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Pandemic Parenting: Can You Tame the Sibling Rivalry Beast?

By Dennis Rainey

As we roll into month seven of the Covid-19 pandemic, conflict abounds … between spouses (divorce is increasing) … between parents and children (everyone can be a bit tired and cranky) … and most certainly between siblings (this is the perfect storm for kids to find fresh ways to pester and bicker at one another).

I just asked Barbara, “What was the best thing we did about sibling rivalry?” Barbara’s response was clearly authentic: “NOTHING comes to mind! We never conquered it and it was one of my biggest parenting failures. Truth be told, the beast still roams around in our family.”

As we raised our two sons and four daughters from childhood through early adulthood, we experienced more than our fair share of conflict within our brood. We were eyewitnesses of what the Bible calls the “deeds of the flesh” spoken of in Galatians 5:19-21. So much so that I decided to rewrite this graphic Scripture passage in honor of the decayed, depraved nature of toddlers through teens and also in us as their parents. Here it goes …

“But the deeds of youthful flesh (and their parents) are evident, which are undone chores, dirty rooms, meanness, sassiness, rolling eyes, slamming doors, punching, kicking holes in the wall, wrestling, ripping doors off their hinges and stomping of feet, all of which is accompanied with sour, distorted faces, complete with a glare at a brother or sister. Lying, cheating and stealing from one another. Sibling-aimed outbursts of biting, hitting, badgering, bickering, name calling, snippy hurtful words, cut downs, tattling, taunting and disrespectful attitudes. Now abide bossiness, bad attitudes, incessant arguing and fighting with a brother and/or sister, but the most annoying of these is the continuous friction between siblings who don’t get along well.”

Selah. (Which is Hebrew for “pause and think about it.”)

Sibling rivalry in Scripture

From Genesis to Revelation, conflict between brothers and sisters is a common infestation in family relationships.

Cain and Abel escalated their civil war and ultimately ended it with murder.

Joseph’s brothers were filled with resentment and conspired against him, deceived him and their father, then sold him into slavery.

King David’s son Absalom not only had one of his brothers, Amnon, murdered, but was also a bully spreading fear in all the king’s sons as they watched. They fled.

And although conflict between Jesus and His half-brother, James, isn’t mentioned in Scripture, I can imagine that James likely experienced jealousy of his brother who really was perfect. Do you think Mary and Joseph ever struggled with favoring Jesus over James?

Sibling rivalry is real. Disheartening to parents. And it can divide and destroy families … for generations.

My grandson is kissing his sister now...But in just a few months I am confident he will be stealing her toys!

The overview

When it comes to conflict in families, two anchor points are essential to understand before we unpack practical ways to disarm siblings at war with one another.

1. Realize your marriage is a model of how two broken, selfish people surrender to Christ and seek to relate to one another with honor, respect, and love. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” A few verses later it also mentions the wives: “… and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (5:33).

Don’t expect your children to honor and speak respectfully to one another if you speak disrespectfully to your spouse and/or to them. Confession to God, to your spouse, and to your children may be the most important starting point.

2. As we parented for nearly 3 decades, Barbara and I became 100 percent convinced that the family is God’s appointed incubator for discipling your children in how to resolve conflict in relationships.

Paul coaches us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.