Why Siblings Fight (And Why We All Fight Like Siblings)


Kelly Flanagan

Siblings fight because they assume love is a limited resource. They assume they have to compete for caring. In other words, siblings are just like the rest of us…

family conflict

I was brutal to my siblings.

I beat up on my little brother’s shoulder and I beat up on my little sister’s heart. When we were all grown and had gone our separate ways, I realized what I’d done, and I started to beat up on myself. I felt guilty about being a bully and sad about the lost opportunity to be their friend.

Even after they accepted my apology, I couldn’t forgive myself.

So, instead, I decided to redeem it. By cultivating a sense of companionship amongst my own children. It seemed simple enough. But encouraging mutuality and tenderness between siblings is way easier said than done. Siblings swing quickly upon a pendulum from caring for each other to competing witheach other.

What are they constantly competing for?


They assume it’s a limited resource.

Is Love a Limited Resource?

This is the natural, default assumption for most of humanity.

We think love is a limited resource because most of us have been loved in a limited way by limited human beings. There’s an old Bon Jovi song entitled, “You Give Love a Bad Name.” The truth is, most love gives Love a bad name. It’s conditional. It’s divvied up according to personal preference. It tends to be more consistent with the mood of the lover than any particular quality of the beloved.

As a father, I give Love a bad name all the time. When I’m tired and grumpy, I stink at love. When a kid doesn’t do what I want them to do, I stink at love. When one of the kids acts a little more like I would act, I tend to show them a little more love, which is the same as stinking at love.

Is it any wonder limitless Love sounds too good to be true?

So when true Love happens, we hesitate to believe it, and we hesitate to receive it. We assume there are strings attached. In our conditional and transactional minds, true Love never adds up. So, we reject it and we continue to fight for it, all at the same time.

As a father, there are days when I find the place in my heart that is like an endless underground spring, and Love wells up unearned and unsolicited. Competing for it would be like fighting for water in the ocean. Yet, compete for it my children do. They refuse to believe there’s enough to go around. I can’t blame them. But I do keep trying to Love them from that bottomless place in my heart, as often as I can find it, in the hope someday they’ll believe in Love.

And on some blessed, magical days, it seems like they actually do.

Giving and Receiving

A few weeks ago, my boys had gotten into a fight about something of life-and-death importance—like who was going to read the comics first—and Younger Son ended up in his room with orders to cool down. He eventually calmed himself and was allowed to rejoin the family. I wondered what he did to turn his heart around.

Later in the day, I found out.

I walked into my boys’ shared bedroom and I noticed, propped against a Lego creation on Older Son’s dresser, a newly handwritten and signed note. In seven-year-old print, it read, “I love you.” I looked at that note and I saw three words I wish I had said to my siblings but never could, because I didn’t know Love was a bottomless resource we were free to trade with each other.

The note healed me a little bit, and it healed me a little more later in the evening, when my wife told me what she had just witnessed. Walking past the boys’ bedroom, she had seen Oldest Son bending down. The note had become dislodged and fallen to the ground. He was in the middle of picking it up and propping it up once again against his Lego creation.

It’s one thing to give a bottomless Love.

It’s another thing altogether to have that Love believed and received.

It is truly magical.

Heaven and Hell and Magic

Siblings can make each other’s lives a living hell. Or they can make this life feel like heaven on earth. And, in a way, we’re all siblings in the great big human family, aren’t we? We are free to take the limited, broken love we’ve received and pass it on to others, by beating on their shoulders and beating on their hearts. But we are also free to believe and receive and give away a limitless Love.

What if our lives became a Love note, propped up against the people around us?

What if when Love came our way, we had the courage to receive it and believe it?

What if we bent over and picked up the scraps of true Love we find lying all over our world and put them back in a place we can see them? What if we honored them and cherished them?

I think we’d stop competing and starting connecting.

I think we’d see magic happen.

Deep magic.


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