In defense of sibling rivalry. By Emily Mendell for's Bad Parent column.


Did the neighbors hear that?

I hope not, as it sounds as if someone is in our playroom sticking a hot poker in my youngest son’s eye. If I lived next door, I would immediately place an emergency call to protective services. Thankfully, all the windows are closed. I take a sip of my morning coffee and sigh, waiting for the ensuing cavalcade that is headed my way. It’s 8:00 a.m. and my children are fighting again.

It takes less than ten seconds from that final scream for my boys to descend the stairs and stand in our kitchen, hurling angry accusations for a captive audience of one – me. The argument revolves around a video game. One of the boys was apparently “playing it wrong.” What is seemingly petty to me is monumental to them. My oldest is red-faced and exasperated; my youngest, tear-stained and distraught. I have no idea how this battle began, who provoked who, and which one should face the wrath of Mom. I send both to their rooms without any deliberation.

My two children do not get along. It is a difficult family dynamic to own up to because domestic harmony is still the ideal to which we all aspire. “My boys are each other’s best friends,” an acquaintance recently gushed to me. I smiled back at her while thinking to myself that she is either lying or her children are freaky Stepford spawn. To wit, another confession:

I am grateful my kids fight.

Close in age and of the same gender, my boys are logical competitors. Ever since our youngest was able to activate his opposable thumbs and snatch something from our oldest, they have been at near-constant odds. Their fighting is prevalent enough that my husband and I worry something is amiss when they are getting along. Though they rarely come to blows, the proverbial argument loops for us several times each day. The venue and point of contention may change; the players remain the same. Our oldest is cerebral, a rule follower and an oversensitive overachiever. Our youngest is an extrovert, a social animal who craves his older brother’s attention and will push any and all buttons to get it. It makes perfect sense to me that these smackdowns take place. Forced peace treaties between two irrational parties are not sustainable.