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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Brotherly and Sisterly Love

There was a time a couple years back when we had an interesting circle of love among the children. Lucy, our youngest, was absolutely enthralled with Simon. Simon thought his older brother Oscar was the end all, be all. And Oscar was completely in love with little Lucy.

Granted, that time wasn’t perfect. No one got their feelings completely reciprocated. But these days things have gotten a bit more challenging as their individual affections have shifted.

Now, Oscar and Simon have a veritable brotherly love fest 24-7. Simon likes all the same things his awesome big brother Oscar does. Oscar thinks Simon is the most cuddle-able little boy ever (which IS completely accurate).

But poor Lucy is more or less left on the outside.

Sometimes it is not that big of a deal. She has slightly different play interests and sometimes likes just doing her own thing. Other times she can be quite content just to sit on the sidelines and enjoy watching as Simon and Oscar play together. But once in a while, she is sad when they don’t include her in their games or listen to her comments.

As a parent, I find this completely heartbreaking.

If Lucy were being left out by a group of friends at school, I would feel her pain. I would wish I could do something to make it better and to help her classmates see how amazing she is and want to include her. I would tell her that no matter what happened at school or in life, she is always loved and wanted and included at home.

Sadly, when she is being left out at home, it seems like the pain is magnified. Her pain might be the same, but mine is significantly sharper watching her suffer at hands of my own sons.

I once explained to some students how I understood parenthood as an amazing lesson in the expansive nature of divine love. When we only had one child, I couldn’t conceive of how I could possibly love another child as much as I loved Oscar. I was even a little nervous about how I would “divide” my love between Oscar and another child. Then when Simon was born, I understood. As parents, we don’t divide our love. I love Oscar fully, 100%, and without reservation. AND at the same time, I love Simon fully, 100%, and without reservation. Then when Lucy came along , the same became true for her as well.

The thing is, parental love is different from brotherly love. I love them all fully and completely. I see their beauty even when they behave in distinctly un-beautiful ways. I give them the benefit of the doubt.

And that is the crux of it, I think. They don’t give one another the benefit of the doubt. If something one of them does or says to the other can be interpreted poorly, it will be. They cannot see beyond perceived slights and keep hold of the bigger family picture. I am left wondering if this is a natural function of their age, or if there is much more I need to be doing as a parent to show them how precious each of them is and how essential it is that they love each other well.

Likely, the answer is “both”: this could be a function of their age and I could do more as a parent.

Their actions and depth of understanding reflect their very specific developmental stages. To acknowledge that in our day-to-day struggles, I need to be gentle with myself and with them—I need to recognize that in their youth they not only see in black and white, they also see narrowly and cannot conceive fully of the big picture.

I also need to take opportunities, not simply to correct or reprimand them, but to offer some sense of why they need to behave differently. I need to give witness to the type of generous love we hope our family embodies: both by loving them as God does and also by naming the expansive, self-sacrificing nature of God’s love.