Creating a Family Culture: Children’s Friendships With Each Other

I had to pop in and talk to the anesthesiologist the other day as part of my hospital pre-admittance checklist.  “Is this your first?” he asked, and I’m not sure why, but I’ve been getting that a lot lately.

“No, this is my ninth,” I said.

“I knew it!” he replied, and I looked at him funny.  “We  have four and my wife said, ‘No more.”  I knew I married a quitter!”

He’s actually a great guy, a devoted father and husband, and the ensuing conversation with him made my day.  (You don’t get so many of these random conversations with strangers any more, since cell phones took over the world.)

8x10 five sistersOne of the things we talked about was sibling rivalry.  It’s a question I get a lot, with Evie being so obviously spoiled with attention: “What is Evie going to think of the new baby?”  The truth is, I don’t even think about it.  I assume she’s going to adore her new sibling, just like her siblings adored her, and just like each baby that came before her was adored.

All I have to do is stay out of the way.

Well, almost.  I’ve talked before about vision and intention in creating a family culture, and it helps to have some ground rules in place.  These are some of ours:

  1. Your brothers and sisters are your best friends.  Whenever there has been an altercation between siblings that required my stepping in, I mediate, without taking sides, and then force a reconciliation.  Yup, I force it. “Give your sister a hug and tell her she’s your best friend.”  Anesthesiology Guy remembers having to kiss his brothers, but it breaks the tension, and sets them back on friendly ground, and, eventually, they actually are best friends.evie snow 2
  2. No tattling allowed.  This one can be tricky, because you have to teach them that sometimes, they’re really and truly going to need an adult and what those times are, but you also don’t want to be constantly jumping into sibling squabbles.  They’ll use you as a pawn to get their own way, and you want to stay out of that.  My rule: “Are they hurting themselves or someone else?  Is anybody’s personal property in danger of being destroyed? No?  Then you guys are going to have to work this out yourselves.”  And then there’s the companion rule: “Well, she shouldn’t have done that thing, but since you just tattled, I can’t really punish her for it.  And you, don’t do that thing again!”  After a (very short) while, the children quit telling on each other, since it has no effect, and they learn to trust each other.
  3. Let them have their secrets.  You don’t need to know everything.  But at the same time, you have to teach them the difference between good secrets and bad secrets.  Most of what normal children will want to keep from you are just silly or embarrassing things, but some secrets are dangerous, and children need to be taught what kinds of secrets to keep and which to tell.  Questions they need to ask themselves: “Is my sibling being hurt by this secret?  Is somebody else being hurt?  Is someone else’s property being damaged or destroyed?”  If the answer is yes for any of these, they need to get a parent involved.  I know my kids have secrets from me, but they don’t have secrets from each other.  And I also know that if someone is in actual trouble, or in danger of getting themselves there, those same best-friend siblings will come to me, and I’ll figure out how to deal with the situation without betraying that trust.  IMG_1605
  4. Don’t be envious of their relationships with each other!  You are a powerful force in their lives, an irreplaceable source of love and wisdom, and allowing them friendships with each other in no way takes away from what you are to them as mother.  I know my older girls really start to feel it when work and school schedules have kept them apart for more than a day, and when they are finally all home at the same time, they’ll hide in their room for hours, giggling and chatting and secret-sharing.  That’s a good thing, even if you’d like to catch up with them, too.  They’ll get around to you eventually.  🙂
  5. One last thing: Kids are people, too.  What I mean by that is that they won’t all have the same interests, strengths or dreams, and just like we take our adult friends each as individuals, with their own quirks and beauties, we need to embrace that in our children as well.  We can’t have cookie-cutter ideals of who our children should be, try to force them into the same mold, compare and contrast.  Admire them for who they are individually, and the gifts they bring to the world, and they’ll learn to admire the best in each other, too.  Help them each to work toward their dreams and overcome their weaknesses, and they’ll learn how to encourage each other, too.  Just love them through their sorrows without trying to preach or correct, and they’ll learn to be compassionate and supportive of each other, too.  Basically, model good friendship with your children, and for your children; they’ll learn by watching your example.

insta kids carsNone of us really likes to think about it, but hopefully, these children will outlive us.  Wouldn’t strong friendships with their siblings be a most beautiful heritage to leave them?  To pass on to the generations that follow?

And thanks to Anesthesiology Guy for getting me thinking about children and friendships!

(PS: Your wife is not a quitter; she’s probably just tired.  Two year olds are hard!)

15 Comment

  1. Yes!! I’m doing a good job! ;o) We follow many of the same guidelines about sibling relationships around here. Mine are still young enough that I’m still saying relatively often ” you don’t need to tell me about it unless someone is going to get hurt or damage something.” But they’re figuring it out and often I overhear little squabbles in their rooms while they’re playing together which they work out pretty swiftly.

    I actually grew up hearing the same thing “your siblings are your best friends” my dad told me all the time, and it confused me when I was growing up, when I clearly counted some of my dear school friends as my “best friends”. But as a grown up, I think Dad’s constantly reminding me that my sister is my best friend has very much influenced our relationship now. She really did grow into a best friend for me!

  2. This is such a lovely comment, Anne! I’m so glad your dad did that for you – and that it worked! – and that you are passing that gift on to your own children. Lots and lots of love!

  3. Jennie, what a beautiful piece, full of wisdom and truth.

    1. Thank you, Karen!

  4. Emily G says:

    My family growing up had mostly the same rules, as do I. I often wonder if following my parents’ example is going to backfire on me though, because as adults my siblings have turned into backstabbing, lying, untrustworthy people who go out of their way to hurt each other and make each others’ lives difficult. I cannot even be on anything past civil speaking terms with some of my siblings. It is very hard for me, because I always though my sisters and I would stand together for life. I think it may have something to do with them leaving the Church. Once you fall into a state of mortal sin…

    I do want my own kids to always be each others’ best and most loyal friends. I tell them that regularly. I think good friendships are especially important in a home schooling family, not least because we have to be around each other all day. We better like each other and get along!

    I really enjoy and appreciate your perspectives on family life and parenting; thanks for taking the time to share them!

    1. Ah, Emily. That is truly a tragic situation you find yourself in with your brothers and sisters. It’s hard to quantify the things that help make a “successful” parent, and the things that set us up for failure. We’re each a combination of sinner and saint, adults and children alike, and I believe our friendships – within and beyond our families – have to be rooted in faith. Faith isn’t something we “do” just on Sunday mornings inside a church building, you know? It has to be something deeper, that changes the very nature of our relationships with each other and the world around us.
      I have some thoughts on helping our children nurture a lifelong faith, but I don’t quite have the experience yet that my ideas bear fruit, so I’ve been leery of sharing. I’ll write about that anyway, though, since it is the foundation of my parenting philosophies.

  5. Brittany Mattingly says:

    I am going to try all of these out. I do not care for my current situation with my children. For a short time I was lost in depression ( severe side effect of my birth control which i know refuse to take ) and I believe it really impacted how I handle things now. I still struggle with patience but I am trying to work on all of this. I am reading scream free parenting right now so this post come at a good time 🙂
    I’m learning that if I control my emotions we can get things done without the yelling and fighting.
    Thank you, this is very helpful.

    1. I don’t think it’s ever too late to change your family culture, Brittany. The longer you wait, the longer it takes, and the more patience you’ll need, but you can always turn things around!

  6. We have similar sibling rules too, and I love the relationships my kids have…I hope it lasts. When they are old enough, I tell them often that whatever “best friends” they have outside the family….as great as that is….don’t usually last. Not many people keep childhood friends. I have kept in touch with one friend from high school, minimally. But your siblings, for better or for worse, are usually in your life forever. Might as well make it a good relationship.

    1. Yes, Melanie! I tell my kids that all the time, too! Other people will come and go, but no matter what you do, or how you behave, your family will always love you, always be there for you, and always give you second chances. 🙂

  7. Emily G says:

    Please post the quick puff pastry recipe or link to it!

    I’m chuckling at your pastries because I’m always baking fancy stuff like that when I’m waiting for babies to be born, then getting totally exhausted. It looks very “end of pregnancy” to me. 🙂

    1. Ha! Ain’t that the truth, Emily? We do the oddest things whilst waiting for our babies! See you tomorrow with the recipe. ?

  8. I have this fair trade organic Nutella knock off that is better than Nutella itself in my pantry and some hazelnuts leftover from post-Christmas clearance in my freezer and I am thinking those two + this pastry might be a match made in heaven, and I’m not even pregnant. Mmm.

    When I was in the last days, and into labor with my third baby, I made this wreath I’d seen on the internet somewhere. I folded approximately six hundred paper coffee filters into triangle shapes one at a time and hot glued them to a flat plywood wreath base to create a big, fluffy white wreath that did not even go with my home decor. But I still have it because it represents hours of my life and that time of waiting and weird creative urges.

  9. what a lovely, helpful post.

    Our church has been using the Circle of Grace curriculum from the Catholic church which is meant to help educate children to keep themselves safe from sexual abuse. One of the very helpful things I got from that is to help children think if the secret they are being asked to keep would make their parents/trusted adults happy or sad when they find out.

    Also, I have changed my way of helping my kids reconcile after a fight – been insisting on an actual verbal apology even if they don’t feel like it instead of just telling them to make it right in time. I’ve been happily surprised by how important those words “I’m sorry” are for helping to make peace.

    1. We’ve been following the Veggie Tales format since they were little, where the offender says, “I’m sorry,” and the victim offers, “I forgive you.” Yes, those words have power!

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