Wow, Kids Sure Aren’t Cheap

In two recent blog entries, “Managing Sibling Rivalries” and “Helping Teens Build Better Relationships, “ I provided tips for helping teens build self-esteem by trying to minimize sibling rivalry and for helping siblings get along, thereby minimizing problems.  In this entry, I’m digging a little deeper into the ways, both helpful and not, that parents try to minimize the effects of sibling rivalries.

A few years ago, a colleague rolled into work on Monday morning looking like death warmed-over.  When I asked him how he was doing, he told me he’d been traveling up and down the Central Valley all weekend with his daughter’s traveling soccer team. Fortunately, the season was over, and he was looking forward to the break.

I saw him the following Monday, looking just as beat-up as the previous week.  Before I even had time to ask, he winced and told me he’d been in the Bay Area all weekend with his son, taking him to acting classes and auditions.  He added that he’d gone primarily because he felt badly that he’d been spending so much time and expense shuttling his daughter to her soccer games, and he was trying to even things up.

This left me reflecting on the hoops parents jump through trying to make things even between their kids. Frequently, parents try to seek this balance by being fair financially.  If parents spend “x” dollars on one child, they do their best to try to spend exactly the same amount on the other.  The motivation for this is good:  parents want their kids to feel that they are all loved equally, and equal expenditure is the way to ensure this.

But it’s a red herring for parents to try to keep up with fairness through finances.  For even if the dollar amounts are the same, the perception between kids is often that things aren’t fair, that their brother or sister got something that’s better than they did. On a deeper level, the message kids received is that their parents must love their siblings more, because they gave them something better.

Rather than giving up and accepting that your kids did, do, and always will compare themselves with their siblings, you can make adjustments to help minimize the negative effects of conflicts between siblings.  And fortunately it’s not that difficult; in most cases you can keep doing the same things you’re already doing.

It calls for a subtle shift in attitude:  instead of focusing primarily on being fair with what you buy, focus on making the time between you and your child as meaningful as possible.  Rather than letting your child keep his ear buds in during the entire trip (yep, you’ll probably still be driving to Fresno), encourage him to take them off and play it over the car stereo.  Talk about the music and why you both like it.  Bring your own music and listen to it together.  He might be surprised by how much he likes it.

If you continue to focus on making the time with your child meaningful, you’ll notice over time that your relationship has improved.  Your child won’t focus so much on how their “stuff” isn’t as good as their sibling’s.  Instead you’ll simply enjoy each other more.   And maybe you’ll find that those car trips aren’t always so draining.



One Response to Wow, Kids Sure Aren’t Cheap
  1. Sue
    June 22, 2012 | 9:55 pm

    Great points!

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