From sibling competition to encouragement

March 15, 2018

In a home with eight girls, a couple of boys, plus the parents, there is going to be the occasional chaotic moment.

All right, so that might actually be pretty common.


Ok, you could count the calm moments on one hand.

We call pandemonium “happy noise” for a reason!

Our children are pretty close in age, especially the first six. Our oldest was not yet eight when our sixth child was born. Many of them were only a year apart in school, two at the most. Our largest gap was just before our last two, and that was a little over three years.

This had a consequence that I did think about at the time, but I didn’t think it would be a huge deal in our family. After all, when I only had preschoolers, I figured I could help them learn to get along well and be happy for each other and enjoy each others’ successes.

Well, we tried!

We encouraged our brood to congratulate each other when they earned an award or good grades, or when they did well in a concert. We praised them, as parents do, but also with the hope that we were encouraging similar behavior from them. We would even say, “Didn’t Jonny do great with that? Why don’t you let him know he did a wonderful job?”

They did follow our lead—sometimes. But, as often happens among siblings, jealousy occasionally took over. Someone was upset when a sister got selected for a solo, but they didn’t. Someone else was frustrated when they were passed over for a leadership position, and then a few years later, a sibling was given that title.

One daughter basically quit piano because she was worried her older sister would be jealous. The older sister was a good pianist, too, but the younger sister was concerned that the older sister would be angry if she kept making great progress.
Worrying that someone else would do better caused a few problems between the children. They complained about how unfair a teacher was, or how the process of selecting leaders was all wrong. The other sibling, listening to all of this, then felt awful for getting the good grade or the leadership position. As hard as I tried, I was not always able to smooth over the ruffled feathers.

That was when it dawned on me that no matter how hard I tried to mold my children into fabulous people, they still had to choose for themselves.

Of course, they are all fabulous people, and I wanted them to know that. I also knew that if they were comfortable with who they are and with their own accomplishments, they would more likely be encouraging to others.

When I realized my younger daughter had stopped practicing piano, I knew something had to happen. I had to wait until the right moment to talk to her—when no one else was around, and when she was in the right mood, and I was prepared.

Amazingly enough, that happened. I was pretty blunt, as I generally am, but I tried to tell her kindly. She needed to know that it didn’t matter how well others could play. It didn’t matter that one sister was older and the other younger. She needed to live her own life without worrying what everyone else was thinking. She needed me to give her permission to go at her own pace and not wonder if another child was going to be angry with her.

She started practicing again. She even went to a piano festival and did very well. And now both girls have that talent, and they use it pretty much every day. Of course, now that they are adults, there is no worry about who is doing better. In fact, as they get older, it’s fun to see them be even more encouraging than they were as children.

When I was about nine years old, I, too, quit playing piano. My sister was better than I was, so what was the point? It wasn’t until I was 14 that I gained enough confidence to start playing again. Unfortunately, lost time can never be gained back.

Both of our sons were National Merit Scholar finalists. When their younger sister came to them for advice on school classes, the National Merit Scholar program, AP courses, and saving money for college, they were both very willing to help her. When that same daughter received a solo in her choir, everyone congratulated her when she sent out word via a group text.

Sometimes I wonder if they would be so supportive if they were all still in school. I don’t know. But I do know that, while children don’t seem to be listening to what you are saying, they are still internalizing the message, and it will show in their behavior.

A few days ago, we were able to see seven of our children at a family event. They all talked and laughed and had a great time. They are all very different people, with very different personalities, very different spouses, and different goals in life.
But they are a family, and they watch out for each other.


Maybe they were upset with things they deemed as unfair as children, but that is not important anymore. Now they are closer, and I love watching my adult children interact with each other.

Was one jealous that a sibling got to go on a date within a month after turning 16? Maybe, but now he is telling his younger sister that he wants to go on a double date with anyone she ends up dating seriously, so he can see if the boy is good enough for his sister.

I found out just last week that when he was in high school, this same brother gave a certain boy a strong message that he not be bringing his sister home late from a date again. It was only because they had to take her cousin home a half hour away, but, nevertheless, that boy brought her home early every time after that.

Was another child upset when someone else got into a singing group that she wanted to be in? Could be. But now that child sings beautifully and has performed numerous solos over the years.

Keep talking, keep teaching. They may not seem to be listening, but they are. And one day, you will be delighted at what you hear when you are listening to them.

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