Everyone I know is busy preparing for the annual Super Bowl blowout, stocking up on beer and browsing through chili recipes. Me, I’m wondering where the elder Harbaughs will sit to watch their sons coach against each other.
If you’re a parent with more than one child, if you’ve ever had to negotiate a truce between punching brothers or hair-pulling sisters, if you’ve ever been accused of playing favorites, you know all too well the dilemma facing Jack and Jacqueline Harbaugh.
Elder son John coaches the Baltimore Ravens. Brother Jim, younger by a mere 15 months, heads up the San Francisco 49ers. Their meeting Feb. 3 in New Orleans will mark the first Super Bowl that pits siblings as head coaches. Had Shakespeare known about the gridiron, he’d have written a three-act play about the matchup.
The NFL, of course, loves the storyline. It’s a spinmeister’s dream. For the elder Harbaughs, not so much. Whatever they say, however they cheer, the couple runs the risk of appearing to favor one son over the other. And it won’t matter how painstakingly fair they play the part of proud parents.
Sibling rivalry: It’s as old as Cain and Abel. I can’t think of a family that hasn’t weathered a form of it. Days before the AFC and NFC title games, a good friend recounted how one of her daughters had been vociferously complaining that my friend babysat one set of grandchildren more than the other. While it was technically true, my friend pointed out that one child lives in her ZIP code while the other had moved two counties over. This perceived unfairness was simply a result of geography.
She had no need to explain, but self-doubt and second-guessing are part and parcel of parenting. Children learn early on, maybe in the womb, how to push our buttons.
Another friend, with two children in their 20s who have boomeranged home, must constantly watch herself when she offers words of encouragement — or slips a few bucks — to one or the other. Each kid claims the other is her favorite.
“Don’t you think they would’ve outgrown that?” she asked.
Yes and no. I’ve long boasted that I don’t treat my five children equally. Instead, I handle them equitably. Sometimes this works, and sometimes … sometimes I can hear the grumbling innuendos loud and clear.
While my daughter maintained her perch as the only girl, my four sons were highly competitive growing up. They still are, but now they use their contacts and professional experience to help each other — until they return home. Then they revert to childhood habits.
You gave him a bigger piece.
How come I have to (fill-in-the-blank) and he gets a pass?
It’s not fair. I’m always last.
Like the other royal family of football, the Mannings of Eli and Peyton fame, the Harbaughs are no strangers to public competition. Jim and John last squared off in 2011 at a Thanksgiving Day game. The Ravens won. This time around, the 49ers are said to be the favorites — with the betting public that is, not the parents.
But the point spread will hardly matter to the Harbaugh parents, who surely will be watching the game with more than their share of anxiety. Their every cheer, their every fist pump, their every grimace will be scrutinized by millions.
Can you imagine the razzing at the next family reunion?
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.