I have two sons, both grown now. Joseph is five years older than Gabriel. When they were younger, they were acutely aware of each other’s place in the family, especially my younger son, Gabriel. He wanted to do whatever his big brother did, even if his little body just could not keep up. Instead of feeling honored that his little brother looked up to him so much, Joseph resented Gabriel’s desire to do what he did and thus the battle lines were drawn. I often felt torn between the two boys and what they each needed or desired or thought they deserved. I was also very aware of the fact that they were two very different children with very different needs and personalities.
Joseph was very self-contained and self-aware from the moment he emerged from the womb. He needed very little correction and was more comfortable with gentle guidance and clearly defined limits set mainly for his safety. As he grew older he took the role of the “opposer” in the family constellation and would often say no to an activity simply because the rest of us wanted to do it. He fought with his little brother all the time and was usually the victor, simply because of his size and weight advantage. I think he might have been happier as an only child. (Wouldn’t we all?)
Gabriel was a quiet, peaceful baby, but as he grew his competitive streak emerged and he was always trying to win at anything he did – sports, games, anything. If losing at a board game like Monopoly, he was not above throwing the board across the room, ending the game for everyone. Gabriel was also very affectionate and needy for affection in return, and he could be very stubborn when it came time to put away toys or get ready for bed.
As a parent responsible for the growth and guidance of these two unique people, I discovered early what major lessons each had to learn in their lives and tried my best to help them work their way through them. With Joe, I tried to show him the box he placed himself in when he opposed a family outing just for the sake of standing firm and alone. An “opposer” is basically a frustrated leader. I found ways to let him make more decisions for us all, like which movie or playground or restaurant, but the larger life choices still had to be made by his father or me. I also tried to show him how the battle with his younger brother was largely of his making. If Joseph did not rise to the bait of Gabriel’s competitive nature and was more of an ally and mentor to Gabriel, the fights would cease. It had to come from him, the oldest and the one who set the battle lines in the beginning.
With Gabriel I tried to be patient and consistent, working with him to at least place one block back in the box while I put in ten, easing him out of his stubbornness. When he got older and threw game boards across the room, I would wait until he calmed down and then sit and talk quietly with him about his actions. I believed it was important that he understand that his actions had immediate and also long term consequences and the older he got the bigger the consequences. I also tried to show him that his intense need for affection was often impossible to meet. He would have to learn to look within to find the comfort and solace he needed. I took him with me to my meditation group and he enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere and the chanting when he was young very much.
As the boys grew into teens their life lessons grew with them. Joseph resented the choices I made for the family, moving us from California to West Virginia and finally to Washington state. When his father and I separated he blamed me, since it was my decision to do so. It took us a long time to work through his feelings. The hardest thing I ever did was sit quietly and listen to him tell me how every decision I had ever made for him was wrong, starting with not circumcising him! It was a long and emotionally exhausting list. He was sixteen then. He forced me to see the consequences of my decisions from his point of view rather than my own – a completely different vantage point!
Gabriel continued to up the ante in his actions/consequences cycle. At fourteen, he threw a rock through a shop window with some friends and was the only one caught. He spent the night in Juvenile Detention and was thoroughly sobered and chastised by the experience. Among other consequences, he had to apologize to the shop owner face to face. His emotional neediness continues to be a problem for him in his marriage from time to time. Learning to look within for comfort and solace will be a life-long challenge for him I believe, but one which he is slowly learning how to solve.
When Joseph turned eighteen, he stopped fighting with Gabriel. I noticed the calm and asked him what happened. He said Gabriel was on the wrestling team now and might be able to “take him” in a fight. While that may have been part of it, I choose to believe that Joseph’s maturity was also a factor. While they are not as close as I would like them to be, they love each other dearly. Joseph still keeps himself apart from the family, but hovers on the boundaries, ready to jump in when he perceives a need.The boys have grown into young men and now lead lives independent of me. They continue to work on their life lessons. I watch as Joseph works through his need to be in charge and the distance he puts between himself and his family. I watch as Gabriel works through his need for affection and his need to win. Each has his own dharma, his own path to follow. I love both of my children and I appreciate their differences. Hopefully I will be around for a while as they walk their own unique path to wisdom and enlightenment and as I in turn walk mine.