Dear Rachel,

I am having a problem with my two girls, they are 17 and 16 years old. There is a tremendous amount of sibling rivalry between the two of them. We love them both dearly, they are both really wonderful girls and, they have so much going for them. They are doing reasonably well at school, and they each have a nice set of friends. The problem arises at home. They are both hyper sensitive and vigilant about how much attention/gifts/privileges the other gets. If one of them feels slighted, that's when the explosion happens! The "slighted" daughter starts crying and screaming, which only results in me feeling guilty, even if I'm not sure there is something for me to feel guilty about. We try and make sure that things are fair, and that no one is getting slighted, but, it's getting both emotionally and physically exhausting for us to keep this up. How can we try and restore some kind of peace in this situation?

Scorekeeping Mommy

Dear Scorekeeping Mommy,

Sibling rivalry, in all of its forms is probably one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. Most, if not all parents have a strong desire to give their children siblings, in the hopes that the children will form an indestructible, lifelong bond of friendship, love and camaraderie. While, most siblings do eventually become close as they get older, many will attest to the fact that they were not close when they were younger. When you have same gender children that are extremely close in age, the siblings are usually very close or not close at all. Naturally, siblings fight at some point, a wise woman a I know once told me, "If you don't want your kids to fight, then get separate homes for them."

That being said, it probably is outside of most people's financial realm to do that, so let's explore what can be done for most people given their living situations. First, understand that sibling rivalry is a healthy part of childhood, as long as parents handle it correctly. People can disagree over many different areas, whether it be philosophical, space, time or material things. As parents, we need to learn how to teach our children how to accept what they are given, even if it is different than what their brother/sister/friend/neighbor receives. The old adage, "Life isn't fair" is true; however, it needs to be exemplified from a Jewish standpoint, rather than a harsh one.

For you and your husband, you need to try and get clarity on this point first. What is good for one daughter, is not necessarily what's good for your other daughter. Being close in age, it could make it seem like they are one and the same person, however, they are individuals, and they need to be treated as such. Different people need things at different times. "Fair" is not a realistic goal. Instead, strive for "meeting everyone's needs as much as possible." Indeed, this too is a lofty goal, but one that hopefully yields healthier results. It is interesting to note there is no word or concept for "fair" in the Hebrew language. Why is that? Because, it is not a Jewish concept for things to be "fair". We believe that people get what they need when they need it; independent of others.

For example, if you are buying Daughter A new shoes, unless Daughter B needs new shoes as well, then there is no need to buy her a pair. Be clear on this for yourself, so when the resulting tantrum occurs, you are able to calmly, and without emotion be able to state, "I see that you are upset that your sister got new shoes, but, she really needed them. When the time comes that you need new clothing, you can be sure that we get them for you." Don't expect the tantrum to instantly resolve, but do believe that you are sending out an important message to your children, and eventually they will get it, even if they initially don't like it.

If your girls (and even your other kids) have problems with this, try using the above example. When the kids protest, suggest that they think of the following: you wouldn't feed your newborn chicken because that's what you are serving everyone else for dinner, just as much as you wouldn't give everyone else formula because that's what the baby needs.The ridiculousness of the example helps give clarity to kids as to the idea of different people having different needs.

To help support this philosophy, these girls need to be seen as individuals. Spend time with each of them alone. Recognize each of their individual talents that are separate from their sister. In your letter, you didn't point out anything about them that made them feel like individuals to me. Part of their sibling rivalry may be stemming from their need to be recognized as being separate from their sister. Get to know each one for who they are. Help them develop their own personal interests and talents. As they start to feel pride and pleasure in their own individualization, they will feel less threatened by differences in "things".

I want to thank you for taking the time to write about this common, yet challenging area in parenting. With love, understanding and time, I am sure that you will be successful in helping your daughters feel less competitive with each other. I wish you a lot of luck with your children, and may you see only nachas, joy, from them.