Sibling rivalry is an issue that concerned me even before my second son was born and that’s why I took some steps to combat it at the start. A few weeks before going into labor, I bought a Sesame Street workbench for my oldest son. It would be a gift from his little brother (or sister–ultrasounds weren’t done in those days so it was always a surprise). After the baby was born, I asked my husband to take our son Ahmad out to buy a toy for his little brother. I hoped this gift exchange would help.
It may have, but there were unexpected consequences. One of the tools on the Sesame Street workbench was a Big Bird hammer. One evening, when the baby was two weeks old, my oldest–who was nearly two at the time–took his Big Bird hammer and conked his little brother in the head while I was nursing him. The baby passed out and I panicked, of course. My husband was at the masjid–it was Ramadan–and this was long before cell phones, so I called the masjid and kept trying and trying until I got someone to answer. My husband borrowed a car (we didn’t own a car until our third son was born) and drove us all to the hospital.
The baby was fine, the doctors said, though he was passed out for thirty minutes. He was just stunned. We put the Big Bird hammer away and hoped for a more peaceful time with our two.
But that wasn’t quite the end. When our second, Umar, started sitting up, his big brother knocked him over. This happened many times, at least as I remember, though I corrected him every time. Suffice it to say they had a rocky beginning to their relationship. When Umar started walking though, everything got better. Maybe Ahmad took him more seriously then, or maybe he had just gotten used to the idea of having a brother. For the last twenty-five years, they have been very close.
My boys did occasionally fight though, as brothers do. Sometimes it was over a toy. I simply took the toy away and told them no one could have it until they agreed to share. Sometimes it was just plain aggression, especially around the time puberty set in. I made sure no one got hurt and often I let them wrestle it out.
Overall, though, there hasn’t been much fighting among our boys. Maybe it’s because “the family that prays together, stays together.” My husband and I are very big on family togetherness. We’ve prayed together, eaten together, traveled together. We always tried to make sure that our boys felt closeness in our family. Sometimes over the years I’ve remembered that one of the signs of the Day of Judgment is that young people will prefer their friends over their families. Some of that is normal, but we never let friendships or anything else get in the way of our family when they were young.
Our boys have also worked together, and this goes back to my post on teaching responsibility. When they have to cooperate in washing dishes, cleaning the yard, or straightening up the living room, I think it does bring them closer together.
These days our boys are scattered. One is across the ocean, another is in my hometown. Two live in the same state as we do, but in different cities. Even so, they maintain their ties across the distances. And when they reunite, it’s as if they were never separated.
I think that, at some point, every firstborn would be happy to be the only one, basking in undivided attention. But siblings are a gift we can give to our children. And we also have to teach and guide them in developing those relationships. If we’re successful, they’ll have a gift that lasts a lifetime.