Cinderella’s stepsisters got jealous when Prince Charming fell in love with her. Scar fought with Mufasa for power in The Lion King. Zack and Cody quarrelled over anything and everything in The Suite Life. Sibling rivalry is common to all of us, and if we don’t deal with it, it can easily turn into bitterness or resentment, and eventually affect how we view family and each other.
Family has always been a part of God’s plan. While God’s desire is for families to be in harmony, the devil desires to break bonds and sow discord. Our sibling rivalries, no matter how small, can be a way for the devil to cause disharmony in our families. Conflict can arise from two sources. Firstly, it may come from our own insecurity when jealousy and comparison creeps in. Secondly, it can result from others’ expectations of us, or when people play favourites.
When my younger sister was born and got the attention I once had as the only child, my irrational 6-year-old self grew jealous because I believed my parents loved her more than me. While growing up, I started comparing myself with her, thinking, “Why can’t I be as pretty as her?” and “Why can’t I dance like her?” I only realised a few years ago that she feels inferior to me too!
Comparison stems from failing to see that we’re good enough, and grows into a constant feeling of inferiority as our siblings become our measure of worth and success. We try to match up to their standards and live in their shadow, ultimately tiring ourselves out by striving to be someone we’re not. Whether it’s in our academic results, our looks, how much attention we get from our parents, how popular we are, what material possessions we have... When we compare, we easily grow jealous, and over time, it subtly suffocates our sibling relationships with tension and unhappiness.
The root of comparison is probably dissatisfaction with who you are. It is an identity issue, because by constantly comparing and jealously wishing that you are more like your sibling, you are actually suggesting that God should have made you differently. Satan is extremely persistent in attacking our identities and making us believe his lies. To counteract jealousy and the effects of comparison, we’ll need to discover who we are by embracing our identities as daughters of God. Psalm 139:13-18 tells us that God created us fearfully and wonderfully. He makes no mistakes!
When we understand that God has made us uniquely, we can let go of inadequacy, inferiority and competitiveness. It’s only when we are at peace with who God created us to be that we are free of the need to compare ourselves with our siblings and anyone else.
Sibling rivalry can also result from others’ expectations and favouritism. Unlike comparison and jealousy, expectations and favouritism are not things we have much control over.
In our Singaporean society, expectations from our parents and relatives are the norm, especially when it comes to academic results. There is a well-known joke that since we’re Asian, we can’t get anything other than an A or we’ll be B-sians or C-sians! The most common method of motivation is for our parents to compare us with our siblings or even cousins in hopes that it’ll push us to want to be better.
"When Kor-kor was your age, he wasn’t as naughty as you! Did you hear that your cousin scored 6 points for her O-Levels? Mei-mei got voted President of Student Council…" Are you going to try to get a leadership position too?"
Most of our parents don’t say these things to intentionally hurt our self-worth, but for many of us, it can cause us to feel inferior and envious of our sibling’s abilities, resulting in tensions in the relationship. As hurtful and stressful as their words may be, our parents’ intentions are generally good. Their desire is for you to do well, rather than to make you feel like you need to match up to your sibling!
In most cases, favouritism is only perceived and not real. A friend shared that she used to think her mother was biased for specially cooking her older sister’s favourite food every weekend just because she stayed in the university hostel. She realised the misunderstanding when she went to university herself, and her mother did the same for her. The perceived favouritism caused tension in the sibling relationship that didn’t need to be there at all.
For me, I felt my parents were unfair because they were stricter on me in the area of academics than they are now with my sister. Also, she had a handphone at an earlier age than me. Yet this doesn’t mean my parents favour her more. Since I’m the first child, my parents may have been more cautious with me, but now that they are more confident, they are able to give my sister freedom at a younger age. It’s not favouritism, but we can easily perceive it that way if we don’t try to look at it from our parents’ point-of-view .
Sometimes, when we’re already feeling sensitive toward perceived favouritism, we tend to have an automatic filter that blinds us from seeing the special things our parents do for us too. We only see what they do for our siblings, thinking they’re giving our siblings more love and attention when it’s really not true at all.
At the same time, there are parents who show real favouritism. When you are constantly compared with your brother or if your parents dote on your sister more than you, it can be a real struggle to maintain a good relationship with our siblings. It is a fight to hold on to your identity and reject the negative thoughts that you are not good enough. Take comfort in who God says you are and know that you are fully accepted and loved by your Heavenly Father. If you’re the one who is more favoured, you can find ways to assure your siblings that they are of worth. Even gently letting your parents know how your siblings feel can help to make the situation more ideal.
Happily Ever After?
None of us will be able to easily resolve conflicts with our siblings, and for some, these tensions may last a lifetime. However, if we are willing to change ourselves and love our siblings unconditionally, perhaps we will be able to move from sibling rivalry to truly being able to celebrate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, a step closer to the harmony God desires for our families.
This article first appeared in Issue 6. To read more on family, purchase a copy here.