One of the most searing in my list of parental experiences is that of sibling rivalry.
It is natural yes; most times it is aggravated by unfair comparisons; it is not the children’s fault but the corrosion it causes on hearts all around can be lethal. With a desire for greater freedom and space, a generic unwillingness to compromise, insistence on individuality and ambition…have familial relations merely become a sleight of the mind? As more siblings leave home for colleges earlier and younger, it is hard to say if absence indeed is making the heart grow fonder. For Dad and Mom, the concern is primeval in nature, “They have only each other when we are gone.”
In the scrapbook of the Tsunami 2004 devastation at the Indian Air Force Base, Car Nicobar, there are haunting recounts of unbearable choices faced by the victims. Pilots, who flew the machines to safety but watched their families washed away from the air. It was also perhaps the only occasion when the Chief of the Indian Air Force was received by a base commander in his vest, pyjamas and chappals. And the one that twisted my gut….a mother struggling to keep her two children afloat, tiring out and having to make the impossible choice of which one to let go of.
Only a parent of two or more will even begin to fathom the heart rending conflict that would have passed her mind. Parents pour the same life force into all their children. They cry in equal measure for each; singing the same note when glad and stinging as bad when they fight and compeer each other. Is the answer therefore to keep it minimal? One couple, one child, less damage. There is this beautiful young lady I knew once who thought nothing of announcing to the world at large that she was glad she was an only child, at least she was secure in the knowledge that everything would come her way!
What does our history say on sibling rivalry? As far as tradition goes, Yamaraj and Yamuna are credited with the practice of Raksha Bandhan. It is believed that Shurpanakha was the reason Ravana abducted Sita. And Hindu mythology can’t seem to stop singing of the sibling affection between Krishna and Subhadra. To cover the gamut though, of course there was Kansa as well, who decided to kill all the children of his sister Devaki.
In psychological and theoretical terms, the competitive pattern is supposed to teach siblings critical life skills such as negotiation, valuing another’s perspective, toning down aggressive impulses and reaching compromises. By all accounts, it is a healthy, normal and natural aspect of growing up together. But it can hurt everyone involved less to remember two things: one, that kin have a tremendous power to make each other feel happy, low, confused, lonely or whole and two, effort and attitude matter.