It’s no secret that boys quarrel with both their brothers and their sisters. Most of the issues that cause or enhance sibling conflicts apply regardless of the sex of the combatants. In my presentation, Raising Cain Without Killing Abel, I discuss several cases of sibling rivalry in Scripture and what parents can do about the causes of it. In all those cases, it’s plain that the issues involved could easily cause conflict between siblings whether they were of the same or opposite sexes. Briefly, here are a few examples: Cain and Abel, Genesis Chapter 4: The root is an unresolved conflict between Cain and God. Cain tries to deal with God on his own terms, is rejected and takes out his bitterness on Abel.
Jacob and Esau, Genesis Chapters 25 and 27: There are several root problems here. First, Jacob actually wrongs Esau by catching him in a moment of weakness and persuading him to sell his birthright for one meal. It’s a genuine offense. Then, Jacob steals the firstborn blessing by deceiving his father. This situation is made worse by mother Rachel, who favors Jacob and encourages his duplicity. So parental favoritism and Rachel’s evasion of her husbands’s authority come into play. She warns her son Jacob to flee to Haran “for a few days” until his brother’s anger subsides, but as far as we know, she never saw her boy again.
Rachel and Leah, Genesis Chapter 30: The root is Rachel’s self-rejection over her barren condition. Verse 1 says, “Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister…”. Persons with a sense of inferiority will find a multitude of different issues on which to compare themselves unfavorably with others, whether in appearance, talents, or other abilities. In Rachel’s case, it found its outlet in the area of childbearing, but self-rejection will express itself one way or another, and a child who suffers from it will express it toward siblings of either sex. Inferiority feelings are so common to young people that I made it the theme of my first novel, a boy-and-dog story called The Runt.
Joseph and his brothers, Genesis Chapter 37: Parental favoritism shows itself again, as Jacob betrays his partiality to Joseph by presenting him with a princely tunic that his brothers can scarcely fail to notice. Then, Joseph has two dreams indicating that he will one day rule over his brothers and his parents. Apparently pride is the root cause, as Joseph lacks the discretion to keep his dreams to himself. Would sisters have responded any better than his brothers did?
The greedy brother in Luke Chapter 12: A man asks Jesus to settle a conflict with a brother over the family inheritance. Jesus refuses to resolve the issue because He knows the man’s root problem is not the inheritance itself, but a materialistic value system (greed). So He immediately launches into a parable to illustrate His point.
Parental favoritism, jealously, self-rejection, greed. These things can obviously cause problems between brothers and sisters as easily as brothers and brothers. But it’s interesting to notice that in all these case studies, the conflict recorded was between siblings of like gender, and that all but one were between brothers.Researchers have also noted that sibling conflicts are more frequent and severe between siblings of a common sex. It stands to reason; little girls would more likely fight over a baby doll and boys over a favorite fire truck or BB gun. Few boys would fight with Sis over a doll.
Still, sibling rivalry between brothers is…well, special. I have six sons and eight daughters, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe.
For one thing, it’s more likely to develop into physical violence, as with Cain and Abel. Boys have more of a natural tendency to express themselves physically. They are designed to be protectors of the female sex and nature has given them both a sensitivity to the needs of girls and a disposition to fight when it seems in order. This easily gets out of hand in the immature days of boyhood and violence sometimes flares when it is entirely inappropriate.
Boys are also designed to be leaders. That may not be politically correct, but it’s fact. God has designed the sexes to be equal, but definitely not interchangeable. Boys are growing into men and men are charged with responsibility for leadership in the home, the church and the government. So, when boys grow up together, all consciously or unconsciously trying to assert their leadership with their increasing maturity, they are more likely to irritate each other than their sisters. By the same token,this can also lead to conflicts with Dad as the boys try to balance their loyalty to him with their innate need to stretch their wings and make some of their own decisions. There is only room for one lead stallion in the herd, but the young colts must have the chance to prepare for leadership.
Consequently, they may occasionally buck the authority of the senior stallion, but they are much more likely to fight with each other than with him—or with their sisters.
Trendy parents who have tried to raise boys to act like girls or girls to act like boys have created a lot of frustration for themselves. That’s what happens when we adopt the assumptions of the secular world rather than doing it God’s way. That’s why we need to study what God’s Word has to say on the topic. The current cultural war against masculinity, with its denigration of manhood and fatherhood has certainly infiltrated the church. But it doesn’t have to infiltrate your family. So remember that boys are growing into men and they must flex their muscles sometimes. That doesn’t mean they should be allowed to jettison self control or to be rude, boorish or violent. It does mean that they need special challenges and responsibilities. They need mountains to climb, fortresses to conquer, causes to champion. They need the opportunity to slay dragons.
Boys will be boys and they need to be, because someday, boys will be men.