Sibling Rivalry, Controlling (cont.)
Without knowing more, my best guess is that your husband is probably right. And if you can manage to put up with the noise level or find something to muffle your ears with, you will do best to stay out of their struggles and encourage them to work them out on their own.
If you had the sense that one of the boys was always the one who was repeatedly excluded, rejected or victimized, then there might be a different set of concerns. But more typically, when siblings struggle with each other those roles revolve. That will be your reassuring sign.
As for teaching children that life isn't fair, that's another matter. I do think that whether or not life is, parents certainly ought to aspire to be fair -- and that isn't the same thing as treating each child in the same way. I also think that whether or not life is fair, parents need to uphold fairness as an ideal that we all shoot for even if we don't always make it. Again, the ideal isn't to treat each child or every person in the same way, but to treat each according to his or her needs.
I think it's reassuring to hear that there is this back and forth between the getting along well at times and fighting at others because that's really what a sibling relationship looks like.
Being criticized as a parent for playing favorites by a child is certainly a skillful way of getting you where it hurts. And you're especially likely to feel vulnerable if you've struggled with your own feelings of responding differently to each child. But one of the common misunderstandings that parents have is that the different feelings we have for our children means that we might love one more or one less. It may be helpful for you instead to rethink that as actually just loving them differently, which is necessary and perfectly fine. That may make you less vulnerable to this kind of criticism of playing favorites.
I do think that when you get involved, you can interfere with them working it out themselves. You may find it most effective, even with this age difference of eight years, saying to both children, "Look, I know the two of you care about each other a lot even when you spend more than half the time fighting with each other. And I know you both know how to look after each other and work things out and that's what I expect you to do." By saying that, you're certainly implying that the 14-year-old has some responsibility, given her age, to not take advantage of that imbalance. You're couching it as not something you're going to make her do, but something that you respect her to have the ability to take responsibility for on her own and that may go over better with her.
Now, they may unite with greater strength against you. But I would not be particularly worried about that because one of your main goals as a parent is for them to have this strong relationship. And if your punishment for both of them isn't exaggerated or disproportionate to their misbehavior, then I don't think either of them will really lose faith in you.
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