Fresh off an argument with his younger brother, my oldest son said, “It must’ve been hard to be a brother or sister of Jesus.”
He spoke of the brood parented by Mary and Joseph, giving Jesus a full house of half-siblings. From Matthew 13:55-56, we know there was James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and at least two sisters.
“Think about it,” my son continued. “Imagine trying to compete with Jesus!”
Laughing myself into a side-cramp, I flashed back to that famous episode of the Brady Bunch, where middle-child Jan whined and whinnied about living in the golden shadow of sister Marcia.
“Well, all day long at school I hear how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that! Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!”
Can’t you see it? Mary and Joseph surrounded by youngsters stomping their sandaled feet on the dusty ground. “All we hear is how perfect Jesus is or how Godly Jesus is. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
The Bible doesn’t speak much of Jesus’ childhood, leaving me wondering what life was like for those kids under Joseph’s roof. I once heard a pastor speculate that sibling rivalry must’ve existed in this Biblical Brady Bunch. In such a large family, there were likely squabbles and scream-a-thons between the children.
Frankly, I can’t imagine Jesus bouncing a stone yo-yo off Simon’s head or walloping James with a dead fish for bothering his “stuff.” I see Jesus as a cool-headed big brother, a peacekeeper who resolved disputes, looked out for his siblings and gave sound advice.
Jesus would be a great role model for our children— if they’d stop fighting and pay attention!
Sibling showdowns are as old as time, and will be around until God creates the new heaven and earth. Cain and Abel had issues, as did Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers. Eliminating rivalry might be possible by plunking our children on opposite sides of town—but even then, they’d probably still argue through text messaging.
Dr. James Dobson calls sibling rivalry “the most irritating feature of childrearing”, and writes that it boils down to “old-fashioned jealousy and competition between children.”1
Amen to that!! My oldest son is biological, and was 10 when his brother was adopted at age seven. Talk about dynamics for triggering a Battlefield for Bro’s. Both boys had to make adjustments, and the slightest thing—“his hamburger is fatter than mine!”—could blow the sensitivity gauge sky high.
Hubby and I refuse to grill burgers to an exact science—and have learned that we can’t parent that way either. Though we build from the same Christian foundation and house rules for both, we realize our boys are originals, not copies, with varying needs, responses, abilities, interests and talents.
According to Dr. Dobson, sibling rivalry can be minimized when we’re careful not to exult any child as superior. That’s why I think it’s important to focus on children as individuals, not specimens for comparison. If a child struggles in school, customize ways to help her improve for herself, not so she’ll “be smart like her straight-A sister”. If we’ve got three who play basketball and one who prefers theater, let’s not try reprogramming the thespian into an athlete, implying that we place less value on his interests.
Shortly after the adoption, my boys asked if they each got half of my heart.
“Hearts don’t divide,” I answered. “Hearts EXPAND.”
It’s true—we don’t make room in our hearts for children; our hearts make room for them, by growing big enough to love each child fully not fractionally. It doesn’t, however, work that way with time and attention —and if we’re not distributing fair portions, we need to. One, our children deserve it. Two, imbalance will have siblings resenting each other—and us.
Of course, we can run a balanced household and still feel like Desert Storm is re-brewing in the sandbox. Siblings fight, period. We’ve found it helpful to take advantage of cease-fires by discussing peaceful, “What Would Jesus Do” ways to resolve conflict, and to encourage empathy. Children need to put themselves in each others’ shoes, and really consider how it feels to get slapped upside the head with a banana peel.
The world is full of grown, close-knit siblings who once wanted to sell each other to the circus. And behind them are parents who say, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalms 133: 1, NIV)
They made it…and so will we.
1 The New Strong Willed Child, p. 139, Dr. James Dobson, 2004