I was waiting in the grocery store line last week, watching two preschool siblings. They were clearly both getting tired and a bit bored so they decided to entertain themselves by fighting with each other. As they snatched snacks from the grocery cart and then ripped them out of each other’s hands, I felt very relieved to be beyond this stage of parenting, although I remember it well.

One of the things I’ve noticed in my practice is that children who have brothers and sisters are better at solving interpersonal difficulties as they get older. There is no one like a sibling to help you learn about the joys and pains of intimacy or how to manage all aspects of those relationships. This is especially true when siblings are close in age.

I have three children and two stepchildren. There are four years between the oldest and the youngest. That was a great deal of “intimacy” at times – especially with four boys. Over the holidays, we were able to get together with the four boys and the closeness between them was evident as they joked about when they were younger and seriously discussed difficulties they were currently experiencing. If someone had told me twenty years ago when they were teaching each other to burp on demand that they would one day be discussing the differences between life in Alberta and life in Ontario like regular grown-up human beings, I am sure I would not have believed it. If I had not been there, I might not have believed it now.

Even when they were young, that closeness could be very evident. My sons, who are thirteen months apart to the day, often competed at the same level in sports. When they played baseball on the same team, they could be unbeatable in those positions, like pitcher and catcher, where communication can give a team the edge. If they competed against each other, they often performed better as each could bring out the best – and worst – in each other.

For parents in a similar situation, it can be embarrassing to watch your sons haranguing each other when they are in competition, but any other competitor better not try to do the same.

My sons were also speedskaters. My younger son was better at the physical aspects of the sport while his brother had mastered the strategy perfectly and knew just how to use that to his advantage. The one with the physical advantage never quite understood the head game and so other competitors could use that to rattle him. I watched once as a competitor said to him, “I’ve got you in the next race. You can’t sprint like I can.” My son who relied mostly on his physical ability to win was upset, but his older brother was irritated by what had happened and said to him, “Hey, you’re great for this race. He is a sprinter and he’ll tire before you even get started.” My older son went out with his brother, cheered him on and watched him win easily.

So, if, right at this moment, your kids are fighting at the grocery store or having a public burping contest and you’re feeling like the world’s worst parent, try to stay calm. They are practicing for the good days.

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