We had an EPIC morning meltdown over the summer. At the center of the meltdown? That steaming, soothing beverage with first billing in every British period piece: tea.
Younger daughter wanted tea with breakfast. Older daughter preferred milk. Since milk requires no preparation, older daughter got her beverage first.
And she drank. [Dramatic pause.]
I’m a bit rusty on the distinction between mortal and venial sins, but if the difference can be measured in decibels, this offense was one of the former. Breakfast beverages, apparently, were meant to be drunk together. Hello, downward spiral.
The Frustration of Followers
My younger daughter wants to do everything like her sister. Clothes, activities, books, ice cream flavors—all the same. At the same time. And though older daughter loves her sister dearly, she yearns for a bit more individuality than a copycat allows. Daddy, can sister have something different than what I’m having today? She chafes.
I’m the oldest of three brothers, so I sympathize. I felt confined having a younger brother that imitated me. Get your own sport/toy/cereal/shoes! God made us and knows us as individuals, and when we are copied in every small action and preference, we feel we’ve lost our identity.
Love and Imitation
We imitate those we love—this is at the heart of most sibling mimicry. It is natural (and good!) for the young to love and imitate older siblings, but this can be difficult for the ones being imitated. Perhaps we should frame this imitative behavior as an example of love.
On the day of the Great Tea Meltdown of 2014, I tried to explain this to my older daughter on the way to school. “Your sister wants to be like you because she loves you! She might not understand her reasons, but that’s why she follows you. When you push her away or insist on doing different things, she hears that you don’t love her. She hears that you don’t want her to love you.”
Christians are not strangers to imitative behavior born of love. After all, imitation is at the heart of Christian discipleship. For those who have been made children of God, we want to worship and value God above every other person, idea, endeavor, and reward. No one practiced this perfectly aside from Jesus. He famously said “Follow me.” (Luke 5:27)
Now Christian faith is much more than walking in Jesus’s footsteps, but it is not less. Hear the apostle Peter discuss suffering as a result of good deeds: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Pet 2:21, ESV) Paul pointed to himself as an example even as he looked to Jesus: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1, ESV) (See also Phil 4:9.)
Counsel to Young Siblings
Shepherding children through the stages of sibling mimicry comes down to Christian wisdom about leading and following. Here is how I will try to frame it for my girls.
To the older: You have a follower and this comes with great, joyful responsibility. Let your attitude, actions, words, and repentance point your sister to Jesus. When she copies you, try to thank God for her love and for the opportunity you have to be with her and to help her worship God.
To the younger: Love your sister and enjoy being with her and following her. Pay special attention to the way she loves and obeys God, and be sure to copy those behaviors most of all.
Many thanks to my great friend Mark Fodale for his stimulating conversation on this topic way back when.