“My 18 year old daughter calls her younger siblings brats. My son hardly acknowledges he has a sister. Among the younger children there is a lot of anger and they avoid being with each other.

“The only child any of the siblings like is the baby, and I wonder how long that will last. I teach them, pray with them, and remind them how important it is to love their own family. Somehow what started as the children not getting along are now older children that simply do not like each other. We have a rotten family life. What can I do? What did I do wrong? Help me.”
—Kay

Answer

Just like adults, kids find it very difficult to like someone for whom they have no respect. You can’t shame them into liking each other, and you can’t preach them into it either. Duty, like the duty to love your own family, grows mighty thin when you are part of a family where each one is selfish and spoiled. The only thing you can do is to make sure you raise likeable kids that provoke respect and honor from others.

It takes a very mature adult, willing to “die to himself” and be a martyr, to demonstrate even a neutral attitude toward those that are repulsively unlikable. Mature adults can steel themselves for the emotional suffering and sacrifice it takes to go out into this sick world. For a little while each day you can leave the sanctuary of a secure home to go into the den of the world and express love toward the decidedly unlovely. But you come home tired and ready to relax around family members whose company you enjoy. But if the family members are more like the selfish, dog eat dog world, then where does one go to let down his guard, to talk and find sympathy, to relax?

You are fighting a losing battle seeking to establish one virtue (the virtue of tolerance) among a tightly pressed group of selfish, unhappy individuals. You said all the kids liked the baby. Of course they do. The baby has not yet matured to the point of being able to compete with them, to be moody and selfish. When the baby gets old enough to exert his own selfishness they will turn on him as well.

To live in a social order there must be boundaries observed by all and enforced by all. If your older children do not like their younger sister there is good reason. Honestly ask yourself—this may be hard to do—“Do I like the little girl?” Yes, you love her. You are her mother. You tolerate more than do the older children, but do you like that little one that the other kids find so hard to tolerate? What is it that they so dislike? There are people that you do not like and you avoid them. Why? Would you—could you like them if you were placed in daily contact and they continued to manifest the same undesirable traits? Would it help if your pastor told you to like them? What if it was you duty to like them, would that make it easier? What would it take for you to like those individuals? You answer, “A few changes in the way they…” You share the same viewpoint as your children.

I will give you a solution that will work, considering all is well in other areas. Sit your older kids down and ask them what it is about the younger one that they do not like. Do not do this with a critical or defensive spirit or they will not be honest. Come to them with a learner’s heart. Ask this simple question, “Children, if you could change five things about your little sister, what would they be?” The things they tell you will be things that need changing. Don’t argue with them. Ask them to help you bring about the changes in the little one. Discuss all the ramifications and arrive at a consensus as to how to go about this. The hardest part for you will be something I know you have not done before; you will have to allow the older children full authority to discipline and instruct the younger children. Have them read our book first. Discuss it with them often. Get progress reports. Stand behind their decisions, unless through discussion (not in the presence of the young child) you come to a modified consensus.

One warning: When the kids tell you what they would like to change in their younger sister, it will reflect upon you. Their reluctance to enter into dialogue on this issue will stem from the fact that to criticize the child is to criticize the way you have handled situations. They resent her like the neighborhood kids resent the son of a policeman that can get away with murder while they are accosted by the law for the least infraction. So, if you are brave enough, and humble enough, and you want a satisfactory conclusion to this matter, then ask the kids to tell you what you need to change in your methods in order to change the child. The kids are more objective than you; if you can get them to be honest it will be quite a revelation. If you doubt the answers you receive and you need further assurances, invite a third party (not someone like yourself, someone who has always supported you), but someone with great kids and a good home life. Let that person arbitrate in your discussion with your older children.

You will find that when the older kids are not constrained to be victimized by the selfish little sister, when they can take charge and effect a change, they will suddenly “grow up” in their responses. Your children need to be educated in child training just as you, so provide the material and atmosphere for them to grow with you and learn as you do.

– Michael Pearl