Will they—or will we—ever stop fighting?

Sibling Rivalry: From Childhood to the Church

“Stop it! Don’t touch me!”

“She started it.”

“No, I didn—”

“Yes! You! Did!”

In our Christian subculture, the words “brother” and “sister” tend to conjure up feelings of kinship, intimacy, and loyalty. This made sense to me once. But then I became a parent.

My children—aged 12, 10, and 7—are not unlike most siblings. They have their “We Are the World” moments: those times that melt a parent’s heart and reassure us that there is hope for the future of humanity. Unfortunately, these moments are interrupted by equally frequent moments of rage, selfishness, and aggression. At times, it feels like the majority of my parenting is devoted to brokering peace between warring parties.

Psychology offers us myriad explanations for sibling behavior—everything from birth order to the need to differentiate oneself from the other members of the family. Sometimes this can create a dynamic that an older granny in my church calls “pick and pluck”: that kind of bickering and agitation that seems to exist for the sheer sake of existing. As frustrating as it can be, though, the task of parenting through sibling conflict has changed how I read the New Testament. It’s also changed what I expect as normal from the church.

Brothers and Sisters

Despite the fact that our everyday experiences teach us otherwise, we’re often tempted to sentimentalize family relationships, including the relationships between brothers and sisters. Television series like Parenthood and this year’s breakout hit This Is Us tap into our longing, not only for parental acceptance, but also for that unique bond that forms horizontally between …

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