1 John 4:21 says, "And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
One of our strongest missions is to teach our children how to love their siblings. I grew up as an only child, and can remember so well the desire I had for brothers and sisters. I envied the giggles underneath the blankets, or the shared stories of a history that began at birth. I longed for the camaraderie that comes with sharing everything from toothpaste to nosebleeds. I automatically thought that having siblings was the only part of the equation necessary for close and lasting relationships between children of the same parents. Ha!
Christopher has two sisters, and while he loves them both he wasn't raised with an understanding for the priority of building friendship into those relationships. He remembers the prevailing philosophy was more, "as long as it doesn't get loud enough to bother mom or dad," than one of, "is this encouraging a deepening of mutual affection for one another." There has been much pain and regret for loss of friendship over years spent in unconnectedness. He automatically thought siblings would tolerate one another, but gain their true friends from outside the home. Ha!
We were both wrong. Big surprise there *wink*. God has truly opened our eyes to better understand his design in family, and the relationships built in a home that loves him, and respects one another. We don't have delusions that our children's only dear friends must come from inside our nest. That would be absurd, not to mention unhealthy. But we are quick to point out to our children that their siblings will always be their brothers and sisters, regardless of whatever else might happen. And we don't believe that children can simply be left to forge those relationships alone. Children need training in how to be friendly with their family members just like they need training in every other venture from brushing their hair to addressing an audience. Learning to seek forgiveness, not harboring a grudge, communicating expectations, and genuinely thinking of another person first do not come naturally to anyone, let alone a rather self-absorbed little person. As parents we must take the initiative to teach our children the value in their brothers and sisters. For us, in particular, it is vital that we acknowledge the reality of sacrifice necessary from the entire family as a result of our choices to trust God for our family size. The payoff is no different for me, than it is for my children. I am willing to give up comforts and conveniences for another human being - and I want my children to want the same thing. But as an adult I have the advantage of perspective, and control. So, we try to be diligent in our communication with each child about the reasons why we have submitted to the conviction we hold so dear. And in the midst of it, we also work to allow them the most enjoyable fruit of our decision - the blessing of real relationships with all their siblings.
Only time will ultimately tell if we have done our job well. But I am so excited as more and more of my children's spontaneous responses are centered around the friendships with their family members. A couple of night's ago was a perfect example. Caleb and Bethany were scheming all day on how they could have a "sleepover" with each other. They were so well-behaved that I knew it was the night to allow them this treat. When I went into their room to check on them before bed their were fast asleep in each other's arms. What a precious picture of brotherly love!