Breakfast bowls. Spoons. Space at the table. The order of hair brushing. Toothpaste. The stool at the sink. Toys. Markers. Books. Shoes. Standing space on the floor. What do all of these have in common? They’re things my daughters will fight about any given morning, all before 8 a.m.
We’ve had a rough week of sibling disharmony, but really, it’s nothing new. Anna, age six, and Avery, almost four, don’t get along. There are times they can play nicely together, but these are the exception, not the rule. There can be some peaceful co-existence at home, but only in short bursts, or if they’re doing completely different things or separated by rooms.
Early last year, you may recall that I even took a Siblings Without Rivalry course, when Anna wasn’t yet five and Avery just two-and-a-half. What I feared in those early stages has come true in high definition. I soaked in all of that knowledge and put it to use, but nothing is helping. One of my most-remembered phrases from that course was: “Put them in the same boat.” I loved it — force them to work together to find solutions to their problems by giving them joint consequences (“If you’re going to fight over the toy, the toy will go away”). But nothing seems to work anymore. I’ve tried everything — letting them fight their own battles; gently intervening to help problem solve; having quiet talks at peaceful times about strategies to get along; praising success; bolstering their abilities with confidence (“I know you two can figure this out”); empathy; sympathy; humour; distraction; separation. The list goes on and on. My ability to cope, sadly, does not.
The interesting thing is that they don’t seem to dislike each other, it’s more that they annoy each other. Constantly. Many of you know that Anna has a strong temperament, so for her part, the problem lies with her inflexibility. Unless she’s in a fantastic mood, or trying very, very hard, she struggles to compromise (ie: Anna decides on the game and all aspects of said game. Or else!). As for Avery, she has a world-class whine and knows how to use it. If she’s in the mood, she uses this for evil — either to intentionally provoke Anna, or to cry wolf to get her into trouble, or tattle endlessly about the most minor of infractions. They drive each other crazy. Anna has a tendency to loudly stake claim to any item that was hers first (which accounts for most of the kid-contents of our house, since she was first-born); Avery likes to speak in her own made-up language and sing, loud and strong, during play.
It feels like a huge mom fail, to be honest. Not because I think it’s my job to make them get along, but because it chisels away at my enjoyment of motherhood. When I hear them fighting before I even have my eyes fully open in the morning, it’s hard to embrace the day, you know? Many days I can salvage, but it takes almost constant effort — and it’s hard to always bring your A-game when it comes to parenting. Some days, I turn on the TV, because in front of the idiot box, they can manage to be together for at least 20 minutes (I think this is the big reason my no-TV summer turned into my low-TV summer).
Even a walk to the park is hard because Anna is in a perpetual state of fast-forward, while Avery meanders in slow-motion, with frequent hits to the pause button. I always feel pulled between these two opposing forces. And that’s just it: They’re so different. Which is great, but tough. I have to admit: I enjoy each of my girls — immensely — one-on-one. But together is trying.
When giving birth to that second daughter, I think every mom imagines that a kindred sister connection is born with her. I hope my daughters will one day know the comfort, pride and joy of such a relationship. I know so many sets of siblings who seem to be the best of friends and I’m flat-out jealous because I wish that for Anna and Avery. I want to know that they’ll have each other’s backs through life, not because they have to, but because they want to.
Do your kids get along? How about you and your siblings when you were growing up? Do you think parents, or time, can help or that some siblings will just always be at odds?