Sometimes when I look at my 2-year-old and 6-month-old, they are the picture of brotherly love. Martin comforts Jesse when he cries, they hold hands, or Jesse giggles at Martin’s antics. I can see the playmates they will be in a few short years. My emotions well up as I watch them interact. They don’t know it yet, but the relationship they build with each other now will be one of the most significant in their lives. At least, I can always hope.
The same is true of my eleven-year-old. More often than not, he enjoys playtime with his brothers. Sometimes, he’s a bit of a rascal, but Martin typically doesn’t mind rough play as much as I do. On the whole, he’s helpful and loving. Unlike the little ones, he’s old enough to understand the importance of his brothers, at least somewhat. However, he’s so much older that his relationship with them for the next twenty years or so will be more nurturing and role-model oriented than the peer-level relationship between Martin and Jesse.
As amazing as it may sound per the previous paragraphs, our life isn’t always a picture of harmony. Jesse is just starting to be more mobile and capable of grabbing the toys he wants. Martin loves to share with his brother on his own terms, but I’m starting to see jealousy when Jesse reaches for Martin’s wooden train or his favorite car. This jealousy isn’t a new thing. Before, Martin would express his frustration to me when I had to stop playing with him to nurse Jesse or change his diaper. His cries of, o“No, Mommy, no,” gave me a hint of the jealousy to come.
I’ve got to deal with it. I’ve got to work with them to get along. It would be easy to say “they’ll grow out of it” or “they are just acting like kids”. It would be easier than saying “no” and telling Martin and Jesse they must get along with their siblings. But in the long run, ignoring or accepting their frustration is detrimental to their relationship with each other and also carries over to their friends and future classmates.
Our home right now is my little ones’ whole entire world and practice for life. The way our family interacts and loves or hates each other is how my kids will learn to interact with the greater world. What I teach them about loving and accepting each other is what they will take into a diverse and culturally different society. If I view my parenting role as a passive one, especially in how my kids get along (or don’t get along), I’m setting these boys up for interacting in a negative way with all people.
And so I correct them. I stop them when they show signs of being jealous. I don’t just say “no,” though. I explain we must love each other. Sometimes it is enough. But sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes they don’t want to love each other because it means sacrifice and giving more than they want to give. Those times, I have to make them sacrifice. I have to make them give more than they want to. I tell them we have to learn to live as a team. Being a team and living in harmony often means proactively putting yourself last and pursuing the betterment of someone else.
And I hope their little brains take hold of this idea. I hope one day it becomes a joy to put each other first. Even when it’s hard, I hope they can see the joy in loving each other well. I hope their brotherhood will extend to friends, neighbors, their community, and the world.
This type of parenting is humbling because it shows me where I fall short. I find myself learning from what I’m telling my kids. I can’t expect them to be willing to sacrifice and give things up without being a model of the sacrificial love I’m trying to build in them. My words are futile if I’m jealous and angry, if I’m short-fused and frustrated a majority of the time. They will learn to imitate me first and foremost.
When I see that glimmer of frustration in their eyes, when I see them deliberating about sharing or snatching the coveted toy from their brother, I look to the future and see that same feeling taken into adulthood, maybe a bit more maturely expressed, but hurtful nonetheless. And I impress on their hearts to take those naturally selfish feelings and choose to love anyways. I remind myself to speak love to them, so they will speak love to each other.