I'd rather talk to grandparents than parents. (I'm sure the fact that I'm a grandfather myself has a lot to do with that.) Today's grandparents -- mostly the ones older than myself -- represent the last generation to rear children according to tradition as opposed to psychobabble. They tell me stories, these venerable elders of ours, stories of the way it used to be and still can be -- if we'd heed their wisdom, that is.
One of the more consistent things grandparents tell me is that whereas a certain level of rivalry between siblings is nothing new, the almost constant bickering, name-calling, tattling, and even downright fighting that pervades so many of today's sibling relationships is new indeed. This makes grandparents sad, because the siblings in question are their grandchildren.
"What's going on?" they ask. "How could things have changed so much in so short a period of time?"
Blame it on yourself ifthe kid are little beasts
I have a theory. Ironically, it's one most grandparents aren't going to like because if I'm right, then today's grandparents are part of the problem. My theory: The force driving most sibling rivalry is greed. Today's parents, with more than a little assistance from grandparents, turn their children into greedy little materialists by buying them toy after toy after gadget after game after vehicle after gizmo, beginning before they're born and lasting forever and ever, amen.
Because today's parents feed the narcissistic spark that resides in the heart of every newborn, it grows into a flame, then a fire, and then a raging inferno. By age 4 or 5, today's all-too-typical child is infected with "King Midas Syndrome," which is to say he's a greedy little hoarder who can't share unless forced to do so, which is to say he can't really share at all.
When I was five, I had five toys I could call my own. Most people my age report between none and ten, inclusive. According to our parents we didn't fight much over toys. I'm thinking of the line in Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone: "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." Ironically, when you have very little to share, sharing is not a problem. But when you've "got a lot," you've got a lot to lose, which means you're probably going to have difficulty when it comes to sharing.
The more material things you acquire, the more likely you are to resent it when someone else acquires something you don't have. The more likely you are to feel the other person's good fortune isn't "fair." The more likely you are to be jealous, envious and covetous, and those, I need tell no one with eyes that see and ears that hear, are the themes around which today's high levels of sibling conflict spin.
Grow strong childrenby making them 'poor'
Take note, parents! Stop buying your children so many things! Stop throwing fuel on the fires of narcissism and materialism. At a certain (relatively low) level, "things" become a drug that anesthetizes the spirit. Make strong your children's spirits by making, and keeping, them "poor."
Now, need I repeat myself for the benefit of the grandparents in the audience?
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/.