[This piece is broken up into a two-post series for length and content.]
Siblings argue - it’s almost a law of nature. Our daughters are not the exception but it only takes a little bit of time with other families to see that our children really do get along quite well. Conversations with other parents on the subject got me thinking about what it is that keeps our children’s relationship copacetic.
Our children are not quite three years apart in age. They are quite different and sometimes clash but mostly complement. As I have mentioned in previous pieces, we [try to] parent toward happy. We look at goals in behavior and characteristics that we hope to see in our children as adults and work to cultivate these starting now, while they are young.
So with that in mind, I have narrowed it down to the main things that, I believe, have helped nurture a loving and respectful relationship between sisters.
1. They share a room. I was an only-child until I was about 10 and never shared a room with a sibling. When I went off to college, it was crazy difficult for me to adjust to sharing a bedroom with one girl and a bathroom with three. In an effort to teach our children to work together and to coexist, I wanted them to share a room, even if it wasn’t necessary (but by the way, it is). So, when my younger daughter was sleeping through the night, we moved them in together.
I got push back and concern at first from friends and family. “Won’t they wake each other up?” “Don’t you think they will argue over space?” “Aren’t you worried they will want privacy?” I stayed strong in my belief and, hey, we could always split them back up if it just really didn’t work or negatively affected their relationship.
Instead, we saw the opposite. We saw them grow closer. We saw them sleep more soundly and handle noises from the other. We saw their bond grow with each year and every nighttime conversation that we heard through their door. Now, when my younger daughter may get afraid in the dark, as many seven-year-olds do, she climbs up to her big sister’s bunk. We find her up there sometimes. It is so sweet.
2. Not only do they share a room, they really share almost everything else. This is a BIG one. There is little use of the word ‘mine’ here. There are only one or two items that belong to only one of the children and all other items like books, toys and movies are shared.
This started right away. As part of our ‘parenting with the goals in mind’, I saw how territory, and this usually included ‘things’, was the real source of arguing in kids. This was true in the children I watched as a sitter in college and the children around us when my older daughter was very young. We were not going to let the mine vs. yours arguments start. We make the point that when one child gets something, they are really both getting it.
This has cut out a great deal of what I see other parents jockeying between siblings. There has been less jealousy and competition overall. They don’t complain or whine that the other didn’t ask to play with something, etc. They must negotiate if there is a dispute and honestly, they usually end up working it out that they play with it together.
The exceptions are only items like;
· my oldest daughter’s bear (i.e. lovie) that has been special from when she was six months old
· personal journals and tooth fairy boxes
· specific American Girl dolls that they have gotten as hand-me-downs or have purchased themselves by earning money.
Otherwise, we have a small playroom that holds all of the toys and games and they are community property and can be used anytime without the need to ask permission.
As a little aside (and I could and will write a whole post on this subject) - one of my favorite illustrations of how the word ‘my’ or ‘mine’ is destructive and generally negative in our lives is used by Matthieu Ricard in his book, Happiness. It says:
You are looking at a beautiful porcelain vase in a shop window when a clumsy salesman knocks it over. “What a shame! Such a lovely vase!” you sigh, and continue calmly on your way. On the other hand, if you had just bought that vase and had placed it proudly on the mantle, only to see if fall and smash to smithereens, you would cry out in horror, “My vase is broken!” and be deeply affected by the accident. The sole difference is the label “my” that you had stuck to the vase.
Does this mean that I believe we all 'own' other people's possessions? No. I simply think that the concept of 'mine' is a very strong and dangerous notion that should be thought about critically and not just taken for granted. Really considering our attachments to material things can be freeing, when truly considered.
3. Early intervention. When the girls were pre-school aged and may have gotten into a tiff, we would intervene early. We worked with them to give language to talk through what was happening. We used some mediation techniques to help them find a solution. Both children went to a cooperative preschool that taught them (and us) great tools to mediate, when to step in and when to allow them to start to work out differences on their own. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to listen to an argument be worked through by a five and three year old. (Let me reiterate, this wasn’t all of the time. There was a lot of teaching and patience needed but it has paid off so far.)
Again, this is part one of a two-part post. I will complete this list in my next post.
As always, thank you for reading. Thoughts?
Other parenting posts:
- Independence Day
- What Giving Our Children Weekly Allowances Taught Me (and why we don’t do it any longer)
- The Gratitude Project - 'Unspoiling' Our Children