This story follows a mother and her sons through a day of outdoor adventures. As they dig for worms, row their boat and fish together, Max in his red wellies and Julian in his blue wellies, the boys ask her which of them she thinks is the best? The questions Max and Julian ask might seem light-hearted but both boys are seeking reassurance of their mother’s love. She gives them answers that highlight beautifully their individual qualities & abilities. At bedtime they ask her who she loves the most and she finds a way to let them know that they are both unique and that she loves them equally.
Sibling rivalry is of course natural and common in all families but for adopted and fostered children, it can take on a whole new level of meaning. Early experiences of abuse, neglect, loss and rejection can lead children to feel terrified about whether they deserve to be loved and whether there is enough love to go round. So, in family therapy, we use lots of playful ways to communicate to children that the love of their parent will never run out and that there is more than enough for them, as well as their brothers or sisters.
One great activity is getting messy with jugs of water and cups – the water representing parental love and the cups representing members of the family. Pouring water from the jug into the cups, sharing it out and repeatedly topping it up can provide an opportunity to explore and talk about the child’s fears of whether the love will last, in a way that is engaging and visually powerful. Playing in this way, where there is a shared focus of attention but little need for eye contact, can be helpful in creating a space where difficult subjects can be explored more comfortably together. And staying playful if there is any spillage and splashing can just add to the enjoyment, so be sure to clear space and time for getting wet!
Reading ‘I Love You the Purplest’ is another lovely way of showing to a child in therapy that their parent loves them and their siblings endlessly; unconditionally, and each in their own special way. The mother recognises the individuality of her two boys, actively sharing with them her delight in their being just who they are. Outgoing Max is loved ‘the reddest’ and the more reserved, Julian is loved ‘the bluest’. Together she loves them ‘the purplest’. The words are brought to life by Mary Whyte’s delicate watercolour illustrations.
Adoptive parents and carers often tell me that their child finds it very hard to accept that they and their siblings may sometimes receive different treatment from them. This story cleverly communicates using colours that their parent truly sees them and knows just what they individually need. Families have told me that ‘love you the purplest’ has become a useful saying at bedtimes, to help their little ones hold onto the knowledge that they hold a special place in their parents’ hearts that is just for them and will never be lost.
If you want to read more about the meaning of sibling rivalry and how we can explore this in family therapy, it’s a subject covered in another of our book reviews, All Together Now by Anita Jeram.