As a child my siblings were my first friends. Sure, we fought like proverbial cats and dogs, but we always had each other's backs. Then, at some point between our tween years and college, my bond with my siblings faded away. Honestly, I blame my mom. It's not that she did it on purpose, though. Rather, she was accidentally ruining the bond between her kids in little ways every single day.
As a result of my fractured relationship with my siblings, I was determined to do things differently when I found out I was pregnant with baby number two. I wanted to treat my kids with fairness, I didn't want to accidentally favor one over the other, and I legitimately wanted my kids to be BFFs. I wanted them to have people close in age they could rely on in childhood and beyond, but I also selfishly wanted my kids to play with each other and give me a break once in a while.
But once my baby reached an age where he could actually interact with his big sister, I learned the sad reality of having more than one kid: you can't force your kids to bond with each other. All siblings fight, even those with the best relationships, and trying to avoid sibling squabbles often only makes things worse. So after listening to more screaming matches than I can count, I've realized that at least some of my kids' interpersonal relationship problems were my fault. I was making some of the same choices my own mom made. So, after taking a long look in the mirror, I'm now going to try my hardest to stop doing the following counter-productive things that low-key undermine my children's relationships with one another:
You Make Them Play Together
As a mom it's hard to hear that my kids don't want to play together. Not only does at least one of them inevitably feel left out as a result of this declaration, but I have to work even harder to entertain them when they refuse to entertain each other. But I've learned that you absolutely can't force your kids to be friends.
You Don't Acknowledge Different Abilities
As a parent, I wanted to treat my siblings the same in order to be fair. So I would assign them the same weekly chores or expect them to meet the same set of expectations.
That's not actually fair, though, because my kids have different abilities. Now that I've reflected on how hard it is for my kids to measure up against siblings who are bigger, stronger, more creative, calmer, or more easy-going than they are, I've started trying to meet my kids where they are and assign tasks, rights, and responsibilities based on their needs and abilities.
You Play Favorites
I probably don't have to tell you that showing one child favoritism over the others can ruin your kids' relationship with you and each other. Sometimes, though, we do this in subtle ways that aren't so obvious in the moment.
For example, when I don't make my neuro-divergent daughter do her homework, because she's having a rough day, or I still snuggle with my middle child at bedtime, I'm subtly showing favoritism. These seem like reasonable parenting choices, but my kids have told me that they make them seriously resent each other.
You Make Them Do The Same Activities
As a parent, it's so easy to want to err on the side of being "fair" in the activities you sign your kids up for. But kids are different and don't necessarily want to do the same sports, clubs, scouts, or lessons. Hell, even if they are into the same things, they may not want to do those same things together. In my experience, sometimes the best way to build a bond between your kids is to let them do their own thing on their own terms.
You Take Sides In Conflicts
When your kids are fighting it can be so easy to jump in and try to solve the conflict for them, especially when the injured party is younger and your mama bear instincts take over. I have had to force myself to stay out of it, though, and unless my kids legitimately need my help or someone is seriously hurt.
You Set Different Rules For Them Arbitrarily
I think it's totally healthy and necessary to set different rules for your kids, based on their ages, personalities, and comfort levels. For example, I let my 12-year-old daughter go to the park by herself, but I would not feel comfortable doing the same with my 5-year-old.
The trouble comes when I set rules for the kids and then end up enforcing them unequally. I remember when, as a teenager, I had less freedom than my older brother did at my age. Twenty-five years later, I'm still mad about it.
You Compare Them
Having five kids of different abilities and ages, it can be easy to make comparisons between them. It's hard to stop, too, and especially when you know they can do better or try harder. But I know it's necessary to keep those comparisons to myself.
You Play Competitive Games
As Dr. Mark Feinberg, head of Penn State University's Siblings Are Special Project, told Fatherly, sibling rivalry is totally normal. However, there are things we do as parents that can make it completely worse. Simple choices like putting siblings on opposite teams during game night can encourage competition rather than cooperation.
In contrast, cooperative activities, like putting together a puzzle or doing a scavenger hunt, can help your kids work together instead of compete against one another.
You Don't Treat Them As Individuals
As a parent, it seems easier to buy your kids the exact same thing for birthdays and holidays. Folks, trust me when I say this is actually a terrible idea. Not only did my kids hate, but it made them feel like I didn't see as individuals. I almost always chose something that appeals to one child more than the others, too, which made them think I favored them. As a twin I completely understand where my kids are coming from, which is why I realized I needed to start treating my kids the way that I would have liked to be treated when I was their age.