Sibling rivalry is a normal and expected part of having more than one child at home. So is helping kids navigate those feelings of inequity.
As a blended family — my husband and I are raising my son and his two daughters — these challenges seem to be magnified by parenting schedules that don't always line up, co-parenting across three families and experiences between kids that are not always shared.
I had a recent conversation with my oldest stepdaughter, which was prompted by some minor scuffles between the kids about things not feeling fair.
"Here's the thing," I told her. "You and I share something special. We're both the oldest daughters in our family, and I'm going to let you in on a little secret: that role can be a really hard one. It's going to feel and actually be 'unfair' sometimes."
I had her remember back to when she wanted to get her ears pierced. I reminded her it felt like a big deal and took her parents awhile to decide she she were old enough.
"Well, when your ears didn't fall off, you made it much easier for your sister to get her ears pierced — maybe even before (the age) you got to," I said. "Because here's the real secret: parents of first children don't totally know what they're doing, and they worry a lot about every decision. It is going to be unfair sometimes."
It seems a day doesn't go by when we don't hear protests of "Why did they get to do that?," "That's not fair! I had to wait until I was 8 to do that!" or the dreaded "What did you guys do without me?" question that comes after a child has been with the other parent.
My husband and I find ourselves in a delicate balance of creating equitable experiences, while also helping each of our kids understand that, unfortunately, we won't always be able to make decisions that are perfectly fair or share all experiences equally across kids in the family. Blended or not, this just happens in families.
As parents, we know that these "unfair" feelings do pass over time, but at the moment, I can't help but feel a pang of guilt and empathy as our kids have to work through these emotions. We try to avoid circumstances that might make any of the kids feel left out. But sometimes it's a simple thing I don't think about — like a meal, a favorite show or a simple family outing to the store — that will spark these rivalries.
In our family, we try extra hard to make sure we're saving the best experiences for when they can be shared among the five of us. I don't want anyone to be left out, but it does happen. I've come to understand that there's no perfect solution to sibling rivalries and no way to prevent unfair feelings.
However, I've also learned that letting the kids express their frustration in a respectful way and be heard is half the battle. Like the conversation I had with our oldest daughter, these times can also be opportunities to share our own experiences and help our kids begin to understand the complexities of the family dynamic.
Jessica Janssen Wolford is a mom and stepmom raising three kiddos with her husband, Eric, in Elkhorn. You can read more about her experiences on her blog, “A Step in the Right Direction.” You can also follow her on Instragram at @jessicaljanssenwolford.