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It’s Not Fair! Does the Rivalry Between Siblings Ever End?

My second child arrived on the scene at 10:35 a.m. on a Tuesday. My dad and my brother were working babysitting duty that day, and they brought my two-year-old son to the hospital to meet his new baby sister before lunch was even served. He came bounding into the room with a face filled with joy and arms filled with fluff; he was carrying a cute and cuddly teddy bear decked out in a pastel t-shirt that he had picked out in the first-floor gift shop just for her.

But once he saw all the people there oohing and ahhing over that tiny redheaded, rosy-cheeked little creature, he quickly calculated that this kid already had enough going for her. So he kept the bear for himself.

Sparks of Sibling Love

Sometimes, my kids park themselves firmly in each other’s corners. They huddle together to play games, listen to music, watch movies, and laugh at inside jokes (made at their parents’ expense, of course). And when they’re really feeling magnanimous, they’ll even cheer from the sidelines for their sister’s nice play or congratulate their brother on his good report card.

But Mostly Sibling Spats

But for the other 23½ hours of the day, they act more like warring factions. Everything—and I mean everything—is a competition.

Why is she up at 9:30 p.m. on a school night? When I was her age, I was in bed every night before 8:00 p.m.!

How come he gets to sit in that chair? This is my favorite show and I should be the one closest to the TV!

Why did you let him have that cookie? He already ate three, but I only had one!

How come you’re making such a big deal that she finished that book? I can read way above grade level!

It’s fitting that these kids were born to parents who have backgrounds in journalism, because they’re all quick to report any perceived injustice. And everywhere they turn, they uncover more (alleged) favoritism. I helped kick everything up to the stratosphere this week when I allowed one of my daughters to take a Spring Break trip with her friend to Walt Disney World while the rest of us stayed home.

On the 1-10 scale of unfairness, I’d probably rate the decision as Holy cow! What on earth was I thinking? I’ll never EVER hear the end of that one.

Fair is Fair

As the oldest of four children, I know that the compulsion to even the score is just a stage siblings go through, and it will pass … someday. Although the constant sibling competition has already lasted 14 years in our household, I’m pretty sure it might go on for at least a little while longer.

One weekend, when I was a senior and my youngest sister was a fourth grader at a K-12 Catholic school in Massachusetts, we went to a church bazaar that featured a raffle where you could drop ticket stubs into brown paper bags for chances to win an array of prizes. The drawing took place in the school gym the following Monday. My little sister was home sick that day, so she didn’t hear when her name was called for the Cabbage Patch Kids Koosa (remember those?), nor did she hear her name called again for the ceramic music box with woodland creatures strumming lutes to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When I brought home these ’80s treasures, I handed over the Koosa, but I held tight to the music box. Even though I was old enough to know better, I told her that I was the lucky winner of that lovely little piece of tchotchke. (I guess the irony was sort of lost on me that I was breaking a couple of commandments just so I could keep some swag from a church function.) Why should she get two prizes? Ten-year-olds don’t need knick-knacks!

Many years later, I sheepishly confessed my crime to my sister, but I kept the music box. After all, fair is fair.

Kathleen Osborne is a mom of two teenagers and a soon-to-be teenager. She’s head of communications for Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio. And she’s a writer whose work has appeared in The Plain DealerCleveland Magazine, and now Your Teen.

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