It never ceases to amaze me that you can take the same gene pool from two parents, mix it together, and get very different things each time. Song&Dance and Amusing Artist are both funny, empathetic, thoughtful, and attracted to the arts. Sure, they both have Auburn hair of some sort, and they’ll both top out around 5’5” or so, but the similarities end there. Their personalities can be quite different, however, and if you take a good look at your children, I’m willing to be there are more differences than similarities.
One thing they definitely have in common though, is that if you ask them for a short list of their favorite people in the whole world, one of the first things out of their mouth would be “my sister.”
I have had the good fortune to know many people with siblings, some of whom I knew even as children, and I’ve seen everything on the spectrum. I’ve been appalled to see siblings abuse each other (emotionally, verbally, psychologically, even physically) just for fun, and it just amazes me. I have no idea where it comes from. Yes, if you have a little sister or brother, there are going to be times when you need a break from that interaction, especially if they are of the age where they are knocking over your towers, listening in to your phone call with your boyfriend, or taking things from your room. This is where cooperative parents and locks on doors come in really handy.
When I was pregnant with Amusing Artist and the due date was announced to family and friends, I had a very well-meaning (I’m sure) family member tell me that since my children were going to be more than two and a half years apart (three years three months, if your curious) I had “missed the window” and that children separated in age by eighteen months to two point five years got along best. This gave me a moment of horrified worry, as I was impressionable and pregnant at the time, but then I realized I might have more control over my children than a statistic. My sister is one of my best friends and we (I think) fall outside that window. Furthermore, I know many siblings within that window who don’t enjoy each other’s company as adults, so I took it with a grain of salt.
Song&Dance and Amusing Artist, however, love each other. Starting at age 14, Song & Dance would go to her little sister for advice on her love life and friendships – I’m an excellent listener, sure, but Amusing Artist is much funnier than I am, which helps, and even back then at the age of 10, she sometimes surprised all of us with the wisdom of an ancient Chinese zen master, so while I was a little hurt the first time I heard them having a deep conversation without me, I understood completely. Amusing Artist also likes to unload some of her middle school frustrations on her sister, because while we warned her that many of her peers would start acting funny when they hit sixth grade or so, their new priorities sometimes baffle her.
Why make the effort to get your kids to bind with each other, you ask? Well, you don’t know what the future holds. You want them not only to attend each other’s weddings, but be in them. They should be able to attend your birthday or golden anniversary without having a fight. You want them to be able to depend on each other if something happens to either of their parents, Worst case scenario, you want them to be able to care for you together if you get Alzheimer’s, or at the least, not bicker over your funeral arrangements.
My daughters seem to not only like each other, but they respect each other’s opinion. While I can’t point to specific pivotal moments that made my kids turn out this way, I can offer up a few suggestions that might help, and frankly, it’s never too late to start. By the teen years, kids should be friends, not rivals.
- Most of the things a younger sibling does will be to get the older one’s attention, whether it’s knocking down a tower of blocks when they’re little or eavesdropping on a conversation with an older sister’s boyfriend when they’re older. It’s almost never done for spite, and when a younger sibling does these things, reminding the older sibling that the younger one probably worships the ground their older sister or brother walks on might take the sting out of the annoying behavior.
- Talk to each of your kids individually about the other one’s strengths. No, I don’t mean telling one that the other one is smarter or better at math, I mean just generally asking what your kids each think the other one is good at. Do this alone with each kid though, as honest answers are far more likely. Song&Dance will readily admit that her little sister is creative, loyal, and great with the witty remarks, while Amusing Artist respects her sister’s ability to make new friends, her work ethic, and her consistent bravery when performing in public. Realizing every human has strengths and is better than you at SOMETHING is a life skill, and humbling to boot.
- Do fun things as a family – a lot. Not because you want them to develop an ‘us against the rest of the world attitude’, (my mother used this tactic, but she was a borderline prepper with eccentric introverted tendencies) but because if they have fun together (with you as a facilitator, to start) that will remind them it is possible. If you do this consistently, their thought process will move from “I had fun, and my sister was there,” to “I had fun because my sister was there.” And you will enjoy these fun things too, trust me. You can either use money to make these memories (laser tag, paint your own pottery, going to a Comicon type event or camping in national parks) or you can do it on the cheap (everyone playing with the lego on a rainy afternoon, board games, late night stargazing in the back yard, cooking together, dance parties, or Hamilton sing-a-longs).
- If one sibling says that something the other does hurts her, listen, and if it really is a character flaw, shut that down. If someone is saying someone else is stupid, is a bad loser, a bad winner, or down right cruel, you need to observe, then talk to the perpetrator. Qualities like ‘it’s never my fault,’ lying about what their sibling did or said, physical bullying or excessive trash-talking during a Mario-Kart session may seem relatively harmless in a thirteen year old, but if you allow them to grow up with these bad characteristics in place, that won’t just effect their relationship with their siblings, but with the entire rest of the world. And on the off chance that you can’t stem these bad habits, you can at least say that A) you tried, and B) the sibling who told you her older brother has been stealing the cookies and blaming it on her feels listened to by her parent, even if her older cookie-stealing brother grows up to be a drug dealer despite your best efforts. (Don’t worry, if you’re worried enough about your parenting skills to be reading a blog on raising teenagers, the odds are miniscule).