Helping your child overcome sibling rivalry with loveWritten by Susie Larson
What's inside this article
"How did the retreat go, Luke?" I was hoping for a good report; this weekend was his initiation into the youth group.
My 13-year-old son, Jake, got in the car, scooted up next to the door and leaned his head against the window.
My 11-year-old son, Luke, hopped in behind him – not picking up the hint that Jake wanted his space.
Luke was sick a lot as a child and has asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He is strong-willed and a bit awkward socially. Things didn’t come as easily for Luke as they did for Jake.
"Did you make any new friends, Luke?" I asked.
Luke casually said, "It went OK. I almost died three times; otherwise, it was fun."
"What did you say?"
Matter-of-factly, Luke told me that even though his chest was tight from an asthma flare-up, Jake’s friends held him under water. They called him names, ditched him, teased him and shoved him around.
Then I questioned Jake. "Where were you when all this was happening?"
"Huh? Well, I was around. Luke was bugging us."
Absolutely furious, I needed a breather before I could address the situation – I needed wisdom.
A cold heart
When I talked with other mothers about the sibling issue, their responses were all the same: "Boys will be boys" and "Get used to it; it’s normal." Yet every time I went to Scripture, I found nothing to excuse such behaviour. Nowhere did the Bible say that indifference toward a brother was something to get used to or accept as normal. On the contrary, God’s call was a high one: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
The Holy Spirit restrained me, telling me to wait to talk with Jake. For three days, I prayed fervently that God would prepare his heart, and mine, too. Finally the right day came, and I said to him, "Jake, I want you to know that your dad and I love you so very much. We love that you’re involved at church, and that you have lots of friends. We love that you do well in school, and that you’re so respectful to us as your parents."
Jake cracked a smile. I continued, "But I would trade all of these things . . . if you would just love your brother. In fact, I would go so far as to say that your Christianity is only as valid as the love you have for the most irritating person in your life.
"Right now, that person is your brother, Luke. The fact that you could be so selfish, while your own brother was being treated so poorly, tells me that your heart is farther away from Christ than your actions reveal."
Jake just stared at me. "I want you to remember that Luke has as much right to be here as you do," I continued. "He is a part of this family. He’s a part of me, Jake, and when you look at him with eyes of contempt, you’re looking at me that way."
Quietly Jake replied, "You’re right, Mom. You’re right."
"Honey, I know what I’m asking of you is going to cost you something. You are going to have to dig deep to love Luke when he’s not acting very lovable. I’m asking you to take the higher road. Boys your age often act as though they’re too cool for their families. But the true sign of maturity is when someone is kind to his family and secure enough not to care what others think. That’s what I want for you, Jake.
"There’s one more thing, Jake," I added. "Since it was you who paved the way for your friends to treat Luke the way they did, I want you to be part of the solution. In two weeks, I want you to take Luke to a large youth gathering a few miles from here. I want this for two reasons: One, because you owe it to him and, two, because I respect your opinion, and I want to know if you think this [youth group] is a good fit for him."
Jake’s only words were, "OK, Mom, I’ll do it."
A change for good
The night of the youth meeting, I sat in the foyer and watched on the monitor. One of the songs they sang was Heart of Worship by Matt Redman, with the lyrics, "I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus."
Then the doors opened and hundreds of kids flooded the lobby. I stood on my toes trying to catch a glimpse of my boys. Luke wasn’t in my view, but I could see Jake shuffling toward me. His eyes were down; he looked sad.
I put my hands on his shoulders and said, "What, Honey? What’s wrong?" With tear-filled eyes, he looked up and said, "Oh, Mom, I’ve been so wrong. When we were singing that song, God showed me that I’ve been keeping an account against my own brother. Even when he wasn’t wrong, I treated him as though he was. I got down on my knees and asked God for forgiveness. Now I have to ask you, will you forgive me for how I’ve treated your son?"
Overwhelmed, I wrapped my arms around Jake, and we cried together – right there in a sea of teenagers.
A healing love
From that point on, Jake made a conscious effort to be good to his brother. Jake invited him to places, laughed at his goofy jokes and began to really love Luke.
Over the years, a miracle happened. Luke’s awkward adolescence faded, and he developed into a humble, godly young man. Luke and Jake are now the best of friends.
Of all the work we invested in Luke, it was the love of his brother, Jake, that transformed his life. The effect of a sibling’s love is life changing. I understand now, more than ever, why it’s important that we love one another.
Susie Larson lived in Andover, Minnesota, at the time of publication with her husband and three sons.
If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.Our recommended resources
Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox