Raising Siblings to Get Along Like Cats & Dogs

LETTING GO

My girls had reached the age where I was ready to grant them the freedom to leave the home without adult supervision. We have tennis courts within a five-minute walk from our home. The girls had asked if they could walk there together and I agreed. Not twenty minutes later they were already back. Mikella needed to use the washroom.

“I’m going to go ahead since you have your scooter, okay? I’ll wait for you at the corner,” Yasmine told her, and off she went.

I figured I’d watch Mikella head off around the bend to meet up with her sister which proved to be a wise decision since she returned only a few minutes later.

“I can’t find her!” she told me, clearly nervous about having been left alone. I joined her in her search for Yasmine, consciously filtering my thoughts. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Yasmine is fine,” I told myself. Lo and behold, there she was waiting at the other corner…the one down the street. The girls had not realized that there were in fact two corners along the path to the tennis courts. Yasmine had assumed Mikella would feel comfortable enough to meet at the corner that required them to cross the street, not the first one that seemed inconsequential to her. While one child was busy feeling scared and abandoned, the other was feeling irritated and defensive. This was a perfect opportunity to focus their attention on the bigger picture.

“Girls, it was just a misunderstanding,” I explained, “There’s no need to place blame. What matters most is that each of you was trying to do the right thing. Mikella, you cared about being safe and making sure your sister was with you, and likewise, Yasmine, you were waiting for your sister, and even though it was taking a really long time, you didn’t give up and leave. You kept waiting, knowing that she was counting on you to be at the corner. The love and care you have just shown to one another is precious. We all misunderstand each other sometimes. Now we know. Now it’s clear. Off you go and enjoy yourselves.” And that’s just what they did. Yasmine’s defensiveness melted away, having been shown that her feelings were connected to her instinctive, loving need to protect her sister. Mikella felt reassured of her sister’s love, since at first the lack of her presence at her perceived meeting point had made her feel abandoned and unimportant.

How many variations of this conversation could we imagine instead? And how different would the outcomes have been? If I had not had the wherewithal to stay calm and see the forest for the trees, the situation could have degenerated very quickly. If I had allowed fear to take the reins I may have said things like, “Yasmine, how could you go ahead of your sister like that!?” or “What were you thinking? I was counting on you!” or even, “Clearly neither of you are ready to be trusted on your own!” How destructive would comments (or judgements) such as these have been?

We don’t just raise individual children. We raise siblings. We are constantly creating our family life which means finding the balance between respecting the individual and fostering mutual kindness and respect. This balancing act is alive and ever-changing. When we don’t like the road we’re on, we can change the course. It’s easier than we may think. It requires an investment of time and energy, but it is time and energy well-spent, I promise.

It is up to us to coach our children in how to get along. We cannot be confused when our kids do not live together harmoniously if we have not been modeling it and explicitly showing them how to replace their competitive or simply hurtful actions (often based in ego and insecurity) with more loving ones. We can coach them to see themselves in a different light. We have the opportunity to guide their understanding of family life. They should not be the ones setting the boundaries (or lack thereof), that is our job as parents. The following scripts have been very helpful in our home.

THE ROLE OF THE OLDER SIBLING

Here as a version of the message our eldest child, Yasmine, has been receiving over the years:

“Being the older sibling means you get to be first at all kinds of things. You will be the first to learn to ride a bike, the first to walk to the corner store by yourself, and the first to learn to drive a car. With these advantages come responsibilities. You will be asked to look out for your younger sibling, whether it’s to accompany her on her first bike ride or to join her on her first walk to the park. The love and attention you offer your younger sister will come back to you ten-fold. She will admire you in a way you can only begin to imagine. She may not always show it, but your approval, encouragement and support means the world to her. Your sister struggles to be ‘just as good’ as you. You will never know what it is to be the youngest in the family. You must show her understanding and compassion as she tries to keep pace with you. For every one thing you admire in her, she admires ten more things about you. That is the reality of having the eyes of a younger sibling watching you every step of the way. The words you speak to her have more power than you can truly comprehend. Be mindful of how you treat her. It is a privilege to be the oldest. It is the place your soul chose for you and it is not to be taken lightly. You are such a wonderful older sister and it’s obvious to us that your soul chose the perfect place for you.”

THE ROLE OF THE YOUNGER SIBLING

And now here is a version of the message Mikella, our second and youngest child, has been receiving over the years:

“Being in second place means you often have the impression of needing to be more patient, although in fact the opposite is often true. You will have to sit by and watch your older sibling do things for which you are not yet old enough and it may feel unfair and you may feel jealous, yet, chances are, given the fact that you have an older sibling to look out for you, you will enjoy these experiences at a younger age than she ever did. While Yasmine was eight years old before she could ride her bike around the block on her own, you got to enjoy that freedom from the age of six since she was out there with you. The fact that you are not the first child means that we as parents have already learned a few lessons ourselves, and we may be less worried and strict about things like eating candy, watching television or going to bed late. Even though you feel frustrated sometimes at watching her do things that you simply cannot yet do, you must remind yourself that your soul chose to be the youngest in the family. This is the place in which you are meant to be. We are grateful that your soul chose us to be your family. We had to wait a few years for you to arrive and are we ever glad you did!”

The bottom line is this: It is not normal for siblings to fight constantly. It may be a common occurrence in many homes but that does not mean it needs to be that way. As parents we can, and should, require more of them. Home is where we hang our heart. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to make new memories. What kind are we making? If you wish to improve the energy in your home, then it’s time that you do something about it. Change your beliefs, change your reality. This is why we explicitly talk to our children about their roles in the family through the lens of their soul. Like this, they see how choices have actually been made for them by their very own spirit (rather than dictated to them by us, the parents.) A reminder such as, “This is the only sister/brother you will ever have, you need to take care of each other,” can go a long way in guiding your children on the path of being lifelong friends.

Photo credit goes to b1ue5ky from http://www.flickr.com

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