Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry can appear vicious in some families. Bantering, insults and sabotage can be great sport even in families that adore each other. A new stepparent falls into carefully laid traps by gaming children and occasionally, even their spouses are in cahoots with their children against the newcomer. When you, as a new spouse, joins an existing family, you enter a world of intricate games without a rule book.

Although the result can be a feeling of estrangement, these awkward attempts to include the new spouse in conflict resolution is, in actuality, a good sign. The new stepparent must step back and realize when you receive the blame for something that you had nothing to do with, that you must never overreact. The ball has been tossed to you. Even if the ball hits you squarely on the nose because you were not prepared, you have fallen deeply into a pit of sibling rivalry and fierce competition for the time and affection of the parent. That is a positive inclusion even though it feels like you've been punched in the face.

Catch the ball gently and toss it back, with little or no reaction or opinion as to the outcome of today's issue or battles. Do not cop an attitude. Do not try to be a star quarterback yet, just participate a little in the game. Mostly you will be ignored, blamed and scorned as any newest family member experiences. Yes, you are the little brother or sister in a family dynamic, even though you were hoping to be the leader-mother or leader-father. Over time that will change but it can takes years especially with insensitive stepparents more concerned with their "rights" then their intrusion.

Support your spouse and let them take the lead with parenting their children for at least the first year of blending. If a child is standing directly on your toes or your feelings you get to cry out but save the discipline for someone that the children are used to listening to and obeying. Avoid blaming your spouse for the behavior of competitive and ruthless children trying to retain their power and influence with their parent. They are just normal kids that some day you will love.

Eventually, you will understand the unique game that is your new family and you will acquire the position and power that you seek given as a gift of love, not a hostile takeover.

©2009, Molly Barrow

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Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the new book, Matchlines: A revolutionary New Way of looking at relationships and making the right choices in love. She is an authority on relationship and psychological topics, a member of the American Psychological Association and a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday,,, Women's Health and Women's World. Please visit: or Take the new relationship compatibility test, Match Lines Systems for Successful Relationships for Singles, Couples and Business at Molly has a radio program, Your Relationship Answers at

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