Q“Why is it common to find conflict and rivalry between siblings born closely apart? Is it psychological?”
Part of the answer to your question is found in the Book of Genesis. Two boys, Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam and Eve. In this book, we read of two things — one the act of the first murder (Cain killed Abel) and also the first recorded rude remark directed at God.
To the question “Where is your brother?” Cain answered God with the words, “I am not my brother’s keeper”.
This, therefore, has to be part of the nature of human beings where brothers feel they have no duty of care towards their siblings.
The story of Cain and Able gets more interesting and possibly gives some insight into your question when one delves deeper into the story.
According to the Bible, God rejected Cain’s offering but accepted Abel’s. The Bible does not tell us why God refused to accept the harvest brought by Cain but accepted Abel’s meat.
What is clear from the story is that one of the boys found favour with the father while the other did not. The elder son felt unhappy about the situation and decided to kill the brother.
In partial answer to your question, siblings often fight when one or the other feels, or thinks that the other is favoured by one or other parent. For killing his brother, Cain became a “fugitive and wanderer in the land of Nod (Genesis 4:1-46).
Another well-known Biblical story is that of the prodigal son, attributed to Jesus in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, a man has two sons. The younger boy is wasteful and extravagant.
In today’s terms, one can see him not completing school, chasing girls and drinking too much alcohol — the kind of boy who is said to be out of parental control. Often in trouble with authority and would have spent time in police cells a number of times.
The older brother is seen as one who follows the straight and narrow, finishes university, marries a nice girl and gives his parents healthy grandchildren. He is the heir apparent as he works in the family business!
The younger boy then goes to his father and asks for his inheritance. He goes off to the city, lives the high life with girls of the night who he shares with tourists.
Soon, the money runs out, the girls vanish and he can no longer afford alcohol or drugs.
In the Bible, he lives and eats with the pigs. In Kenya, he would live in the slum or in the streets begging and eating from dumpsites.
Perhaps in response to your question, the young man comes back home looking like thunder had just struck him; dirty, sickly, thin, depressed and in tattered old clothes.
In the Biblical account, the father receives him with celebration and fanfare and the older brother is not happy.
This then became the source of conflict between the siblings. One has lived according to the rules set by the parents, the other has not. When the bad boy comes back, the parents celebrate.
The older one thinks this is neither right nor fair. The father’s position seems to make the situation even more complex when he states “it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this younger brother, was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).
Siblings often have problems with each other when they feel unfairly or unreasonably treated by parents or life in general.
In all families, different siblings seem to be “blessed” in different ways. Some do well in education; others get better jobs than others while still others have wonderful wives and or children. For any of these reasons, siblings can have very difficult relationships.
The books of Matthew and Luke tell the story of the man who was prepared to leave 99 sheep to go looking for just one lost sheep.
Many parents find themselves in this dilemma when siblings disagree. It is very difficult for parents when this happens. In their eyes, all the children (good or bad) are their flesh and blood and must be treated fairly (if not equally).
As you can see, there are many aspects to look at when one considers rivalry between siblings.