heart alive, much less trained up in the fear and admonition of the Lord!  (Sometimes I figured they would likely have the fear part down but it would probably be fear of ME and not of God...) And sitting within arm's reach of me was a coherent, smiling, composed woman with SEVEN.

This verse was written on a card for the centerpiece.  I was pretty certain I'd never seen it before and wondered if it really was in the Bible.  So I asked the seven-children-super-Mom if it was, figuring she probably had all 66 books, 1189 chapters, and 31,173 verses memorized. And if it was, could it somehow help me cope?

She smiled the sweetest. most tender, compassionate smile.  It felt like that smile hugged my heart and patted my soul.  I probably was tearing up and she responded with such grace.  Such understanding.  I don't recall verbatim what she said when I asked "How do you do it?  Give all 7 what they need, I mean?" but I do know it went something like this:  "I don't.  I can't.  But He can and He helps me everyday."  And, yes, she assured me that that verse was in the Bible and that it was indeed a promise of help.

The seven-children-super-Mom didn't parse that verse for me that evening in that Marietta church basement but she did breathe it into my soul.  And, through the years, as I clung to it for dear life, I've unpacked it to find a treasure of life-giving truths.

I'd like to share those with you.

1.  He
He gently leads those with young.
The books and seminars, the experts and sages, and certainly Facebook and Pinterest all mandate how we are to parent.  But they aren't the answer.  He is.  He alone is the resource and the strength and the wisdom we need to parent.
He is the one we need to follow.  And He makes Himself available to each of us.  Every day.  Every trial.  Every struggle.
Good idea to turn to Him for what I need.  And, most likely, those young will learn to do the same.

2.  Gently
He gently leads those with young.
 He isn't in a hurry, He isn't dragging me along, and He certainly isn't screaming at me to "come on!  we're going to be late"!! What a difference gentleness makes!  
A gentle approach is much more effective than a harsh one.  It makes us feel valued, understood, respected.  If we can emulate that gentleness with our children, they are more inclined to respond favorably.  And vice versa...

3.  Leads
He gently leads those with young.
He's not just with me and for me, He is leading me. My role in parenting has purpose.  There is a path to follow, a goal to strive for, and a person who can take me there.  It is He. I am not babysitting or caretaking - I am running a race and training other runners at the same time.  I must discern His leading and follow.
I think the point is to be able to say, as the Apostle Paul does, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (I Corinthians 11:1)

4. Those with young
He gently leads those with young.
What an treasure to know that He views Mommies with such tenderness, such favor, such promise.  What an encouragement to know that He bestows special treatments on Mommies.  Like understanding sleep deprivation.  And tantrum frustration.  And power struggle angst. 
Like not defining us by our response at any given moment but rather imparting His identity to us.  Like not even holding us responsible for the behavior of those young but rather expecting accountability only for our own following of His leading

In Scripture, there are some verses that are for men to adhere to.  There are mostly verses for us all to obey.  But at least this one is just for Moms. And not just Moms of littles but for all Moms - because my young'uns will always be my young' I can cling to the promise that He will always gently lead me.

I left that church basement grateful for that treasure in Scripture but also for the treasure of a woman who didn't leave me in my bewilderment but rather left some footprints for me to grow into.  Footprints of a vision, not a pipe dream. Footprints of purpose, not of pity.  Footprints of a legacy, not an entitlement. 

To fill those follow those a lot of work.  A lot of discipline.  A lot of prayer. 
And more fulfillment that I ever would've imagined when I first read Isaiah 40:11 on that index card 22 years ago.

P.S. - Happy Birthday, Baby Betsy!  Can you really really really be 13???