MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 26th, 2014, 1 Comment

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 24, The Wedding, Part II

Partners for Life

The Framework
After many, many false starts, Mitch and Cam finally get married tonight. The grooms don’t have the most captivating storyline in their own wedding episode though. Competing with the couple’s story is Jay’s heartwarming reconciliation with Mitch and Haley’s “I like him; I like him not” relationship with Andy. But it was the interactions between the siblings that captured my attention tonight.

There’s the sibling teasing as Luke squabbles with Manny like a stereotypical “married couple.” Alex captures it all on film, exclaiming: I can’t get enough of this!

There’s the sibling snubbing as Haley ignores Alex in favor of Andy.
Alex: Okay, this is weird. I think this is the same seat I use to nervously scratch on – on my way to school.
Haley (looking at her phone): Ahhh. Poor thing.
Alex: Yeah. Even though I felt such pressure to be …
Haley (still looking at phone): Andy’s flight is delayed again!
Alex to Haley: Okay, that was close. We almost connected on a human level.

But it’s Claire’s closing voiceover that best encompasses what it means to be a sibling. As Mitch walks down the aisle on Jay’s arm, Claire reflects: I remember like it was yesterday – the day that Mitchell came home from the hospital in a very unfashionable white diaper with three strands of scraggly Raggedy Andy hair … We were inseparable. I was his big sister. His big brother. His nemesis. His protector. His best friend … I was his first partner …

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
For years researchers have tried to figure out what shapes kids’ personalities the most. First they thought it was parents – especially moms. Next they thought it was genes. Then it was their friends. Now more and more evidence suggests that of all the factors that shape personality, siblings are at the top.

This makes sense from just the sheer amount of time kids spend with their siblings. Even during the teen years when pushing away from family is the norm, kids still spend at least ten hours a week with their sibs. All this together time gives brothers and sisters lots of opportunity to learn from each other – with learning going both up and down the age scale.

The sibling fights that drive us crazy give sibs training on how to resolve conflict – and how not to do it. This can give them a big advantage down the line in marriage and in the workplace.

Sibling rivalry can push kids to learn skills and build strengths. Sometimes younger kids mimic their older sibs while older sibs push themselves to do things so as not to be out-shone by a younger sib who has already done it. At other times, to minimize the rivalry, siblings strive to carve out their own identity by being different: She’s the pretty one; I’ll be the smart one or He’s the athlete; I’ll be the musician.

And for learning about the world of the opposite sex, there’s nothing better than having an older sibling who’s a member living in the same house. Compared with their peers, girls with older brothers and boys with older sisters tend to converse more easily and be better liked by members of the opposite sex.

Phil (wrapping up his duty as wedding officiant): By the powers vested in me by the state of California, I am privileged to pronounce you spouses for life.

The thing is, even if Cam stays with Mitch for the rest of his life, he wasn’t there from the beginning like Claire. Our spouses arrive relatively late in life, and our parents will eventually be gone. So it’s siblings who may be the only ones who truly qualify as partners for life. And given the powerful force of sibling relationships, we moms have a stake in building healthy relationships between our kids.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Below are some tips to help you help your kids get along.

Don’t compare their achievements. If you do, you’ll only make your kids’ natural rivalry worse. Instead, look for areas in which each child is doing well and praise them without measuring them against their sibs or anyone else. Use words like “quick” and “strong” rather than comparison words like “quickest” or “strongest.” Viewing themselves as the quickest or the strongest causes kids to crave the exhilarating feeling of being the best. And as they get older and the comparison pool gets bigger, there will almost always be someone who is quicker or stronger.

Avoid pigeonholing them. Adolescence is a time when kids are finding out who they are and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. Labeling them tells them who they are before they’ve even had a chance to figure things out for themselves. Narrow reputations (the creative one, the smart one, the athletic one, the spoiled one, the problem child), even when they’re stated in positive terms, can be bad for our kids. They can feel pressure to live up to positive labels and to think of their negative reputations as unlikely to change regardless of their efforts to improve.

Promote both shared activities and alone time. Siblings benefit from time together to learn social skills – like how to compromise, take turns, and make amends. But everybody needs some time alone. And sibs tend to get along better if some times are designated as time away from each other – especially during vacation times when there’s no school to break up the kids’ time together.

Don’t play favorites. Favoritism is the one thing that can make or break our kids’ relationships with one another. For kids the real issue is fairness. But if we try to be fair by treating all our kids the same, we’re in for trouble. Because we’re bound to treat our kids of different ages, abilities, and needs differently. Plus even if we could treat each of our children in exactly the same way, chances are they’d respond to us in different ways and their experiences would not be the same. So rather than suggesting to your children that you’ll try to treat them equally, it’s wiser to assure them that you’ll strive to be fair by taking their individuality into account and giving each what they need.

Kids spend more time with their siblings than they do with anybody else – more than they spend with their friends, with their teachers, with us, or even by themselves. And kids are stuck with their siblings for life. So it’s well worth the time and energy it takes to help our kids get along.

Your Parenting Experiences
From the time they are born siblings begin shaping each other. They serve as sparring partners, measuring sticks, protectors, competitors, co-conspirators, collaborators, models, and cautionary tales. Which of these roles best describe the relationships you and your sibs shared as kids? What do you think your kids would say about their relationships with each other?

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1 comment

  • Such great insight. Instinctually, I try to carve unstructured time for my two kids (tween/teen) to have together, even if its just the in-between times in our schedules. The older they get, there is a lot less of that time they always had when they were younger.
    My heart is warmed when they are at home just the two of them, and the older one asks the younger one to go play tennis, or vice versa with the younger child asking for a jumping buddy on the trampoline. I look out on my yard when I notice a certain quiet, and find they aren’t jumping at all but are cuddled up watching a video on their iphone and giggling. It reminds me that they offer one another something I can’t. I am grateful, and I decide dinner can sit on the stove another 10 minutes.

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