Help for the Heart Strings

- Joellen Monson

If you ask most parents, they will adamantly proclaim they have raised all their kids the same way. Yet there are researchers who believe that no two people are born into exactly the same family. An oldest child is actually an only for some period of time. A middle child has been the youngest but later holds the  position of being younger AND older. Anyone who has had both male and female children knows that deep down parents generally encourage assertive skills in boys and feel more protective of girls. 

Parents sometimes feel guilty about showing preferences in their parenting but try valiantly to hide it from their kids through inconsistency. This incongruence of saying one thing "I parent all my kids the same" and doing another--football for boys and ballet for girls--generally results in not only confusion among siblings but fans the fires of rivalry. Because  most parents at some time deal with issues surrounding sibling rivalry we need to remember that little humans as they grow, by nature, with no help from anyone, are basically programmed for selfishness and competitive feelings. So consider, for now, focusing  on making just this one change in your parenting style. 

Let your children, from early on, learn that "LIFE IS NOT FAIR"- or more to the point  "Fair is not always the same for everyone"! Somewhere along the line parents have strived to insulate their children from this cold, hard fact. This is more than just an overused adage. So dust it off and use it now! We have confused  fair with equal. They are two very different concepts. 

When we teach a youngster that their experiences should be fair, we are setting them up for failure by ensuring the following beliefs: "I am a victim if I have not received the same treatment/things/rewards as another." "I will learn how to make others around me feel guilty until I feel satisfied that my needs have been met." "I will change and manipulate this situation until I have received what I deserve." Victimization, guilt, manipulation--are these the skills you really plan on teaching your child when you want to give them equal shares, equal gifts, equal responsibilities? These are the exact skills we help them to become experts at when we buy into the notion that we must treat each of our children fairly or in exactly the same way. And the worst part is that some people never get beyond these manipulative devices and carry them into their adult relationships.

When we strive, blindly to make absolutely sure everything for our young people is fair we are actually depriving them of their individuality. We are no longer looking at each person's unique needs and responding in ways which address those needs, thereby seeking the best solution for that person. When a family member knows that they will indeed be satisfied they don't look at their sibling as a competitor for a limited amount of available resources. If they come to learn and trust that what is best for them may not be what's best for someone else then they too begin to honor another's uniqueness. They begin to open their possibilities for solutions to problems of all kinds. Because we are not all the same and what works for one person doesn't work for another and they can learn that considering that fact can be good for everyone. This technique can open up lots of possibilities and free you from feeling compelled to be fair all of the time. 

Often the competitive behaviors we see in people come from an innate striving for recognition. We want to be recognized for who we are and what we contribute that is unique in all the world. It is more work on a parent's part to think about what each of your children's needs are at any given moment. And this is something to work toward--unlikely to be achieved in all situations. But don't your children deserve to be recognized for themselves?  When you do this you are not only giving them the gift of themselves but you are giving the gift of you. You are letting them know, through your attention, that you see them, you know them, you understand what they need. And often it is an individual's lack of feeling all these things from a parent which compels them to fight as fiercely as possible for that attention. Life is not fair--don't set them up to believe that it is. However, in your household, fairness can come from a special understanding. Fairness can come from individuals who are recognized for being beautiful, wonderful, unique beings who you have brought into this world and are sharing with the rest of us.

Editor's Note: For more information on tips for dealing with siblings, refer to the recommended book section.