Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

My kids fight.  Whenever I get one of those Christmas letters that tells how the brothers get a long so beautifully, that Frank eagerly awaits Teddy's arrival home on the bus or that Teddy is teaching Frank all about legos, I think bull shit.  It's like the babies who sleep through the night at 6 weeks.  My kids fight, so I get great comfort when other people's kids fight.  I especially appreciate it when they get physical.  Sometimes I wonder if and when they will ever say a civil word to each other.  Well it got really bad so I signed up for an online workshop--Siblings without Rivalry.  I was especially excited to find out the secret to "managing the fighting." Since I treat my children so fairly, I didn't really need the rivalry part, that couldn't be the problem. The problem is that I'm not strict enough or give enough chores or something.

Well it turns out it's all about the sibling rivalry.  There's the old comparison--what if your husband came home with another wife one day and said, hey, you're great and all and I love you just as much as I always have, but I thought adding another wife would just make things that much better.  You'll have a friend to play with!  Well, apparently no matter how well you handle it, your first born will feel this way.  Annoyingly it really makes sense.  There is no way in hell that I would want my husband to bring another wife home.  Now you can deny the difference because having multiple children is widely accepted whereas, apart from Big Love, having multiple wives not so much.

So it's easy to deny this comparison, but then she gave examples.   When you say "no" she runs to your spouse and tells on you.  Your spouse comes in and says "why can't you share, let him/her have a turn. "  "Why must you complain all the time?  Find a way to get along and stop running to me with your problems all the time."

"Find a way to get along..."  oops I think I said that 10 times yesterday.

Of course it outlines the expected touchy feely--accept their feelings.  Validate their feelings.   Blah blah blah my kids are whining,  that's not feelings, that's annoying!

Then she goes on to say--this may have been my breakthrough moment--"Don't love them equally, love them uniquely."  OK I think I'm getting it.

"Instead of giving time equally, give according to need."  Ha ha, if I give time to one the other immediately needs me.  Although upon inspection, if you give each what they need rather than equal at some point you reach equilibrium because if you are giving equally sometimes you are giving something the other doesn't need so you are just wasting time.

Oh and the secret to "managing the fighting" is "rough housing is by mutual consent only."  My kids laughed in my face when I said that.  (this apparently as opposed to--"someone's going to end up crying!")

But then I guess I digested some of this because I started to see and understand some of the dynamics better.  Please rest assured that I do not say things like, "wow it sounds like you are really angry with your sister, do you want to draw a picture of your anger?"  But when Parker says, "why can't Mollie take out the trash, why can't she do a poop check?"  (for the uninitiated, if you have dogs and a yard, having children is really great because they can pick up the poop for you and I'm pretty sure it hasn't been labeled child abuse yet).  I began to understand him to say, I have to share this house with her, OK, but she should have to lift a finger on occasion too.  When I realized that my answer would be, she complains about it more than you do so you have to do it, well that I perhaps needed to make some changes after all.  And that needs come in many different packages.   

But the most amazing telling moment came last night.  I really don't even know what to do with it, but still pretty interesting.  We were watching Extreme Home Makeover--you know the show where there is a sick child and a bad house and they fix it up and send them to Disney World.  There were two sisters.  One big, one little.  The little one had a terrible blood disorder and had to have like daily blood transfusions.  The big one was clearly upstaged and backstaged by the little one.  Parker said, "That's not fair that the little sister gets all the attention and the other one just has to stand by."  DING!  Empathy for the big sister!  Little sister gets all the attention.  I'm the nice caring one, hello!

Well it turns out the big sister is actually the younger sister and the little sister (the one with the illness) is the older.  Hmmmmm.  Which he then denied, because that couldn't possibly be so.

So "Siblings Without Rivalry" is not a cure all.  But it does help give some insight.

By the way, my kids still fight.

1 comment:

Africanellen said...

Hester, I was laughing reading the part about the new wife comparison. Richard and I had this long discussion with our friend Zorro about polygamy in the Muslim religion. I was saying that, as a woman, there was no way I could tolerate Richard having another wife! I don't think Jamie remembers a time without Sunny and yet there is still sibling rivalry! I detest the "my life and kids are perfect" letters! Miss you much!