Older vs. Younger Siblings

Erev Shabbos Parashas Shoftim 5779

Dear Parents,

Jealousy between siblings is the bane of many parents’ existence. Most of us can apply parenting tips and techniques to one child at a time, however, when it comes to sibling rivalry, all bets are seemingly off. Many are simply at a loss when it comes to dealing with intra-family squabbles. There is no magic pill, and handling a sizeable number of children requires patience, good cheer, forbearance, empathy and clarity.

An insight from this week’s Parsha may help provide a window onto one aspect and how to best deal with it. In speaking of the appointment of a King over the Jewish People, the Torah concludes (Devarim 17:20) with the need for the King to be humble and obedient to Torah law, in order that his kingdom will endure, and continue on to his children.

…the claim to the throne, which seems by all rights to belong to an older brother, cannot go to the younger one, except under extenuating circumstances.In discussing this Parsha of the Jewish King, and the development of a family dynasty, the Gemara in Horiyos (11b) states that the anointing with oil, that is necessary when designating a new king, is not required when the new king is inheriting the throne from his father. The Gemara then lists several exceptions and explains how in each case, there was a dispute as to the legitimacy of the inheriting king’s worthiness, so it was necessary to go through the anointment ceremony to dispel any doubts as to his legitimacy as king.

The Gemara expands on this facet of dispute and references cases where the newly appointed king is a younger sibling. In those cases as well, as clarified by the Maharsha (Chidushei Agados D”H V’Es Yehoachaz) anointment is necessary to establish the new king’s legitimacy. Assuming all brothers are qualified by virtue of their good midos and loyalty to Torah law and living, then the claim to the throne, which seems by all rights to belong to an older brother, cannot go to the younger one, except under extenuating circumstances.

Children crave boundaries that reassure them as to what is OK and what is not.This point of an older child’s rights, which may not resonate very positively in 2019, is nevertheless worth examining to glean insights into managing multiple children in our own families. Much of the tension that exists between siblings is the result of competition – there is competition for rights within the household, for parental attention, for privileges, for material possessions, seats at the table, front seat in carpool, etc. This is magnified when you throw age into the mix. Is there any area where a parent can relatively easily reduce some of this tension?

I would like to suggest there is. Giving some preferential treatment to older siblings in defined contexts on a consistent basis will go a long way to eliminating rivalry in those areas. One mundane example – when the father distributes the wine from Kiddush and challa from the Motzi, if there is a consistent rule in the house that those items are distributed by age order, one potential point of contention has been removed.

The younger children will undoubtedly complain that they are never first, never get preferential
treatment vis-à-vis their older sibling. They may be accurate – but they can’t deny the reality that they are younger and if the rule is consistently and matter-of-factly enforced, the issue will not reach the boiling point. Equally important is the fact that Halacha mandates a certain degree of honor due from a younger sibling to an older one.

Carefully constructing rules and limits will decrease the potential for unhappiness and rivalry. Bedtimes, frequency and duration of friends’ visits, times for returning home when set up effectively, really work when the parents are clear, firm, predictable and consistent. Children crave boundaries that reassure them as to what is OK and what is not. They act out more when rules and limits are either not clearly defined or not consistently and fairly enforced.

When older children enjoy the privileges that should rightfully come with age it won’t be hurtful to
younger siblings, when those privileges granted to the older ones are clearly because that’s the `way we do it.’ When enforced in a consistent, firm and friendly manner they may be a source of disappointment to the younger ones, but not one of contention, anger or strife.

…the younger ones also need their time to ‘shine’.At the same time, it is important to qualify that the younger ones also need their time to `shine.’ Some suggestions are listening to their Dvar Torah first at the Shabbos table, preferential seating near you in shul, and all the `natural’ opportunities that arise due to their being younger and more dependent upon parental help and attention.

May your family `kingdom’ flourish and may all your princes and princesses grow together, each
receiving what he or she needs to all become leaders in their own right, reflecting the beautiful values and midos tovos they inherited from you.

Have a wonderful Shabbos,

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