Much has been written and spoken about sibling rivalry. We have also all heard about brothers-in-arms. The thing that is rarely addressed is siblings-in-arms. The battle that binds people together does not have to be fought in foxholes. Sometimes simply sharing an enemy, such as an authority figure, can build those bonds. When this happens, it is best to fall back on the divide and conquer approach to the situation.
The Enemy of My Enemy
My children have not always been the closest of siblings. Their close ages have often been the source of determining who is the alpha rather than sharing interests. Even though they do have a lot of shared interests, they still find ways to compete. Part of this is by design. We had to keep them from ganging up on us. It has been a matter of numbers. The adults have been outnumbered for all but a few years of child raising.
The kids may not get along, but they have had those moments where they come together against a greater enemy. That enemy is their gentle, and loving parents. Ok, maybe we have not always been entirely kind and loving, but we are the good guys, right? In any case, the brothers, in particular, have found times where they all share a common goal. In these times they work together to wear us down.
Are We There Yet?
The collusion of the kids is not nearly as nefarious as it sounds. It typically is more of a tag team of nagging. In the TV show “The Simpsons” there are several episodes where enemies Bart and Lisa join forces to nag their parents into submission. Think of a steady drum beat of “can we please?” repeated like water torture. Individually they are not driven enough to keep bugging us. Unfortunately, they have much greater strength in numbers.
The scary thing is that I do not think they ever consciously got together and plotted against us. It just comes naturally. Maybe it is closer to sharks smelling blood in the water. When a child sees that they might be able to sway their parents in a particular direction, it is almost instinctive to do so. Thus, a single voice asking for an ice cream dessert grows to an entire chorus.
Keep Them Guessing
Ganging up is a problem that is easily solved. When you keep the children focused on competing against each other, they have little time, or motivation, to band together. This “trickery” is not a bad approach to parenting anyway. You will not be able to catch every good or bad thing your kids do. When you accept that and add a little randomness to your praise and punishment, you have a great tool. Random is not the word to use, think more of having a method to your madness.
Good parents praise kids when they do right and chastise them for doing wrong. Sly parents pass around the praise and chastising with an eye towards timing and effect. This means you can get additional impact based who you address and when. A well-placed attaboy to a child in front of a child that just got chastised (or is feeling guilty about some action) can have two effects. It can make the praise seem stronger and the chastising or guilt sting more. As a bonus, this can set up a competitive spirit among the kids. The “good child” looks to stay ahead of the one in trouble. On the other hand, the one in trouble looks for ways to outshine the others and reverse the situation.
Still A Family
The hard part about this approach is that they should still be a family. I have yet to perfect this method and am mending fences with the children that have grown into adults. However, the shared experiences and interests have helped bring the kids back together as they have gotten older. They get on each other’s nerves, but that’s ok. They get on our nerves at times too.