Ah, siblings. Steve and I both came from families of three kids, each with two older sons and then a daughter, all the average of two years apart. He was the middle child and I was the baby. Because one child wasn’t enough for us and three was too many, Steve and I settled on two. Our daughter is four years older than our son. They are our (very) happy medium.  Statistically, the gender and age difference make sibling tension much less common in our set up. But we have our off days, trust me.

In my own childhood, I remember a lot of fighting, out of proportion to our enjoyment of each other. As an adult, I am only close to one of my siblings. I couldn’t care less if frequent fighting is normal. I believed we could create a different culture in our home if we took a strong stand. Not just laying down rules that kept everyone quiet, but fostering true sibling relationships. That is the kind of home we wanted to build around us.

Here are 3 standards we consistently implement to make our home a peaceful haven, a place where we fully enjoy life together and grow closer.

We demonstrate in our own relationship what we expect from them. Steve and I get into disagreements, like any couple, but we never let it make the atmosphere unpleasant for the rest of our “team”. That doesn’t mean we whisper fight either. Though some discussions cannot and should not be had in front of kids, many can. It’s good for kids to hear conflict resolution being modeled. It exhibits how to be honest about feelings in a way that doesn’t devalue the relationship. Each of us is patient and merciful towards the other. We hug and make up when it is concluded. Frequently, we show appreciation for what the other person does right. Likewise,when they are upset we expect our kids to be considerate of their family, and to keep improving how they handle it. Shouting and shoving has no place in the process of expressing and negotiating.

We establish a culture of championing one another. When one person is involved in a sport or activity, we all attend every game and performance. Recently, Adrienne had another piano recital. She was terribly nervous, and more than a little mad at me for enrolling her. Of course, she did a beautiful job and we were all there to cheer her on. Her brother Addison just finished another great flag football season. He played like a champ, but on one of the game nights he had two penalties. In the backseat driving home, his little shoulders crumpled as his bravado dissolved into tears. My heart broke for him, but also swelled with pure pride as I watched our whole family automatically swoop in around him to pick him up again. This is the true essence of being a family, a team that has your back for a lifetime.

We craft opportunities to grow together. Building sand castles and surfing, a romp through a museum, a hike or a bike ride… All of it has a positive effect on their relationship because play involves communication and negotiation. As they employ their imaginations, they are also practicing compromise and discovering what they appreciate in one another. We create the space for our son and daughter to truly connect and make memories together that will last longer than any toy we’ve purchased. They are cementing a lifelong partnership in the process.

These are our three areas of focus for this season in our children’s lives. I’m sure this list is far from complete, but we will never stop growing together. The culture we have built in our home makes me feel proud. I believe it is a gift that will keep on giving back to us all, far into the future of our family.

Written by Melissa Brendtro