That sounds all fine and ideal, right? Maybe, depending on what stage you’re in with your family, it may sound impossible.
Because there are all kinds of variations and dynamics in family relationships!
And let’s be honest, more likely than not, sibling relationships (at least with younger kids), most often look more like this:
Sometimes relationships, specifically amongst siblings, tend to be the trickiest (close proximity smooshing together sometimes really different personalities, etc.)
And it’s not just the siblings and their personalities at work. There is so much that parents do to affect those relationships, sometimes without even knowing it, for better, (when we speak kindly and give them the benefit of the doubt they’re much more likely to do that with their siblings), or for worse! (praising one child more than another, unknowingly belittling, not having enough patience, etc.) Oh, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve wondered what issues our family will be sitting in a counseling office talking through some day, even after all our very best efforts!
BUT, I’m here to say, beautiful sibling relationships are worth fighting for!
There is nothing in the world like having all your siblings become your best friends.
One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve had over the years on this blog (aside from where did we get our round kitchen table and lazy-susan that we love…ha!) is how in the world are my siblings and I such good friends.
And although some of that is definitely just how the stars aligned, there are some things we can do, as parents, to help our children foster those precious relationships.
So this week on the In the Arena podcast my sisters and I are pondering some of the things our parents did to foster sibling relationships in our family growing up, and how that has infiltrated into how we are raising our own children.
We start out the podcast by letting listeners in on some of our most infamous fights growing up, because maybe being comfortable enough to engage in some good rows led us to be comfortable enough to engage in making up and learning to love through it all as well? Who knows.
We don’t actually know the recipe for our bonding, but we do know that we were definitely not always friends!
We came up with two key ways we think our parents did that helped us build our relationships.
Again, SO much of this is luck, and we talk about that in the podcast, but we wanted to share some tangible ideas for those parents out there who are trying to lasso in some help as they nurture their children.
Two key ways to help kids learn to get along
1) Build good relationship practices into the fabric of your daily life and model those practices yourself
“TUTORS & TUTEES”
When you have nine children I guess you need to learn to delegate. So our parents set us up to serve each other. And as we all know, when you truly serve someone else, your love for them deepens exponentially. At some point during my early teens our parents started assigning us older kids to be “Tutors” to the younger kids who were our “Tutees.” We switched who we were “in charge of” each month. I’m telling you what, I loved being the “sou-mom” for those little siblings and learned to love them more than ever as I helped them with their chores, at dinner, etc. SO much more about how this worked back HERE (and in the podcast of course).
We did this in our family and I loved watching our kids dote on each other.
“REPENTING BENCH” (formerly known as the “Fighting Bench”)
Our parents found this old bench at an old church for sale, bought it and added it to our kitchen.
When kids got in a fight they had to sit on that thing.
They stayed there until they could 1) tell our parents what they did wrong (ownership), and 2) apologize, and 3) give each other a hug.
I know, I know: sometimes that may sound like cruel and unusual punishment to “have” to hug a sibling when you still have hot tears smudging your face, and you are hurt. But I’m telling you, there is something about learning to work something out together that does wonders for relationships. It’s miraculous. And it’s ok if it takes a long time.
Time is one things most (younger) kids have.
Of course, this idea does not have to have an actual antique church pew to work. It can work sitting on a stair (this is what we did in our family), or on the couch, whatever works! But it does work. And it’s a beautiful thing.
More about the “Repenting Bench” back HERE (and in the podcast).
MODEL GOOD RELATIONSHIP PRACTICES
Whenever our parents were in a fight, they would come out in the kitchen and apologize to each other in front of us. I loved it. Sometimes my Dad would even dip my mom down for a kiss, if he was the guilty one. Somehow it made me feel safe.
They would take time to really listen to us. Which in turn I think helped us to listen to each other..
Oh they weren’t perfect, but I think they did a pretty great job. Lots more on the podcast.
Then the second thing we discuss is this:
2) Clear away the boundaries!
We limit the opportunities for our children become friends because life is so fast paced sometimes!
Let’s face it, we can’t expect good relationships to blossom if people are distracted all the time. Technology, while good for many things, limits bonding, that’s all there is to it.
Growing up we didn’t have cell phones, but we had television. And we didn’t watch it except for special occasions. I think this had a huge hand in helping us build relationships because we weren’t distracted. We had to no choice but to be together. My sister and I made up all kinds of games. Our beds became horse-drawn carriages, our instruments became our “friends” (yes, we were weird). We talked. And fought. And imagined. And we were together.
Our parents sure cleared boundaries by moving around a bunch. Some may think this really hinders kids and isn’t fair to them, but for us it forced friendships even more. We moved to England for three years once, then six months another time. We lived in Japan one summer, Oregon another summer, and Mexico too. (not for vacation, this was strictly culture learning/going to school, living with the locals. We had no other choices than to be together and to learn to get along.
Of course, this isn’t something every family will do (or want to do for that matter), but even figuring out an activity to do together: going on a bike ride, hiking, even cleaning together, is the same idea. There are so many distractions to family life and if you say no to them more often than not, you are going to see those relationships blossom.
When you work together you almost always HAVE to learn to get along. We did the regular Saturday jobs. Every summer we planted a huge garden at my Grandma’s house. Our parents found things that helped us work together.
And let’s face it, when you work together, you most often learn to get along.
A few summers growing up we created our own kind of “working together” where our kids could encourage each other in their “summer goals” (HERE) and if they all made it, they could earn a special thing they all decided to work toward together. This, I think, was their personal favorite.
Made such a sweet difference to see them working together for a common goal.
I LOVE that one reader in one of the posts I link below (I’m no stranger to talking about relationships!) said she ordered a huge t-shirt online and had her younger kids put it on together (each got one sleeve for an arm to extend from), and they had to work together to get a task done. Maybe this is even more brilliant than the “fighting bench” idea!
There are plenty of other ideas on that podcast, but I just wanted to give you a taste.
Because again, we all want to help our kids have meaningful and resilient relationships, right? Not only can those relationships create joy, those relationships can create the bedrock for so many other relationships in life.
***PLEASE NOTE*** If your kids aren’t getting along, despite all your efforts, please don’t think you’re failing! Remember my mom’s wise words “LIFE IS LONG”!! You may have kids hitting each other over the head with mixing bowls and even punching each other in the car (yep, both happened and are outlined in the podcast), but they can still grow up to be wonderful friends.
The podcast is HERE if you want to hear us talking about all this jazz and so many more details!
And here are other posts if you care to check them out:
Ideas to help solidify relationships
Ten Ideas to Foster Strong Sibling Relationships
Adult Sibling Relationships
Parent/Child Relationships and How to Nurture Them
There are so many good comments and ideas, especially in that first post. Would LOVE to hear more of what YOU do to foster great relationships, I know there are SO many good ideas out there. Leave your thoughts here or go to @eyresisters to add to the conversation there.
Sending love and best wishes as you strive to nurture relationships in your own beautiful ways!
I just want to say, I’m 33 now with my first son (almost 2) and I’ve been reading your blog since my early twenties. I grew up in a pretty unstable household with a single mom who was just doing her best. Your blog has helped me so much to heal my inner child and be intentional about the life I want to help my own kids lead. We definitely aren’t in the same income bracket as you, but so many of your values and practices have been swirling around in my head for years and I’m finally able to put them into place. I am truly in awe of the amazing things you do with your kids and hope I can install a fraction of the values in mine as you have. So thank you!
My sister and I HATED each other growing up, just really butted heads and have different personalities. But in high school we had to share a car and I don’t know what happened (maybe we just grew up!), but suddenly we became very good friends. We were only 1 year apart in school and ended up studying the same major in college. We had classes together and became the best of friends! We’ve raised our kids together and are still very close. She is such a blessing to me.
I think one thing that our mom modeled and has really been passed on in our family is to not get offended or too worked up when people say or do things. We’re not really pushovers, but when someone says something we just assume they meant it differently than it came out. That brings a lot of peace and grace into your life and seems to be reflected back.
I have to say that hearing your fighting stories at the first of the podcast made me feel so much relief, haha. Sometimes I feel like my kids fight too much and I’m so glad to hear that you guys fought too. Thanks for putting those real moments in the podcast, I’d love to hear more of them if you want to share.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you guys have good relationships because you CHOOSE to. You’ve been taught to communicate, to forgive, to work things out, to see the good in others, and then you ultimately keep CHOOSING Love. I think LOVE is a choice, not luck, not chance, not an accident. Relationships of any kind are really hard, and choosing forgiveness and kindness when things go wrong is the only way to move forward.
You guys have been abundantly blessed to have been taught all these things!