Sibling Rivalry at the Beach

It's the week before Thanksgiving and I'm at the beach. My teen boys have a trimester break. It's a beautiful time to reflect before the busy holiday season commences. 

Last year, we enjoyed our new school's atypical break for the first time. I drove my boys to the Outer Banks and my daughter and husband joined later in the week. I remember feeling such peace those days. Everyone was content. We did our own thing, we did some things together. No disagreements, everyone chipped in with dinner and chores. Pure bliss ensued.


This year, I decided it would be great to include my daughter in the mix. I took her out of school for the week. She did not resist. It was to be a happy beach week for mom and her three kids. Curiously, the bliss from last year did not endure. It wasn't the addition of my daughter per se, it was the return to the patterned sibling dynamics.

When any two of my children are together, the rivalry is at a simmer. Add the third to the mix and it can easily move to the boiling point. You insult me, I insult you. You duck out of chores, I duck out of chores or maybe I just chastise you until you relent. A favorite tactic is to go to the bathroom when it's time to do dishes. Another is to assume the parent role and tell the sibling what he/she is supposed to do. These tactics go over like a lead balloon and what takes hold disturbs the peace. 

I love the beach because we get a chance to slow down. Undistracted by everyday life and less able to escape each other, we are fully in our experiences. I am more likely to notice when a comment is hurtful, when a child needs extra hugs, and when my children need some one on one time with me in the form of a walk on the beach. 

Home is where children can practice their relationship skills, but it's also where they learn to be guarded and defensive. I took some time to go into observer mode this week and I noticed how my children trigger each other and me. I noticed they are quick to blame one another when things don't go their way or when they don't like how they feel. I'll ask, "Is it possible for another person to make you feel a certain way." The reply is a resounding, "yes" until I say, "can I make you feel happy right now?" The concept intellectually is within their grasp, but in the moment the "it's not my fault" defaults.  


Some of these confrontations in our family are like the movie "Groundhog Day." You can continue the same patterns that don't serve you like you are stuck reliving the same day over and over or you can try something new. What opportunities are there for a change in family dynamics?

This week at the beach, we did a deep dive on the why's behind our behaviors. How are these unkind words and thoughts serving you? Does it really help you achieve your goal? Does it feel peaceful? Do you like how you feel when you make hurtful comments? 

I believe we can improve how we communicate with each other. We are likely to fail at it a bunch, but our family is a place that wipes the slate clean like Groundhog day. We can try again and see if there's a different result. We are not born into this world understanding how to cultivate great relationships, but we are born with the innate need to connect with one another. We're all learning on the job.

Lessons from the beach: 

1. Good faith. I had a roommate once in college who consistently emptied half the dishwasher. I never knew if it was dirty or clean when I came home. She was keeping score. In a household of five people coming and going, keeping is score is forever elusive. How would it be if we didn't keep score and took it in good faith that we were all working toward a common goal. The phrase, "life isn't fair" never resonated with me as a kid. It's not about fairness. Fairness meters are hard to come by. Let's work together in good faith, in the open, and with respect. 

2. Words matter. When you start a sentence with, "you're so_____" or "I think_____" or "that's so____" the feedback receptor shuts down in the other person. What you think about a situation and how you feel about the situation can be different. Sharing how you feel is vulnerable and can be a catalyst for change. 

3. You can only control your own behavior. People get the benefit of the doubt, however, you are only responsible for yourself and cannot control others. Establish firm boundaries and let people know when they've crossed a line. We teach people how to treat us by what we allow.

4. Rule of thumb: 3 positive comments to 1 constructive comment. People like to feel validated and appreciated. Culturally, complaining about what we don't like is more common than saying what we do like. Letting people know what you do like about them will make it easier to receive constructive feedback. It creates a gratitude frame around how we act when we notice what does feel good in our life. It's also a great way of utilizing the law of attraction.