Sibling Rivalry: When Fighting Became A Good Thing In Our House

Sibling Rivalry: When Fighting Became A Good Thing In Our House

By Emily Cappo


Their frequent fighting had become so normal in our house, I think I would have thought something was wrong if they didn’t fight each day.


I grew up with one sibling: a brother, who was two and a half years older. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my parents had it easy with us. Of course we fought like siblings often do, but in general we got along and if we didn’t, our brother/sister fights were usually relatively tame. And now as adults, my brother and I are the best of friends.

I always assumed I’d be a mother to a boy and a girl, because that’s what was familiar to me. I also always assumed I’d only have two kids, because that too was what defined a family for me.

I was wrong on both counts.

I have three kids—not two—and they are all boys. The five of us joke that we are just like the family in “Diary of A Wimpy Kid.” In these books/movies, the mother is a writer who has a column about parenting. The father is a businessman who loathes that his sons play too many video games. The oldest son, Roderick incessantly picks on his middle brother Greg. And, Manny who is the youngest, seemingly receives all the ‘special treatment’ because he’s the baby of the family. Yup, sounds exactly like us.

Except then one day, our family was hit with a crisis that threw us into a tailspin. Suddenly, our rambunctious and occasionally chaotic family looked nothing like the Wimpy Kid family dynamics.

My youngest son—our “Manny” of the family—was diagnosed at the age of 9 with a rare type of pediatric cancer. His treatment required 43 weeks of chemotherapy plus 6 weeks of radiation. Needless to say, it was a long, tough year, but through the entire ordeal, our son showed us what true resilience looks like. He is now back to being a regular kid, going to school, playing with friends, and participating in sports.

Before my son’s diagnosis, my boys would constantly play fight, real fight, and basically instigate any kind of physical activity that frequently ended in bloodshed. In other words, my house may as well have been converted into a boxing ring. With three sons ranging in age from 9 to 16, I was always yelling at them to stop pushing, punching, wrestling, and chasing each other. I’d sometimes wonder if I were cut out to be a mom to three boys. My anxiety would remain in overdrive, worried about whether I’d be headed to the ER with a sibling-induced concussion or broken bone.

After my son’s diagnosis and during his treatment, my two older boys knew that they had to be more gentle, both emotionally as well as physically. Thankfully, they were old enough to understand that their little brother was in a “hands-off” protective zone.

Occasionally though, my sons would forget. Someone would get mad at someone else and before anyone could remember to leave my little guy alone, the fighting would begin. Normally, I’d put on my referee hat and start screaming at them to stop, even though there was no chance of them listening to me. Eventually, someone would get hurt and then it would be over. In fact, their frequent fighting had become so normal in our house, I think I would have thought something was wrong if they didn’t fight each day.

But, when my son was in treatment, the constant fighting and waiting for the inevitable injury was not an option. One day the boys were going at it and it was particularly intense. I thought about breaking them up myself, but then I quickly thought of saying something that I knew would stop the fighting immediately and keep me out of the ring.

“His platelets are low!” I screamed. [Note: This point may have been mildly exaggerated].

The boys instantly separated, even though the two bigger dudes had no idea what a low platelet count was. All they knew was that it sounded important and they did not want to be responsible for harming their little brother, who was already dealing with a low platelet count, whatever that was. I think I caught a discrete wink and smile from my youngest son, who knew that his platelets were not in fact, too low.

Once everyone calmed down, I explained what low platelets were and how an injury, especially one that involved bleeding, could be dangerous.

From then on, and yeah I know this was a little sneaky, I decided that my son would have low platelets for the rest of his treatment. If I saw another fight brewing, all I had to say was, “Platelets!” and it was like a magical cease-fire.

His platelets WERE always on the lower side, although never low enough to need a transfusion. Even so, I justified my little white lie to keep the peace in the house.

Recently, my middle son and youngest son were play-wrestling. My instinct was to stop it, but then I realized first, that they were mostly kidding around, and second, no one had to be careful because of low platelets anymore.

I was never so happy to see my boys fight.

Emily Cappo is a writer and blogger at Oh Boy Mom. ( She is a regular contributor at Huffington Post and has also appeared in a Huff Post Live segment. She has recently completed a memoir, “Hope All Is Well” which chronicles mid-life loss, re-connection, and revelation.