The sibling struggle is real, y’all. I offer photographic proof from my own home.
But then there are moments like this (when they don’t know you’re looking):
A few thoughts before we get to the scriptures…
Siblings are one of the greatest blessings—and challenges—of childhood. They reveal kids’ character as no other relationships do. Siblings force each other to learn how to be selfless, flexible, forgiving, resilient, patient, self-controlled, and a thousand other things. With God’s help and parents’ guidance, sibling relationships can develop into a lifelong source of joy and friendship. I believe this is possible because I saw what my parents, by God’s grace, built in my family growing up (four kids who still really like and enjoy each other, even as adults—talk about a modern-day miracle!). We didn’t just have “good chemistry”; our closeness was no accident. Over the years, many tears were shed; countless apologies were made. Watching the work my parents put into our family, I learned a valuable lesson that I cling to now that I’m building my own family of four crazy kids: Close, caring sibling relationships don’t “just happen.” And it’s not just the “lucky families” who get to enjoy them. Any family can build close sibling relationships—any family! yours too!—if they are willing to put the work in, and do it God’s way.
Cultivating sweet sibling friendships takes intense, daily effort from every member of the family—first the parents, then the kids. Kids don’t just outgrow their mean, petty, selfish behaviors—they have to be taught and disciplined and reminded until they learn to act otherwise. If we the parents allow cruel words, insults, sarcasm, shouting, and even hitting and violence between our children, then those behaviors will continue. When we allow these behaviors to go undealt with for a long time, we are setting our kids up for increasing resentment and antagonism that will only build, year by year. That’s the bad news. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Kevin and I are working so hard (SO! HARD!) to encourage close relationships among our four kids—and some days it’s just an exhausting grind. Sometimes I wonder if we’re getting through, if they’ll ever be as close as we dream they will be. But then we see sparks of hope, signs of progress—our miserly son sharing gum with his sisters, unprompted; the six-year-old, caring more for the two-year-old’s fair ride experience than for her own; the nine-year-old not losing her temper when a sibling leaves the cap off her favorite markers for the zillionth time. I see these seeds of hope and affection sprouting, and pray that as we continue to nurture them, they will grow into wondrous friendships that give us ALL joy our whole lives long. Kevin and I are determined. With the help of God and scriptures like the ones listed here, we will not give up.
We will not let this go.
Our kids will get along, and they will like it!
As my mother always says, “We’re going to love each other in this family, even if it kills us!”
Here are 13 scriptures to help siblings get along:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“Do not say, ‘I’ll do to them as they have done to me; I’ll pay them back for what they did.’ ” Proverbs 24:29
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2: 3–4
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14–15
“ ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:3–4
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…. Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16,18
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My first-ever YouTube parenting series is underway, talking about five key foundations to establish in the early years with our kids!
In the series, we’re talking about love, obedience, respect, honesty, and responsibility.
If you haven’t seen the new LizzyLife YouTube channel yet, here are the first few links:
In “First Comes Love,” we discuss the importance of putting lots of love in the bank with our kids, creating an atmosphere of expressiveness and affection. This gives us the confidence we need to parent strongly, and the comfort of knowing that “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
In the second video, “Establishing Obedience,” we examine what godly obedience looks and sounds like. (Hint: It doesn’t look like eye-rolling and slumped shoulders, and it doesn’t sound like moaning and wailing and muttered complaints.)
If you’d like to be automatically notified with an email when I post a new video, it’s easy to subscribe to the YouTube channel! You’ll need to visit YouTube directly—click here to watch “Establishing Obedience” from YouTube. Once you’re there, just click on the little red rectangle that says “subscribe,” found right underneath the video. I’m shooting to post videos twice a month for now, then we’ll see how my sanity and marriage are holding up! Heh heh. (Okay, but really.)
We’re at the North Carolina State Fair on a perfect October night. The sky is cloudless, speckled with stars. The air is crisp, cool but not cold. It’s a night for pumpkins and bonfires, sweatshirts and cider. It’s also a Saturday night, which means that the entire population of North Carolina has been inspired by our same not-so-brilliant idea: “Let’s spend two hundred dollars buying deep-fried candy bars wrapped in bacon, and then get on rides that simulate standing inside a blender, and try not to throw up!”
But the October sky will not be ignored, so now here we are, fighting our way through a heaving river of humanity to find the kiddie area. Kevin is muscling our double stroller through gaps in the mass of people, parting the crowd like Moses with the Red Sea, only with more shouting and carnage. I’m right behind him, clutching fistfuls of the two older kids’ sweatshirts in my hands, praying we don’t lose any of our four struggling, goggle-eyed children in the swarm. Over the crowd, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I keep flashing each other this forced, crazy-eyed smile that means something along the lines of: “Maybe if we keep fake-smiling we’ll trick ourselves into believing we’re having fun, even though we’re terrified—and for the love of all that is good and holy how did we talk each other in to spending our kids’ college fund on rigged games and fried candy?—and by the way, we are never doing this again!”
Finally the wave of people dumps us out into the kiddie area—along the way we’ve mowed down twelve love-struck teenagers and one giant stuffed banana wearing dreadlocks, in between dropping sixty bucks on kettle corn, elephant ears, and a Lebanese dish we can’t pronounce but that tasted like glory—and by some miracle, all four kids are still with us, and no one has thrown up (yet).
I convince the three older kids to ride the giant swings with me, and all through the line they do a dance of delighted terror. You’d think they’ve never been on a ride before, the way they’re gaping at the swings, hugging each other and hiding their eyes. I’m worried they might chicken out. But the minute the ride starts and our feet leave the ground, my six-year-old throws both arms in the air and laughs like an experienced roller coaster rider, like she was born for this. (Recalling her habit of flinging her body from terrifying heights in an apparent desire to become BFFs with the local emergency room staff, I suspect she was.) We stumble off two minutes later, giddy and giggling. I’m starting to feel like the fair wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.
And now it’s the two-year-old’s turn to ride something her speed. We ease back into the torrent of people, searching until we spot a merry-go-round of glittery miniature cars. At first we hesitate, hands pressed against our ears, because the ride’s designer, who has clearly never met a child, thought it would be clever to equip the cars with ear-splitting horns, which the happy toddlers are honking as aggressively as their fat fists can manage. But Sawyer’s eyes light up, and we all sigh: She must ride this ride. She must honk a horn. We must sacrifice our hearing for her happiness. As the girls and I get in line, Kevin pantomimes a message over the relentless horns: he and Blake are going to save their eardrums and go pay a fortune to throw weighted darts at unpoppable balloons. I stick my tongue out at them, because they’re totally getting the better end of the arrangement. Besides, they might win a stuffed banana.
When it’s finally our turn, I stand behind the Parent Fence as my nine-year-old, Cassidy, helps buckle Sawyer in, and then folds her own long legs into their tiny car. Cassidy’s knees are bent almost up to her ears, and she throws me a dimpled, self-deprecating grin—a grin that says nineteen, not nine. Sawyer attacks the horn with gusto. Avery, my six-year-old adrenaline junkie, scrambles into the car in front of them.
Lights flash. Music blares. Horns crescendo. The ride jolts forward, and Sawyer squeals her delight. Cassidy leans in close, showing Sawyer how to turn the steering wheel. For a moment, their twin grins are all I can see, but then I notice Avery. She’s still young enough that she should be swept up in her own ride—spinning her own wheel, honking her own horn—but instead she is twisted backwards, shining brown eyes locked on Sawyer. She is ignoring her own ride so she can watch her baby sister experience hers. Avery beams at Sawyer, a proud, knowing smile. The same maternal smile I feel lighting my own face.
The simple, honest sweetness steals my breath. For a few seconds my ears forget to hurt. I stand there, blinking tears, drinking in the beautiful sight of my three girls, adoring each other in this small moment.
I’m reminded of a scripture I’ve just rediscovered, a new-old favorite, Zechariah 4:10: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” The passage is a celebration of a quiet but significant event in Israel’s history, as God’s people are rebuilding the temple. The temple is still years from completion, but the plumb line—the guiding marker that will assure the building is constructed properly—rests in the designer’s hand. The building has only just begun, but it has begun the right way.
I think to myself, This may seem like a small moment, but it is not small. Not to God, not to me. My girls, here in this fleeting moment, are all that sisters should be. For these few seconds, the older ones care more about their baby sister than about themselves. They may have squabbled a dozen times on the way to the fair today, they may have begged too insistently for cotton candy and cheap stuffed animals, but right here, right now, in these sparkling seconds, they are loving each other, and how lovely it is. This is no small victory, no insignificant thing. It is the promise of things to come, the foundation of all we are trying to build in our family.
I put the night on pause: I will not despise this moment, this small thing. I will not let it pass by unnoticed, unappreciated. I will make it holy, sending a prayer of thanks up into the starry October sky. I will write it down and make it last. Like Mary, I will treasure this memory in my heart, storing it deep inside so I can bring it out and relive it again and again for the rest of my days (Luke 2:51).
And I will look for more moments like this, small blessings I might miss if I’m not paying attention. I will savor these too-short childhood years, this endless stream of simple joys:
Happy shrieks on scary rides, ice cream stains on brand-new shirts.
A night with no tantrums, a day with dry diapers.
A thousand silly but splendid firsts: the first time they whistle a note, tie a shoe, blow a gum-bubble.
I will not despise these chaotic days in my marriage—this stage of sleepless nights and zombie days, of stolen romance and secret smiles—these years that demand so much, yet make us better.
Family is a happy mess, life a hectic whirlwind. One minute is a disaster, the next a delight. But countless gifts glisten, hidden inside each roller-coaster day, if only we’ll pause long enough to notice. To open. To savor. And in noticing and opening and savoring, we sanctify these small wonders, these insignificant things.
Perhaps we find that small things are not so small after all.
That fleeting moments are not fleeting, not momentary, after all.
That simple days of small things are the best days—the biggest things—after all.
Don’t let the title fool you: this isn’t exactly a parenting post.
Two weeks ago, we got rid of pacifiers for the last time at our house. (Sniff sniff…I can’t believe we’re almost through the baby stage forever—it’s killing me.) The first night went swimmingly—not a single cry or complaint, just an angelic “Night-night, Mommy!”—all thanks to Sawyer’s initial thrill at getting to sleep with a toy for the first time. She gave me her pacifiers, I gave her a giant stuffed Olaf to sleep with. That’s our rule, by the way: No toys or stuffed animals in the bed until you get rid of pacifiers. This simple policy has given us some leverage in convincing our little pacifier addicts to surrender their passies. But back to our story.
That first morning, two-year-old Sawyer woke up all smiles and bragging rights: “Me a big girl now! Me give up my passies!” The first nap also went beautifully—not a single cry. So for about 23 hours, we were like, “Whoopee! We got off so easy! What an angelic child! Lucky us!”
We spoke too soon.
The second night, I put my daughter in her bed and tried to tuck her in. She did not lie down.
Instead she handed me Olaf and said, “Here, Mommy, take Olaf. Me want my passies back.” When I attempted to explain in two-year-old terms that the pacifiers had a no-exchange, no-return policy, her little face melted. There was a long pause, the calm before the storm. And then the wailing started… and nine days of sleepless misery began. (To add to our joy, my husband’s back went out the same day, leaving him in excruciating, debilitating pain. Isn’t that just the way of it?!)
The next afternoon during “nap time” (a.k.a. “scream-until-you-lose-your-voice-and-then-dig-down-deep-and-find-a-way-to-scream-some-more” time), I went in to check on Sawyer, and found her lying naked in a naked crib. Everything was on the floor: pillows, sheet, blankets, clothes, Pull-Up, even poor Olaf. Sawyer just lay there, a pale little girl on a stark white mattress, and gave me a tired, watery smile. In a pitifully hoarse voice she croaked, “Me pooped in my crib.” I stared down in dismay at the tangle of sheets and blankets, wondering where, exactly, the poop was hiding. Wondering where Carson and Anna and all of my household staff were when I, Lady Elizabeth, needed them. Wondering why oh why we had ever decided we needed to get rid of pacifiers when they are the most blessed invention ever granted to sleep-deprived parents.
And as I began the world’s grossest-ever scavenger hunt, Sawyer supervised my work (still naked in her crib) and announced, “Me not a big girl anymore. Me a baby.”
I had to walk out of the room so I could laugh-cry at her (you know those moments: the I’m-so-exhausted-and-this-is-so-revolting-that-I-can’t-decide-if-I-should-laugh-or-cry-so-I’ll-do-both moments), and somewhere mid-laugh-cry, I started laughing at myself. Because the truth is, I’m not so different from my daughter. It’s not her fault she’s so stubborn. I’ve done something similar many times in my life—only I’ve done it to God.
Some days, life is good: Things are… not exactly easy, because life is never easy, but they’re manageable, pleasant, and as predictable as life can be with a visionary preacher-husband and four crazy kids in the house. And on those days I’m all gratitude and smiles. I’m like, “Thank you, God! You’re the best! I love my life. I love being a Christian. I love knowing that you guide me through my days. ‘Your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ (Psalm 23:4). Thanks for all the ways you are helping me to grow and mature.” I’m a big girl, God!
And then something changes.
Maybe it’s something big: a friend’s serious illness, a major financial setback, a heartbreaking disappointment. Or maybe the change is on the smaller side, one of those things that isn’t catastrophic, but ruins your plans and steals your joy nonetheless: hurt feelings, a sick kid (or two or three or four), a broken-down car.
All of a sudden, life isn’t so shiny anymore. I don’t want to be a grown-up anymore. I’m not a big girl, God. I’m a baby! I stop short of stripping off my clothes, but even so, I know that God sees me as I am, in all my unadorned glory:
“Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:2)
I toss all my toys out of the bed and give in to dark thoughts. When God comes in to check on me, he finds me lying there pouting: “This is harder than I thought. I wasn’t ready for this. I want to go back to the way things were, when life was simpler. I didn’t realize what I was getting in to—you tricked me, God!”
And in those moments, I have a choice to make: I can scream and fight God until I lose my voice (knowing full well that I’m wasting my time, and God’s), or I can give in and let him guide me through the change.
Like Sawyer, it usually takes me a few days to work my way through it. I have to cry and complain to God a little. I have to wrestle with the Scriptures a lot. I have to talk to friends who are wiser and more rational than I am. I have to write about it and process it on paper. I might have to apologize to my visionary preacher-husband and four crazy kids.
But in the end, like Sawyer, I end up giving in and quieting down. I let God have his way with me. Eventually I admit, “Okay, you win. You’re the dad, I’m the daughter, and you know what’s best.” I’m a big girl again. Eventually I find joy in experiencing my own growth, knowing my heavenly Father is proud of me. And at long last, like Sawyer, I sleep peacefully through the night, knowing God is watching over my dreams.
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In case you missed it, here are the first two videos in the new LizzyLife YouTube channel: Building Family God’s Way, and First Comes Love! (In spite of my crazy eyes in the thumbnails, I think you’ll enjoy the videos!)