| Family Reflections |

It’s Not Fair!

There’s something to be gained from sibling rivalry


Siblings have a particular sensitivity to issues of fairness. “Why does he get to go with you?” “Why does she get new shoes?” The complaints are endless, all stemming from the feeling that “the goods” aren’t distributed evenly; that other, more favored children are getting more.

And indeed, the distribution is uneven. Easy kids get more smiles, while challenging ones get more intervention. Children with behavioral, academic, or health concerns get more attention. Toddlers get more cuddles, teens get more freedom. And even if there was only one set of identical twins in the family, one would inevitably get a little more of something than the other because of their individual needs, and because parents don’t walk around with rulers and recording devices attempting to ensure a completely even distribution of words, portions, or anything else.

“I knew that if I got my grandkids identical bouncing balls, there would end up being some sort of conflict. So I got four of the same ball, each in a different color. My daughter told me later there was a huge battle over who got which color ball, and the one who ended up with the orange ball sulked in a corner for hours!” says one grandmother.

Deep Feelings

Really, it’s about the unfairness of it all, and the deep implications of that unfairness. Why did she get the blue ball? Do you love her more than me?

Beneath unfairness complaints between siblings is often the gnawing insecurity around one’s lovability. If not for that, then our reactions to getting less would be quite different, along the lines of, “Sure, you got the extra teaspoon of ice cream, but that’s okay because I know that Mommy loves me too.” But when we’re not so sure about that, we rage at the injustice.

When adults marry and build families of their own, they still seem to care an awful lot about their status vis a vis parental love. “I’m the one who does all of the errands for Mom, takes her to appointments, and manages her paperwork. Nonetheless, she’s often short-tempered with me and full of complaints. But when Shia comes into town once every six months, she lights up and says, ‘Chavi, do you see how your brother takes so many days off work just to come see his mother?’ She’s always favored him over me.”

Layered Issues

This issue of competition for love often shows up in adult sibs as they negotiate the care of their aging parents. “I want Mom to have full time help in the house,” says Tsippy. Estie vetoes the idea. “She hates having someone around her all the time,” she says. Sure, it could be just a difference of opinion. But if it was, the conversation would end quickly, resolving one way or the other.

When it comes to siblings, there tends to be much more at stake. In this family, Estie feels that she understands Mom more, cares about her feelings more, and because of this closeness, should have more authority over her care. Tsippy is the eldest and feels she has authority because of her position. The conflict of opinion becomes intense, reflecting the deeper battle of the heart: “It’s Mommy and me,” “No, it’s Mommy and me.”

In truth, the sibling dilemma is only one of the many relationship challenges we face in life. Each exists in order to prompt our growth. The flavor of each challenge varies — marriage, parenting, in-law struggles, and all the rest — each triggering unique weaknesses in our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to Hashem.

The task involves turning our gaze inward, away from the flaws of the other party. From this vantage point we can see what we need to change, and we can find ways to heal ourselves. Is there a part of us in need of unconditional love? An interaction with a sibling can awaken that feeling and act as a candle to shed light on the hurting part. Then we have the opportunity to address that insecurity.

We have to wait until we grow up before we can harness the healing that sibling conflict can reveal, but when we watch our own children fighting it out, we can at least appreciate that there is value in their battle — it’s preparing a potential opening for growth in the future, if they will be so wise as to accept it.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 746)

Oops! We could not locate your form.