“Imagine a world in which brothers and sisters grow up in homes where hurting isn’t allowed; where children are taught to express their anger at each other sanely and safely; where each child is valued as an individual, not in relation to the others; where cooperation, rather than competition is the norm; where no one is trapped in a role; where children have daily experience and guidance in resolving their differences.
“And what if these children grow up to become the world shapers of tomorrow? What a tomorrow that would be! The kids brought up in such homes would know how to attack the world’s problems without attacking our precious world. They would have the skills and the commitment to do it. They would save our global family.”
This is the vision of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and in Siblings Without Rivalry they set out to provide parents with the skills they need to facilitate this kind of communication and relationship in their homes. By examining how people think and feel they offer solutions to such common problems as fighting, taking, and competition that gets out of hand.
Their premise is based on a few presuppositions that are helpful to understand when reading their book. The cornerstone of their methodology is that there are no unreasonable feelings. Actions must be limited, but as feelings are labeled, acknowledged, and processed relationships can be restored. Another postulation is that every person has intrinsic value and worth unrelated to anyone else and yet how easily we each doubt ourselves and compare ourselves to others. The resulting insecurity is at the root of many relationship problems. Though competition is a powerful motivator, accomplishments that come from an environment of cooperation foster more valuable life skills in relationship and communication. The book is written in a discussion format in which participants consider these and the rest of the points the authors present. The questions and objections they bring up and the conversations that follow put flesh on each concept and guide the reader in understanding and applying them.
As a Christian parent reading this book the absence of sin and the need for a savior is glaring. I don’t know the state of the authors’ souls, but I do know they are not preaching the gospel in this book. As a result, this is not an if-you-only-read-one-book-about-parenting-read-this title. That would be the Bible. But after you have a firm grasp on your children’s need for Jesus, this book can give you tools and skills and words to use in facilitating the day-in day-out problems that arise in a house that has kids in it.
The ability to communicate is not inherent in Christianity. As my children come to me with arguments (all equally loud in volume and intensity whether it is over something as trivial as who’s going to sit on which chair or something as grievous as one child hitting another) I am often at a loss for what words will help them work out their problems. I know they are sinning and I know they need to be pointed to Jesus, but I can’t just holler over the cacophony, “Hey! Stop sinning! Repent of your sins! Turn to Jesus and love your brother!” Neither can I just curl up into the fetal position and hope it will all blow over. This book has given me the words to say in the midst of the pandemonium of a knock-down drag-out fight (over who gets the blue tea cup). I hope to pass on my new skills to my kids, empowering them to find creative solutions to disagreements where all parties involved end up satisfied.
It would be nice if the authors admitted that no matter how accurately feelings are labeled and no matter how thoroughly they are processed, true peace will only come when hearts are turned to Jesus. It would be nice if they said that the reason each person is intrinsically valuable is that we are all made in the image of God and we don’t need to doubt ourselves because we have been bought by the blood of His Son. It would be nice if they touted cooperation over competition because Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” But whether or not the authors know it, I believe that their methods work because they are based on a Christian way of looking at people and the world. And we, as Christian parents, should be able to take their ideas, which come from years of studying what makes people tick, and apply them with great success in our homes. If anyone has a reason to treat children with love and respect, it’s Christian parents.
So my suggestion? Read your Bible. Know the Gospel. Love Jesus. By the grace of God, love your children, even when they (loudly) can’t agree who should get into the van first. Love your children as people, redeemed by Jesus, who are walking the same road of sanctification that you are. Let the skills you can learn in this book, applied with Biblical wisdom, help you be a peacemaker in your home. As your children grow up, maybe it will help them have the skills and commitment to more than “save our global family”—they can love it as Jesus loves them.
Review by Amanda Evans
Idealist, former perfectionist, and now mother of five, Amanda Evans is also former co-owner of Exodus. Amanda's reviews focus on those items that matter to wives and mothers (which covers more than you might think!). Read more of them here.
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