Brothers: I Fear My Kids Won’t Get Along

Posted on July 25, 2011 by


Guest Post by Amy Yelin


Brothers: I love you, I hate you. I love you, I hate you.


Every time I meet a mom with grown sons, I ask the same two questions:

Do they get along? And do they still love their mama?

Thankfully, almost always, they still love their mom. As far as their getting along, it’s 50-50.

My boys, narrowly spaced at ages four and five, have what I would call a loving yet stormy relationship.

“But they look like they get along so well,” strangers and neighbors always say.

I smile. “Yes, but looks aren’t everything.”

Most of the time, it’s the sibling Olympics at our house. Like last night, with the arrival of Darth Vader in the mail. He came in an envelope addressed to Jonas—a present for his fourth birthday, purchased off Amazon via a gift card from his grandpa.

In addition to the Darth Vader Lego, Jonas (with my help) also used his gift card to purchase a Darth Vader mask. With the remaining money, he let Ethan get a Jedi robe.

“That’s really nice of you,” I told Jonas. “Ethan, did you say thank you to your brother?”

“Thank you Jonas,” He said, then pounced on him. They grunted and squealed in delight.

There was little delight, however, when Darth Vader finally arrived.

“What am I going to get?” Ethan whined. “I want something.”

“Ethan,” I reminded him, “You already got a Jedi Robe.”

The tears started. “But I want something else!”

I reminded him that it was Jonas’s birthday…Jonas’s gift card. “Remember how many presents you got on your birthday?”

“I’ll share mine with you, Ethan,” Jonas said, channeling someone much more mature and reasonable than himself.

“But I want my own!” Ethan shrieked.

I remembered then that Ethan already had a Darth Vego Lego. It was a key chain, attached to his back pack. When I reminded him of this, he settled down. “I want it, but I don’t want the key chain part that’s on his head,” he demanded while blubbering.

I examined the key chain part on the evil emperor’s head and had no idea how one would remove it. I was going to just give up, but Ben, my husband, came home moments later. As an only child himself, Ben would do anything to maintain perfect harmony between the boys. Sometimes, when they hurt each other, he likes to remind them “But you guys love each other.”  As someone with two siblings of my own, I just look at him then. “You can’t force it, you know. Maybe they don’t love each other all the time.” Then he glares at me.

In the end, daddy saved the day. He Googled “Darth Vader Lego key chain” and lo and behold, there were illustrated instructions on how to remove the chain device from Vader’s head. Go figure. Ben spent the next 20 minutes with a screwdriver and pliers working on the Lego.

“Um, do you think this is a little much?” I said, when the key chain thingy continued to hang on. “Do you think we’re sending the wrong message?” He ignored me.

When the chain finally popped out, I cheered along with everyone else, yet something still nagged at me:  Did everything always have to be fair and square? Were we taking the easier, yet riskier-in-the-long term way out? And where and how would it all end?

When the boys were younger, I committed myself to becoming an expert on preventing sibling rivalry. The moment Jonas could crawl and started grabbing Ethan’s toys, I went out and bought Adele Ferber’s classic book Siblings without Rivalry. I learned that

  1. I should let them work out their differences themselves
  2. Equal is usually less
  3. Don’t compare
  4. I don’t like books with cartoons

I quickly put what I learned into practice. When they fought over a toy I said, “I understand that you want that toy, Ethan, and you want it too, Jonas, right?” They both nodded. “OK, so this is tough situation. But you boys work it out yourselves.” I walked away and the next thing I knew, rather than the peaceful negotiations that occurred in the cartoons, Jonas was on top of Ethan, biting him in the shoulder.

These conscious efforts to eliminate sibling rivalry lasted about 72 hours. As a tired, working mom, I simply cannot keep Adele’s wisdom top of mind on a daily basis. All too often I morph into the equalizer, trying to keep things fair simply to keep the peace. I also make comparisons. “Well your brother ate all his dinner. Why can’t you be a good eater like your brother?” As I’m saying it, I know I shouldn’t be. I know I’m making mistakes and risk destroying their relationship forever, but I have little time or energy to dwell on it. And even if I followed Adele’s book to a “t”, there are no guarantees.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s pretty much a crap shoot. That yes, what we parents do, how we react, who we favor, plays into it. But so do our personalities. You wouldn’t choose a friend you have nothing in common with, or whom you don’t even like, right? So why, with siblings, must we try to force it? Take me and one of my older sisters, Jackie, for example. We haven’t talked in years. It’s a long, complicated story, the details of which don’t really matter anymore. I’ve reached out her to try to make amends, but she hasn’t responded. Whenever I get sad about it, like when The Sound of Music came on TV the other night (Jackie’s favorite movie), I ask myself, really, what am I missing? Sure, I would prefer that we could connect the way the sisters I envy connect, but as an adult, I was never all that comfortable around her anyway (which I suspect stems from the fact that she doesn’t like me, which could be because my parents did not follow Adele’s advice either, but alas, who can prove such things?)

Anyway, in my ideal scenario, Ethan and Jonas will grow up to like and support each other. I like to imagine them getting together every so often at a pub for some beers and mom (or preferably dad) ripping. This would make me very happy. Then again, I’m not counting on it. Whatever direction their relationship takes, my only wish is for them to have good friends to help them overcome life’s burdens. Oh, and one more: to always love their mommy.


Amy Yelin has published essays and memoir in the Boston Globe, Globe Magazine, the Gettysburg Review, Literary Mama, Errant Parent, and elsewhere. Her piece “Torn” (originally published in the Baltimore Review), was recognized as a notable essay of 2006 in the Best American Essays 2007. She also has essays in the anthologies Mamas and Papas andTarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost. In 2008, she won the Skirt magazine and WEKU (an NPR station) “This We Believe” contest and recorded her piece “On Magic” for a radio special. She has received awards from the Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony and the Prague Summer Writing Program. Amy completed her MFA in creative writing at Lesley University in 2005. Her website is and she blogs (occasionally) at