Siblings who thrive on rivalry

Both the Bible and the Koran tell of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain as the first murder in human history. The Bible tells us that Cain killed his brother out of sheer jealousy, after the Lord praised Abel for offering a flock of sheep when Cain offered a stock of vegetables and fruit.

Both the Bible and the Koran tell of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain as the first murder in human history. The Bible tells us that Cain killed his brother out of sheer jealousy, after the Lord praised Abel for offering a flock of sheep when Cain offered a stock of vegetables and fruit.

Since those early days of Adam's sons, the world has witnessed the devastating results of siblings turning against each other and leaving a legacy of family feuds that have resulted in divided communities.

Until recently, parents would make no bones about who their favourite child was - until relationship experts started saying that such behaviour can damage some kids.

"It's wrong to blame favouritism as the only cause for sibling rivalry because sometimes a sibling wins the affection of parents because of his or her demeanour," says Maserame Thema, a relationship and family therapist.

But shouldn't a parent or parents take the moral high ground and bring about unity, rather than division in the family?

"Yes. However, the problem becomes complex when a parent tries to deal with it while the feud is going on, and especially where money is involved. The sad thing is that most of these feuds continue long after parents pass on," says Thema.

Though favouritism is not the only reason for sibling rivalry, Thema's theory is best demonstrated with the story of the divided Lekganyane brothers.

After the death of their father, church founder Barnabas Lekganyane in 1948, a minority of the congregation adopted the name Saint Engenas Zion Christian Church and continued worshipping at the original site under the leadership of Lekganyane's second son Joseph, and adopted the dove as its symbol.

The breakaway Zion Christian Church built the new Zion City in Moria about 1,5km east of the original site under the leadership of Lekganyane's eldest son, Edward. It adopted the star of David as its symbol. This split between the brothers affected about three million followers.

Thema blames human instincts for sibling rivalry saying it is natural to fight, hate and even harm siblings out of a need to survive. She says animals do it too, but human beings harbour the feelings to a point where it is impossible to reverse the damage.

"All siblings fight for when they are younger are time, attention, love and parental approval.

"But having grown up in large families, most feuding siblings have been totally ignored by their parents with some even raised by distant relatives.

"These children resent their brothers and sisters who were raised in the nests of their parents," says Thema.

She says that if the parents make a pact to give each child a certain amount of exclusive one-on-one time and spread love equally, there would be no need for favouritism and damage control that scorned children feel.

"But don't forget that there are people who are never satisfied with affection and approval and will drive a parent up the wall because it's in their nature to want, want want," warns Thema.

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