Monday, January 10, 2011

Competition and Brotherly Love

Whoa, what a night we had tonight.

Owen had this great idea about racing some plastic dragons around the house; that's how it all started. He had a sign-up sheet, and so we all signed up to race the dragons. It was really cute to see him so excited, and his excitement really was infectious.

All was going well. He won the first two heats, and then we reached the semifinals, which is where Owen's little world fell apart. We've seen it before, when winning is so important to him that he would rather quit, or fall, or even feign injury than lose.

And, pretty much all of those things happened tonight in the semifinal races – finally Ben and I called off the competition. Owen went into the bathroom to get ready for bed (as we directed; he would never have done this on his own), crying of course, and Luke came and sat down on the couch with me. He looked really sad. When I asked what was on his mind, here is what he said:

"Well, a few nights ago Owen told me that he wished I wasn't alive anymore."

This hit me like a bomb. It was totally unexpected; I nearly started crying on the spot. To cover my shock I asked Luke why Owen might've said that? He replied that, though he couldn't remember Owen's exact words, the gist was that Owen felt like he was always in Luke's shadow.

Luke continued, sharing that he tried to influence tonight's dragon races so that Owen felt like he was part of Luke's team, in other words, not in direct competition with Luke.

He said that he did this so that maybe Owen wouldn't feel that way anymore. So that Owen wouldn't wish him dead. I am crying now, as I write this.

Sometimes, I forget how mindful Luke is. I can't imagine him even thinking that he wished someone wasn't alive anymore because he seems inherently to know how horrible, how much of an anathema, the thought is. Maybe that's why it was such a shock to hear this coming from Owen. I just thought they both understood.

Plus, it was such a raw statement: wishing someone was dead.

I tried to reassure Luke by explaining that many people, children and adults alike, say things that they regret when they are angry. I pointed out that Owen's feelings stem more from his belief that he can't keep up with his big brother. I tried to explain that this really had to do with Owen's feelings about himself. I hope it helped.

And then, a conversation with Owen needed to take place. I wanted him to know that it is okay to have feelings like this; I asked him to come talk to me or Daddy if he feels that way again, because I think one of the worst things that might happen is that he feels bad about his own thoughts, like they only make everybody else angry and sad. Better, I think, that he doesn't squash down negative feelings but instead tries to figure out where they come from – I know he'll have to be much older before he can truly do this. But tonight did seem like the place to start.

I went on to try and help him understand about regretting things that you've said, feeling sorry that you've hurt somebody – and I think he truly understood how much he had hurt his brother.

Finally, I wanted to help Owen grasp that his frustration comes of being not as practiced at things as Luke is, for the sole reason that Luke is four years older. I wanted to try and separate the two negative feelings, jealousy and hatred, so that he understands that they are in fact two separate feelings. And, I'm not really sure if that worked; I guess time will tell.

Of course, there were lots and lots of tears as this conversation played itself out tonight. We ended on two good points, though:

1) As a family, we are resolved to play more noncompetitive games.
2) I remembered the picture that Owen drew for Luke just the other night. He made us each a picture, in fact, with characters from The Magic Pickle on one side, and a picture of each of us on the other.

He made us those pictures because he loves us.
And love endures.


jugglingpaynes said...

I can understand where Owen is coming from. The youngest always wants to prove they are as good as their older siblings. Sierra never wanted to look at picture books or easy readers because of that. She insisted they were baby books. She ended up learning how to read by playing her older brother's computer game, Spore.

I was also the youngest of three. Even though I married first and had kids first, I still felt that need to prove myself. We live with that feeling that no one takes us seriously because we are the "baby" and need to be taken care of. It does make us fighters. That being said, I have tried to impress upon my children that no matter your condition in life, be it birth order, chronic illness, whatever, it is no excuse to treat others with disrespect. You need to show the behavior you want others to display. I think you set a wonderful example Karen!

And just so you know, my highly competitive son did learn to play well with others! That does take some time, especially if you don't want to crush that competitive spirit.

Peace and Laughter!

Karen said...

Cristina, thanks so much for your comments. You are making me feel like we are on the right track, plus it's good to have some insight into Owen's thinking; I am an oldest, and Luke and I are very much alike.

It's going to be quite an adventure learning how Owen works!

Jena said...

You handled this beautifully. Families bring out our strongest emotions, and kids need to feel safe expressing them and learning how to interpret them. Hugs to all of you.

topsy-techie said...

Whoa. You are such an amazing mommy. Will you be MY mommy?? ;) This brought back so many memories. My boys have had sort of the reverse of this one. Because younger brother came right on the heels of older brother, older brother has always had the jealousy issues. He has always felt the need to make younger brother feel bad about himself, so he could, in turn, feel better about himself. Which never works, because making other people feel bad always has a boomerang effect somehow. I wish I had handled some of these issues even half as well as you handled this one. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful, vulnerable, hurdle and how you went over it. <3

Rana said...

I have the same issue Topsy Techi had. My kiddos are twins, but Tinky girl is the oldest by 45 minutes. Even though she is older, there are a few things that my son can do that she just can't or doesn't take the time to practice working on. We too have had jealousy issues and name calling.

It's so hard sometimes. You want them to know they can express themselves and tell us how they are feeling. But we also want them to know that words can hurt and we have to be respectful of people even more so our family because in the stream of things our family is or should always be there for us.

I think you did good Karen.

Karen said...

Jena – thanks so much for your hugs :-)
This was the first of probably many moments where I totally wasn't sure what to do, but I certainly felt like something had to be done.

Topsy – you are such a sweetie, I'm blushing!
It is so hard when you know, deep down, that they love each other, but don't always show it. Best of luck with your two. Thinking of your belief that hurting others has a boomerang effect (well put, BTW!), I am sure you are sharing that with them and it's a lesson they will take through their lives.

Rana – I never would've thought that twins would have older/younger issues! One book I found very helpful when my boys were younger was Siblings Without Rivalry; it's even kind of helping now, because I still want to try and defuse the rivalry if possible.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts everybody!

Rana said...

I have read that book, well started and stopped a couple of times. I have checked it out at the library but never get enough time to put into practice what it says. I am going to have to buy a copy.