Can Brothers and Sisters be Best Friends?
When I began having babies I stored up in my heart, an ideal. Many would consider it too high an ideal. Why harbor false hopes?
But I would not let my hopes be dashed. Over the course of years, I would spend daily effort reaching for the ideal. For, my heart’s desire was that my children would grow up to be the best of friends.
I learned that the way to a happy home life was in understanding how a child’s soul grows. It isn’t enough to wash, clothe, and feed a child, and even punish him when he is naughty. His soul must grow.
The tiny word with seemingly insatiable yearnings is: “me.” Me-first is inherited from the sin of Adam. Self-importance begins in the cradle. The toddler, who cries, screams, whines or whimpers for his own way (and continually gets it) after his needs are met, can turn into a loud, angry youth or angry adult.
There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good she was very very good.
When she was bad she was horrid.
“The realized self of each of us is a distressfully poor thing,” says Charlotte Mason. And yet she also has a far-sighted view of self “whose limitations no man has discovered.” *1
Miss Mason sees the child’s soul to be fertile soil. It is wild in places, for sure, but if cultivated, an entire orchard of fruit can flourish. The ground is not hard-pack. Not yet. It is soft enough for woman’s work, for it a Mother's love that does so much of the cultivating.
All kinds of wonderful possibilities are hidden within the child. What he lacks is experience. It is Mother who directs hour by hour. This can be a tiring process. For a young mother surrounded by little inexperienced children, it can be exhausting. Little Me-firsts will rub and and rub against the grain. It may seem that she doles out penalties and natural consequences all-the-live-long-day. But when we punish a child for being selfish, jealous, for bickering, or for picking on a brother or sister this will only “awaken resentment and arouse greater spite against the person on whose account it is incurred. It will never diminish selfishness. Penalties will suffice for the moment, but another kind of correction is needed. *2
"Virtues, like flowers, grow in the sunshine. You can cultivate them or draw them out with love and reason, but you can neither force nor whip them into existence.” *3
The only way to make virtues grow is to train a child’s conscience.
Place before him ideas and motivations for self-government.
Instill in him a love for others.
Model kindness, fairness, and self-control.
To grow character in the sunshine is up to you. Never correct in anger. Our natural response is to control a child’s temper by overpowering it with a stronger one of our own. But this short-term remedy is short-sited. A soft answer turns away wrath. A few words spoken calmly about taking turns, or sharing, about kindness etc. is what is needed for the time being. Meanwhile train a child’s conscious by feeding him ideas of kindness, fairness, and friendship through stories. A little child picks up strong impressions from picture books. He eventually gathers ideas of virtue exemplified through longer works.
I think I was unconsciously drawn to picture books that depicted children, especially family members, playing or working, happily together. I was especially fond of the siblings drawn by Eloise Wilkin and Tasha Tudor. Sometimes our picture books were of busy animals getting along. My young children were attentive to the friendly activity inside Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever. Today, so are my grandsons.
If there is one thing more than any other, that is to be reverently cherished, it is the life of the family. A chapter book I read aloud near the start of our homeschooling years was, Little House in the Big Woods. Laura Ingalls Wilder places a high value on family togetherness. As her biographical series of stories unfold, mother, father, and sisters weather the storms of pioneer life with courage. From a storybook perspective we might glance back in time at the deprivation and endless toil, and call it "simple living." Although it was simple it was not easy. And yet how patient they were and appreciative of each other, and of small pleasures indoors and out-of-doors. This life was captured beautifully in the illustrations by Garth Williams.
Readers age 9-12 will find examples of sibling friendship in the chapter books by Eleanor Estes. It amazes me with what clarity she sees life through a child’s way of thinking. I’m guessing that a good memory and nostalgia have something to do with it. I also like how she disregards any list of “grade-level appropriate" vocabulary. The words she calls upon to describe her people and circumstances are rich, varied and interesting.
When my children were old enough to catch its subtle sense of humor, I read aloud Ginger Pye. Ginger is the dog who is lost in this mystery. Next, my girls read The Moffats along with a sequel or two, free of any cumbersome, classroom-y worksheets. The stories of Eleanor Estes pass along a subtle sweet flavor of the early 1950s from whence they were written. My links will take you to Amazon.
Training the conscious comes by direct teaching, too.
In all my years of recommending books I've not been as compelled to share a more delightful help than Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends – How to Fight the Good Fight at Home. Three homeschooled siblings contributed: Sarah, Stephen and Grace Mally. The Mally’s are personable. Their anecdotes and perspectives make the book bright. “Friendship” is not the subject matter to be dull, workbook-ish or guilt-laden. The Mally’s take turns explaining the benefits of being a good brother or sister while not ignoring “the real.” Their dad drew the humorous cartoons of “the real” which will not fail to bring a smile to your face.
A little silly, yes, but it is only icing on the sober. The chapter, “How to be a Blessing” contrasts this with ways to be a pest. The book is full of concrete suggestions. One list offers ways siblings can show appreciation for each other in word and deed. It begins with meekness. In “What Should I do When my Brother is Bugging Me?” we are shown how to respond with fruits of the spirit. Biblical examples, principles, and verses, are the compass for righteousness. “Get Your Stuff Out of Here,” is a chapter that admonishes us to not let conflict continue unresolved. The chapter on forgiveness is important in healing hurts.
The Mally children point out that, “your life’s work starts with your family” and by taking on the characteristics of a servant. To add to this I’ve recently heard that people who grow up with strong sibling relationships make happy marriages.
Although it appears to be written to the student age 9 to18, if these chapters were read aloud by Dad to all family ears, it would generate discussion and laughter. The young mother, surrounded by little Me-firsts, who reads it at nap-time will be armed with moral support. She can use all the help she can get.
Charity Begins at Home
Forming friendships (face to face) outside the family circle can be rewarding. But over the course of our children’s lives these friendships will ebb and flow, due to relocation, etc. I am thankful that although we’ve had our share of “the real” my adult children are close. They keep in touch by telephone just to chat, look forward to spending holidays together, and will visit and serve one another in times of mounting stress. I recognize this to be the grace of God made possible by the redemptive power of the second Adam. Romans 5:19
Yes. Brothers and sisters can be best friends. Is this an ideal you store up in your heart? It is very worth striving for. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let anything or anyone dash your hopes. It may feel like a rocky road. Keep plodding. Because it may be one of the most important things you ever do.
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in harmony! This begins with the family.
Thank you for visiting,
*1 Charlotte Mason wrote a collection of Sunday talks in for young people age 9-18 so that they would be enlisted in building their own character. Ourselves is quite a thorough work. My quotations are located in the introduction.
*2, *3 Borrowed from the chapter, “Bickerings” in A Charlotte Mason Companion.
This American made a discovery one day. When, just for fun, she spoke the above old English nursery rhyme with a London Cockney accent that dropped the “h” in forehead to make it “for-ed” - it rhymed sensibly.