Siblings without Rivalry Thoughts

I just finished Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. You may recall the grandmother who observed our family in the pool at the Marriott Courtyard in New York recommending the book to me. It has evoked some odd feelings in me, both strong and contradictory. I’ll try to tease them out.

Initially, I decided to practice helping my children verbalize their feelings. I quickly realized that almost during every negative interaction I was having with my children I was doing it wrong. However, I also could tell when I was doing it right. Yesterday was a very productive day for me. I worked very efficiently on my article in the morning, had a not so awesome lunch with the boys, worked really efficiently during their nap, and played with Seamus when he woke up first. We built a great block tower. He was content to sit and look at it. But then Gil woke up and Patrick walked in the door. Gil went into the living room and knocked down Seamus’s tower. Seamus started crying. Patrick said, “It’s okay Seamus, we can build it back.” Having just finished that chapter in Siblings without Rivalry, I said, “Seamus you must be really upset that Gilbert knocked over your tower. Maybe you can tell him how you feel.” Seamus went to hit him. So I quickly added, “With your words, not with your hands.” But that did seem to make Seamus feel better. So score one for the book. However, I’m pretty sure I compared them or cast them into sibling roles pretty quickly after that which the book says never to do.

The next challenge. I think that this book has made me really question the wisdom of having more than one child. Holy moly. If every single reaction I was having as an irritated parent (or tired parent) was going to have to be completely rethought and re-acted, maybe I should have just had one child. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with the additional burden of not comparing, because there’s no one to compare them too. (Except my brothers, and my friends’ kids, and my cousins’ kids…it ain’t pretty, and it’s a slippery slope). That argument is out. I just have to rethink comparing to describing. Example, “Yay, Seamus is such a big boy for going putting on his shoes and socks!” should be “I see you have your shoes and socks on and are ready to go.” Description! Description! Much better. Or “I see you both have teamed up to put away all the toys in the toy box. Now you can draw with markers if you want.” The beauty of this is while I’m way, way overwhelmed in thinking about all the words I need to change in my own head, I’m amazed at how much less stressed and emotionally involved in negative feelings I am when I am saying this new vocabulary.

I meant to make this more organized. I have an outline and everything. So my next panicked thought was, “What if two kids naturally become opposites, (and for the love, I know I’ve been polarizing my own) and it would be better to have a whole bunch so no one is pigeon-holed?” But I think it might be a danger in that scenario as well. The question of, what if they all excel at something, isn’t that ok? is answered by the book as, but why would you deny the ones who don’t excel the pleasure of drama, or music, dance or art? Again, revolutionary–but I think this book was first published in 1988, so not too revolutionary.

To sum up: I feel both more and less qualified to be a parent. I feel like I should have fewer children and more children. I feel like an utterly incompetent emotional tinderbox and a calm empowered tension diffuser. Every single interaction is a challenge and also an opportunity to build good feelings between my children. Equal is not equal. I’m probably going to have to read this book every year or so to remind me of the finer nuances.

Sharing a Snack


  1. Those 2 boys love each other, and you 2, so much…you are definitely doing the right things in raising them. Whether your “right” agrees with Faber/Mazlish’s “right” is meh…but having 2 beautifully well-adjusted children is the pudding proof…and they really are extraordinary children. F/M offer good tools, and your own instincts offer others….the boys are lucky to have you.

  2. ‘Only children’ are spoiled across the board. When children have a sibling, they are forced to work with each other: building skills that translate to positive communicative relationships with others as they grow older. If you had a whole crew, one would inevitably be excluded. Two boys is perfect. Also, no one is 100% prepared or qualified to be a parent. You’re trying your best and you care and that emotion is apparent to your boys, I guarantee it.

    Also, as an older brother myself, I’ve never stopped victimizing my younger brother in some form or another. It’s tough love and boys are prone to dish it out. It isn’t a hateful or spiteful action and has developed into a dialogue now that we’re adults, “Hey are you gonna apply for college or just sit around on your ass?” I said to my brother the other day. I want the very best for my kin and I hold him to a high standard.

    I think you are correct to model appropriate verbal responses for your boys during conflicts. Words are what distinguish us from animals, and in a perfect world our conflicts would all be resolved with some good old face-to-face discourse.

      1. If anything, the guy’s more successful than I am, he’s considering returning to Switzerland to get a master’s in culinary. He’s worked as a cook in NYC and now at Geronimo in Santa Fe. Making me look bad!

  3. There are no perfect parents
    I think reacting authenticly is important especially as your motives are love and a desire to foster good respective and loving sons. Trust yourself

  4. I like how you did such a good job with this post that I now don’t have to read that book. Non fiction is dumb. So is the myth that only children are spoiled across the board. I guess I can go around perpetuating it now though since we are about to make the same mistake you all did ;). Just kidding, your posts make me excited to have two boys. Seriously though, when are you going to cut the crap and bring them back to Burque where they are from?

  5. “So I quickly added, “With your words, not with your hands.” But that did seem to make Seamus feel better.” … This made me laugh so hard I almost missed the rest of the post, which is what makes you a great mom. Just cover all the dysfunctionality up with a good dose of humor and everyone will turn out fine.

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