Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

Brian's Perspective: He left the public school for the Arts school where things were supposed to be better. He is genuinely talented and that was supposed to count for something. It took a little while, but he did find a place there. He wasn't the rock star that he dreamed of being where everyone realized what an incredible talent he was, but like the rest of us, he knows those are just fantasies. Still life was pretty good. The drama teacher asked him to join Drama 2 even though he was a freshman. He decided not to so that he could be with his friends. He had a real circle of friends in which he belonged, and that had never really happened before.

And then Gary came along. Tall, somewhat exotic-looking, certainly handsome, easy-going, charming and instantly likable by all. All of Brian's friends like him. All of the girls at the school jump on him like starved wolves on a fresh kill. He initially gets a better part in the play even though he didn't try out. He got it because he looks the part, not because he can act. He didn't even want it, but the teacher, who had never seen him act because he didn't try out, didn't know how bad he was. That situation resolved because Gary really didn't want the part and asked to be given sort of a background part. Still, he just stood there, looked gorgeous and made silly faces and the audience laughed. Brian was Scar. He sang and acted his heart out, and did a pretty good job, and people said nice things, but Gary got accolades for making funny faces.

A bunch of his friends preferred listening to Gary's stories about MMA. The prettiest girl in school, with whom he was friends and hoped to be more, was fascinated with Gary and when Gary was free he took her.

Gary is that guy. That golden boy in high school that doesn't have to actually DO anything in order to be popular. He came along and stole Brian's life. His parents recently are talking all about how wonderful Gary is and about how they are going to adopt him. The state just shows up one day and tells him he can have his own laptop. He signs up for guitar at school and the agency says they will buy him a new guitar. He however is not noticed. He has an older desk top computer. He owns instruments and gaming systems, but that's old news, old stuff.

Oh, and then some of the kids have been forming a band and Brian was going to get to sing with them. Then a couple of days ago while Brian was in rehearsal for a play, Gary hung out with them and they asked him to sing... and Gary can't even sing!

Gary just walked in and took everything that was his, stole his life, and made him miserable. Now Gary is telling people at school that he, Brian, is annoying, a liar and a doofus.

Gary's Position
Life has been really hard on him. He could have crumbled, but he survived. He tries to be nice to people, and, it does help that he is attractive. Girls really like him and that's cool but also sort of embarrassing. Mostly cool though. He has a harder time making friends with boys than people realize. They tend not to like him because the girls like him so much, and there is that whole thing where he is good at martial arts. A bunch of them seem to always want to take him on, and that is stressful. He really isn't all that much into sports, other than MMA.

And school is hard. A lot of people don't realize how poorly he does. He hides his quizzes. They don't see his report card. If he didn't have the looks and the ability to charm the girls, his life would be hell. He's going to an Arts school because he perceived that the boys at the big public school wanted to beat him up and he was tense and exhausted all day. The Arts school is a mixed bag. Everyone else there has been in band since they were ten. They read music. They're good at all sorts of things that people are expected to be good at here. He has no idea how to catch up. He doesn't sing very well. He hates to act. He can't draw. At least he was able to get a non-speaking part in that play where he could just make faces and get some laughs.

Brian's friends were prepared to like him, include him in their group, and that was cool, and new. They liked hearing about MMA, which was so foreign to their world. So socially school isn't so bad. Some of the kids are forming a band. He's heard that Brian wants to sing with them, but that isn't going to happen. Brian can sing really well, but he can't act or look like a rock star. He'll just stand in front of the band and sing prettily. One day the band asks him to try out for lead singer. He might not hit all the notes, but he can throw himself into it. They want him because he is popular, particularly with the girls, and can look the part.

The thorn in his side is Brian who for some reason hates him. He hasn't done a thing to Brian. He has always been nice to him, or tried to be. Brian however just wishes he didn't exist. Brian complained to some of the other students about the thing about the part in the play, telling people that he couldn't act. What's that about? He knows he can't act. He never said he could, and he doesn't walk around school telling everyone that Brian isn't good at martial arts. Now this year he is in choir and Brian tries to make sure everyone knows that when he is the one who is off-key.

It gets to him sometimes, and he tells his girlfriend about it. Brian is such a little turd. And yeah, he's mentioned it to some of the other boys, boys who were Brian's friends first. Some of them see his point and they hang out with him a little more. That helps. Other's still hang out with Brian more and he just knows Brian is telling them all the time that he can't act, can't sing, can't do anything artistic.


Last night Brian just lost it. He was in his room, venting his anger, stomping, growling, crying. He finally came to talk to me. I comforted him. I also assured him that Gary wasn't stealing his parents. Brian hadn't said that, but he did start crying harder and held on to me when I said it. It had to feel that way to him. He got some comfort from that. I told him that he was talented and that Gary wasn't always going to be there stealing the spotlight, but that there were always going to be people like around who seemed to get the glory without having to work as hard as the rest of us.

This morning I mentioned to Gary that Brian was having a tough time. He said he knew. Brian was in his room throwing a fit last night, and he couldn't sleep. Brian can be just so annoying it makes him want to scream.

We were all pretty tired but I gave them a ride to school. I told them that they were each hurting the other more than they thought. I wanted them to maybe consider not talking about each other at all today. They were both sullen but agreed.

Gary was texting the whole time, no doubt telling his girlfriend that not only did he have to put up with Brian being a turd to him, now I'm taking Brian's side and telling him just to put up with this stuff and not say anything.

And Brian got out of the car, slammed the door and walked away, no doubt furious that not only was Gary just taking everything, now his mother is taking Gary's side and wants him to just put up with it and not say anything.


I really don't know how to help each kid see the other person's side of it all. Sadly I actually think Brian has to do more changing. His resentment is making things worse for him. And it is not fair that there are people in every place that seem to get rewarded without trying, just because they are tall, attractive and charming. And it is not fair that pointing out the situation just makes things worse for you.

We are going to try to spend some more time one-on-one with Brian. He decided to quit MMA for a variety of reasons. That will give us two evenings a week to be with just him. It is easy for me to end up giving a whole lot more attention to Gary. Brian is more like his dad and both of them do things like quote Monty Ponty and Mel Brooks stuff as part of a converstation. That's funny for a while, but it is not something that I can participate in. And it has always been difficult for me to get Brian to TALK to me. It's just the way he is. We agreed we would come up with some television show we both liked and Netflix the whole thing and watch it together. Not all at once, of course. It will be a thing we can do over time that we can share.

Gary on the other hand likes to engage me in conversation, although he avoids Roland as he avoids most men. He loves that I listen to him when he talks. He is easy to be with, what with all that seemingly effortless charm. He also craves the positive attention, because though he looks like he is sailing through life, he isn't, not really.

I know that the adoption talk has escalated all this. Fortunately the hearing is over and nothing much will be happening for a while. It won't be the constant topic of conversation.

So, what sibling rivalry stuff had you had to deal with, and what did you do? Did it work?

Enquiring minds want to know.


  1. I see the rivalry part, but not the sibling part. It sounds like they don't have any affection or feeling of connection to each other like siblings would. My twin brothers were similar, one happy-go-lucky and one brooding. They teamed up half the time to conquer the world together, my easy-going brother leading the way, and beat the crap out of each other the other half of the time. But no matter what the situation, the other would always come to the rescue if one was in trouble. It doesn't sound like either Brian or Gary has the other's back.

    My opinion: the Brians of this world can always find a Gary to blame their perceived failures/injustices upon. It might just take time, college and growing up for him to gain enough self-confidence and awareness to realize that and see through the facade.

  2. I didn't talk in this post about the times they have got along, but they exist. More so in the summer. It isn't the "he's my brother and no one can pick on him but me" thing, but they do have long stretches in which they just get along.

    The sibling part has to do with the fact that they do live together and share parents. So part of Brian's anxiety is that we might like Gary better. Gary's anxiety is that we might never like him as much. They also don't get much of a break from each other. Same school, same home.

    I remember Andrew and Evan went through a long phase in which they had these sorts of attitudes towards they other. The issues were different, but it seemed like neither would blink if the other fell off the planet. That went away, and I don't really remember when or how.

  3. When I was in HS my mom took in her best friend’s daughter/niece (biologically her niece but she had adopted her) who up until then was just the annoying older sister of the little one I enjoyed babysitting and pretending she was mine.

    So now she’s in my house, in my room (we had to share and I was already sharing w/ my little sister), “borrowing” my clothes (that I had sometimes laid out to wear that SAME day), and she’s gorgeous, plus whenever I would complain about anything, my parents would give me the “poor A has had it so rough” speech (glad you don’t do that to Brian). I wasn’t an ugly duckling but I (and my friends) were more reserved with boys whereas A drew them like flies. I remember how she got an A on a poem my own mother helped her with and I had to figure it out on my own (my parents had high expectations on that department and I always did well but that wasn’t the point…I “wanted” the attention I guess). So there she was getting all kinds of attention, help with school subjects, and extra stuff (because my mom’s friend felt guilty) and I felt sort of forgotten and like I had to work so much harder for what she got handed to her (this last part was true though...not a "perception" - my reaction to it was what was fueling the resentment though).

    In my case my parents made things a bit worse by not acknowledging my concerns and feelings (they did much later so we are good!) but this was something I had to overcome…I had to accept that A was like your Gary and to be honest there are times I still get a bit envious (we are all grown w/ kids and lives of our own) because well….she got the house, the kids, and everything else with half my brain (sounds awful but really….she skated through school w/ everyone’s help and to date refuses to become aware of current events) but I grew to love her. I just have to refrain from choking her when she complains about how hard it is to keep her size 6 figure when I’m very well entrenched in my double digit figure.

    All this just to say that they have to figure it out and that you seem to have an outstanding understanding of what both are feeling….little suggestions and continued assurance of your love and support to both will go a long way to help them survive this until they can come to an understanding of their own.

    Now…my own bio sister and I went through some really difficult patches…much worse than I did with A (who I call “sister” both publicly and privately by the way) because I felt that she was allowed to do so much more than me (my parents were tired by the time they got to her, more acclimated to American culture, etc….it makes sense now that I’m an adult but then it felt unfair). In many aspects A and I treated one another (despite the rivalry) better than my bio sister and I did.

    We are all older now and interestingly enough although I love my bio sister something fierce and will be there for her in a heartbeat if I’m needed, I’m actually closer to A.

    It’s tough being in the middle of feuding kids!LOL Hang in there…you are already doing what you need to do…it’s up to them to meet you and themselves half way.

  4. Thanks zunzun.

    By the way, I think I got how Gary perceives Brian at school, but I don't think that Brian talks about/criticizes Gary as much as Gary thinks. I don't know, of course.

    I do know they each claim that the other one is telling "all their friends" how horrible they are.

  5. Hmm. I used to steal my sister's friends (or at least their attention) when we were young, just because I was older and a bit more outgoing. My parents generally addressed it by inviting her friends over when I was going to be gone, or by explicitly telling me that I could only play with them for short periods of time, and then I needed to leave them alone and do other things. But G&B are both older and closer in age, so not sure how well that would work. Any chance that you could help Brian build up some of his friendships by arranging gatherings when Gary is at MMA? Even offering to drive him somewhere occasionally? If he felt a bit more confident that his friends weren't going to desert him he might not be as bothered by the other stuff.

    As far as what they say about each other, I might be inclined to ask each of them to avoid criticizing the other to mutual friends, just as a matter of practice. Now that we are adults my sister and I actually have a number of mutual friends, and I have to remind myself of that constantly - we get along quite well, but any sibling gets annoying occasionally. I have just decided that it's unfair to her to make comments to mutual friends, even ones that seem harmless. It's not really fair to the friends either - I wonder if you could help Gary and Brian see that they are putting their friends in an awkward position. Could you ask them to save up their venting (which we all need to do occasionally) for you and Roland, or a therapist, or someone else a bit more removed from the situation?

  6. wow, that's some post. i fascinated to read the different sides of the story, and they both make sense to me with the way you put it. it's incredible how two different perspectives in a conflict can both make complete sense on their own. i guess there really are two sides of every coin.

  7. Now this I can relate to! The struggle no one talks about- when the always-nurtured, always-loved, somewhat spoiled natural kid suddenly realizes that you can't just "feel sorry" for the poor foster kids. They're actually at times in competition with you and you know what, sometimes they're going to be better, smarter, funnier, cuter and infinitely more lovable than one's own self. AND- they get the financial support from the state/agency/birth parents that you don't get.

    I know for me (proud oldest child of 12- 10 of which are foster) it was a challenge. As long as I saw the fosters as "pitifuL' or "helpless", I could pretty much ignore most of the challenges. I felt like a team with Mom & Dad & bio bro, feeling sorry for the fosters, giving charity here and there.

    Then one day I realized, heck, reality!!. They're fighters- stubborn, independent, tough. They're lovable and sweet- its how they negotiated life up til this point. I was neither. I was a smart bandnerd whose parents told her she could be anything, have anything, and the truth is, that was just lies.

    Part of it is a growing up process. To be honest, I have to side with Gary here. I see nothing wrong with what he is saying or doing, other than perhaps pointing out that if he wants peace in his house, it would be prudent to not talk about a housemate, regardless of what you feel. Also, don't go into the "if you want to be a part of the family" speech- he is a part of the family, period. Remind him that your family doesn't pick on each other- it isn't loving, nor constructive. Don't threaten punishment, just tell him that you're guessing he's unfamiliar with that concept from his birth family, and this is how it works in the real, civil world.

    But for Brian- its time for a rude awakening. If he was truly sociable, loyal, friendly, then his friends wouldn't "defect" from him to Gary. True friends stay true. Others aren't worth losing. Is Gary right about the band thing? Tell Brian the truth- you're a great singer, but you don't have that "rock star presence". Should've done drama 2. Girl doesn't like him? Welcome to the real world.

    That all happens in sibling groups. My girls (bio sisters) are older teens, 2 years apart. They've have liked/fought over more guys/clothes/classes/sports/yada yada than I can name. Its just part of it.

    The important thing here isn't to teach them to get along- its to teach them how to lose politely, to accept their own flaws and be honest about what is reflected in the mirror, and to be considerate of the "pitiful" in the family, and to understand the role of "pitiful" varies from day to day, subject to subject.

    Good luck, Yondalla. Its all very normal, but makes you long for the day when its just you and ROland and the dog, doesn't it? :)

  8. Stacie wrote: "don't go into the "if you want to be a part of the family" speech- he is a part of the family, period. Remind him that your family doesn't pick on each other- it isn't loving, nor constructive. Don't threaten punishment, just tell him that you're guessing he's unfamiliar with that concept from his birth family, and this is how it works in the real, civil world"

    Wow. Um...this is just general advice, not based upon anything you would expect from me, right? I can't imagine ever saying, "If you want to be part of this family..." I most certainly would not say it to someone who already was a member of the family. Most of my readers know that I almost never punish and even if I did, punishing kids because they don't get along would clearly be a terrible idea. It would only increase the resentment between them. I'm a bit worried that even what said this morning was counter-productive.

    I disagree with your last suggestion. I think saying that in our family we don't pick on each other, when he clearly feels picked on, isn't going to work.

    I don't think I have a side. It is so easy for me to see things from each kids' perspective. On the other hand, I do think that if things are going to be different, Brian is going to have to do most of the changing. That doesn't mean he will, but that is where it has to come from.

    Roland and I had a long talk with Brian. I will probably blog about it.

  9. "If he was truly sociable, loyal, friendly, then his friends wouldn't "defect" from him to Gary. True friends stay true. Others aren't worth losing."

    That seems a bit simplistic to me, especially for teenagers. Most teens, even nice ones, are attracted to those who seem exciting and fun, even if the friends who are quieter and less showy would end up being the better 'true friends' in the long run. Hell, I struggle with that myself sometimes, and I am an adult. I'm not saying Brian should be begging for friendship from those who aren't interested, but for him to write off every kid who shows an interest in Gary as not worth his time, I suspect would result in him pushing away perfectly nice kids, and result in him having even fewer friends and being less happy. Asking for perfect loyalty from your friends doesn't seem any more realistic to me than perfect anything else. We are all human.

    Anyway, I don't think anyone is suggesting that Brian 'deserved' that girl, or anything else. And Yondalla definitely acknowledged in her post that life is just like that sometimes, and Brian will need to learn to accept that. But I also don't think she is being unreasonably accommodating to be thinking about how to help Brian feel more confident in his friends and his skills. I would say that is part of what parenting a teenager is about, and that she would (and has) done the same for Gary when appropriate.

    If anything, my take-away is that artificial twinning (which is fairly close to what you have here) is just difficult. Not that I am not very glad that Gary is part of your family, but I do think that it is hard to have siblings so close in age. I saw something similar in some of my friends growing up, and they were biosibs. Being able to create our own separate lives was really important to my sister and I think having a few years between us made that much easier for my parents to encourage.

  10. This sounds tough for everyone. I can't offer any big advice, as I don't have any insight, but I can offer some small advice. If you are going to watch a TV series with Brian, and haven't yet seen Firefly, I would check it out. There is a movie, too.

  11. I OWN Firefly ... and Serenity.

    Did you know that in the scene in GSG when Laura Roslin is learning she has cancer, Serenity flies by in the background?

  12. I did not know that! Well, I am out of suggestions, then, sorry!

  13. Ah well, thanks anyway!

    and of course I meant BSG (Battle Star Galactica)

  14. Sorry Yondalla, no nothing to do with what you were saying. I actually bounced over here straight from FA's blog (sorry FA if you're reading, but girl, you KNOW the whole situation is stressing me out).

    For some reason, I keep reading these blogs where either everyone sides with one kid over the other, or tries to use the "bribe" of being adopted as a lure to coerce good behavior, or like the first commenter said- "but not the sibling part". Siblings come in all shapes and varieties. Foster, adopt, step, bio, it all varies and those relationships do too.

    Blame it on lack of sleep or forgetting where I was at- I know you wouldn't say that! :)

    As for the "picking on" comment- I meant it to be directed at BOTH boys. Not just one.

    I mean, logically, you and Roland don't pick on each other, you guys don't pick on the kids and you're not the type of family that antagonizes each other or belittles each other or demeans each other as a normal part of the family dynamic (which again, from what I'm reading on blogs lately, is apparently a lot more common that I realized)

    That worked with us when we were kids- being reminded of how our family either was different or was supposed to be different than the kind of family that for instance, the tv show "Roseanne" embodied (that was a big point of illustration for us growing up, sorry to date myself a bit there).

    Oddly, I sympathize most with Brian. I've sat in that exact chair in many ways. I just wish my parents had spent more time explaining to me that I needed to get over it and less time coddling me- I think I would have coped better in the long run. It doesn't make it any easier, and its going to hurt Brian no matter how it goes, but in hindsight, I can see it differently.

    Sorry, Yondalla. I'm frustrated with so many things- our state is closing all Level III group homes this fall due to Medicaid funding cuts. That translates to agencies revamping the definition of Level II therapeutic foster homes, so kids with serious mental disorders are getting dumped on people with little to no special training.

    Add to that my concern over FA's situation- kid with lots of issues, parents not equipped or prepared to deal with that type of violence, etc, and I'm just picturing it happening statewide.

    Am I the only one that's noticed a trend of catastrophes in the fostering blogs lately?

  15. OMG...I had to laugh when I saw the Firefly friend (since HS...she became obsessed w/ Firefly) dragged me to a convention so she could meet some of the cast. We didn't make it to the signature table (they cut the line off just a few people ahead of her) but while people were leaving (the cast members were starting to get up and go too) I walked up to the guy that plays Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (there was this tiny security officer trying to tell me to leave but I totally ignored her and focused on the guy) and took him by surprise when instead of begging for an autograph for myself, I said "look guy, up until a few weeks ago I had no idea who any of you were, but thanks to my friend, I and EVERYONE she knows has been forced to watch Serenity or buy the dvds...if there is ANYONE that deserves that signature is about it?" - He blinked a few times, laughed and called her over. She got her poster signed by him and some of the others. It was one of my coolest moments evah...I was so happy I could do this for her...she's great...even if she has tortured me with that Jane song.

    Because of her we also got hooked on BSG, Stargate, Farscape, etc.

  16. Meant to type "forced to watch Firefly" - I realize the movie came after!

  17. Thanks for clarifying, Stacie. As far as kids needing to get over it, I think that really varies by the kid. I'm sure there are plenty of kids (people) for whom 'coddling' just encourages them to them to wallow in resentment, and who really need a kick in the butt to move on. It sounds like that may have been true for you. I know for myself, though, being told to get over something just makes me that much angrier and more resentful. I can't move through it and be ready to move forward without processing, often venting about it. That's just how my brain works. It may not be the best way of coping, but trying to short-circuit that process just makes me shut down. I don't think Yondalla needs to agree with everything Brian is saying and feeling, but if it were me I would really need her to acknowledge my right to have those feelings, and even be willing to listen to me vent occasionally - not because that viewpoint is necessarily right, but because that is what I would need in order to get over it and move on. Yondalla knows him best, obviously - I'm just offering an alternate take. I do think that it is possible to validate his concerns without providing additional ammunition to his resentment.

    I guess I'm coming back to where I was before, which is that the fixable problem is the making comments behind each others backs. I can see why they do it - part of being a teenager is complaining to your friends about your family. But when the groups of friends overlap, it becomes really destructive - to both of them and to their friends. Speaking as a friend who got caught between two stepsisters who both liked me but disliked each other - it sucked, and it made me want to hang out with neither of them. I don't think Brian has a right to the girlfriend or the band, any more than Gary has a right to Brian's voice or academic abilities. But given that they go to a small school, and that they both need to be in that school for various reasons, I do think that they both have a right to expect that their sibling won't be putting them down in that way. If it was me that would be the thing that upset me most - because they are both smart enough to know that Brian can't control his abilities and Gary can't control his looks. The put downs are something they can both control, and that doesn't require either of them to give up anything they really value.

    Could you have a family meeting with all four of you, and discuss this? Explain that you know being a sibling is difficult, and that they are bound to find each other annoying at times, and that you understand that it's sometimes tricky to be so close in age and spend so much time together, because generally they could vent to their friends about it, but in this case that ends up being really hurtful to both of them and unfair to their friends? Maybe brainstorm some other ways to express that kind of frustration? It just seems like that would make sense to a teenager, particularly since it sounds like they both do it sometimes. And having all four of you discuss it might make them feel less like they are being targeted individually, and encourage them to think the other one might actually follow through.

  18. I don't have any sibling rivalry insights, but you can tell Brian from me (for what it's worth) that there are loads of people out there who are going to think that Brian is exactly their cup of tea and who wouldn't know what to make of Gary if he came their way. Give me a guy who introduces himself as Handsome Stranger and announces "this is an ex-parrot!" over one who, well, doesn't do those things, any day of the week. If he threw in Blackadder, I'd swoon. (Actually, if you mixed exactly that up with a little gearhead and some science geek, you'd have my husband). Anyway, I know high school is tough for geek culture because there isn't a big concentration of geeks, but college is great.

    Shorter version: tell Brian I like his style.


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