A family New Year’s resolution

Published 1:56 pm Monday, December 31, 2012

By Dennis Edwards

My greatest worry as a parent involves the fear that there was something I missed, something I didn’t tell my son, some danger I didn’t warn him about, some truth I neglected.

I think every parent feels that way at some point. Could it be we worry so much about profound truths neglected we forget to emphasize the more meaningful truth right in front of us? The obvious.

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The obvious in this case is mastering the not so simple art of teaching our children how to be life long friends instead of sibling rivals. How to prevent competition for a parent’s approval from escalating into hatred and destruction. Psychiatrists tell us sibling rivalries start at birth with competition for parental attention. Sometimes the genesis is resentment toward a younger sister who takes attention from an older brother. “I was the favorite until she came along.” “Mom always liked you best.” “I never could get Dad’s attention. He always favored you.”

Many of these memories are made around holidays like Christmas and New Year’s. The stuff appears harmless until you fast-forward several decades to see an intense hatred has taken root where love should have grown. It can begin with a brother resenting the fact that people say you look more like Dad than they do. Harmless, that is, until you realize the sibling saying that is now in his 60s. Some sibling rivalries escalate to the point where a brother will go out of his way to destroy his blood brother.

Every day psychopaths and sociopaths do that kind of thing. Psychiatrists warn an obsession that begins with winning parental approval can lead them to target brothers or sisters to the point where they all but destroy a sibling’s career, plot to have them arrested, plan to destroy their families and do all they can to blow up a sister’s or brother’s reputation. It’s all done just to say, in effect, “you thought he was great when you should have been paying more attention to me.”

Could this New Year’s resolution offer parents an unusual opportunity to get control of these kinds of rivalries? Why not? In 2013, instead of encouraging competition at every turn, maybe we resolve to teach our children how to bond as friends in competition, how to get along, how to appreciate each other and most of all how to like each other. It’s hard to love somebody you don’t like. It’s also hard for some children to tell you what they really want. The quiet one may not say so but he’d really like it if you make over him like you make over the oldest or the youngest.

Playing favorites may make parents feel good. But do we really want our families to come undone years later over who was Mom’s favorite? We wonder, “why can’t my children get along” or “why do they hate each other?” Could be we made it impossible for them to be friends by favoring one over the other, by encouraging destructive rivalries.

Sibling rivalries are real, but they don’t have to be family fatal. Not if we practice making each child feel special. If we must tell him he’s “just like his father” make sure it’s for something wonderful. Remember he is his father’s child, and it means something to be like Dad.

My son turned out to be our only child. But had there been another, I’d try to teach them to say good things about each other. Train them to look out for each other. Mold them into a life long friendship that would last long after I’m gone. That’s a pretty good New Year’s resolution, isn’t it? The kind we can start in 2013. A resolution we must stick with, no matter what, to ensure many wonderful Christmases and New Years to come.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dedwards247@comcast.net.