Dear Ann: I read your column about sibling rivalry. You said the sure way to get kids to hate each other is to compare them. This is true for all family comparisons. My brother, "Bobby," has three lovely children. They live on the other coast, so I rarely get to see them. When we speak on the phone and he talks about his youngest daughter, he will invariably say, "She reminds me a lot of you." This is not meant as a compliment, take my word for it.
I could not understand why he would make such a remark until I spoke to a cousin who lives near them. She said, "Whenever Bobby's daughter acts like a brat, he tells her, 'You're just like your Aunt Jane."' The girl is now a sullen, angry teenager and not easy to be around. She may outgrow her unpleasantness, but I doubt that she will ever outgrow her negative feelings about me.
I am furious with Bobby for using me as the horrible example. Not only is this insulting, it is also totally inaccurate. I never had that kind of attitude as a child. My mother tells me I was well-behaved and good-natured. I always thought I had a solid relationship with Bobby and his wife, and I cannot imagine why they think so little of me. I am also upset that they have poisoned the relationship I had hoped to have with their daughter. How should I handle this? I would really appreciate some input from you, Ann. Sad in Sacramento
Dear Sad Sac: I suggest that you send Bobby a copy of this column, along with a note saying you are hurt by his comments. Then hope, with all your heart, that the relationship can be improved.
You should let Bobby know at once that if he has something against YOU, he should be upfront about it and not divert his hostile feelings to the innocent child. No wonder the girl is "sullen." She has been beaten down and drained of confidence by her father's lack of approval. Bobby could certainly profit from some parenting classes and family counseling.
Dear Ann: Thank you for printing those letters about spanking and reiterating that there is never a good reason to hit a child. Many of those readers said, "My child learned better behavior in a hurry when I spanked him," or "I never spanked my child in anger." I say, "Baloney."
There is never a time an adult hits a child when it is not in anger. I know, because I have done it myself. If the parent waits until he or she has calmed down and then spanks the child, it is abuse, pure and simple. Whenever I have spanked or slapped my two children (and I am deeply ashamed to admit that I have done both), it was because I was frustrated and impatient and thought this was the way to get the message across pronto.
These spankings produced unfortunate results. First, my daughter learned to fear me, and second, my son learned that hitting back was the way to respond to anger. I have worked long and hard to correct my own behavior so my children will not repeat my mistakes. Please, Ann, keep on advocating nonviolent forms of discipline. A Remorseful and Reformed Dad in Boston
Dear Reformed and Remorseful: My congratulations for being both. This requires a lot of humility. I have been saying for years, when you hit a child, it is a sure sign that you are out of control.
And while we are on this subject, I'd like to reiterate belts, whips, straps, brushes and switches are OUT. No excuse is good enough to use any of the above.