Parenting

The loving (and loathing) of siblings

Tracy has seen a glimmer of hope that her two daughters might actually become friends.

Tracy’s girls will now pose for a picture like this — without strangling each other.

I’ve written before about the less-than-lovely relationship between my two daughters. I’ve heard of other families struggling with sibling rivalry, but honestly, none of the parents in my circles seem to deal with it anywhere near the extent we do. I even took a class to help with it a couple years ago (yes, that was back when Avery was just two and Anna was four; we were already losing our minds playing referee between them all day every day).
 
I was told it would (probably) get better as they got older, when it wasn’t a toddler and a preschooler fighting over toys and space on my lap all day long. But then, other people told me it might only get worse as they got physically stronger and more stubborn and self-assured. This past year, I worried the latter was coming true in vivid technicolour. As Avery got older, instead of finding some common ground, they just butted heads more often with more volume and more aggression. It broke my heart. And gave me a headache. And made me not enjoy my time with them.
 
But then, something changed. Not all at once and not every day (this isn’t dreamland, after all), but Sean and I have seen a change blossoming this fall. At first, I attributed it to the simple fact that they weren’t together nearly as much, with Anna in full-day school for the first time. But there’s more to it than that.
 
They are playing hockey together now, on the same team, and Anna has taken an interest in her little sister’s developing skills. “I saw you touch the puck tonight, Avery!” Anna will exclaim. “You were really good!” This encouragement is very unlike Anna, and it’s kind of amazing to hear her go out of her way to compliment her sister. Anna will also read to Avery, and willingly offer up the clothes and toys she’s outgrown. It’s like she’s finally taking pride in her place as the “big kid” in our family.
 
I think school has played an important part in this transformation. Anna is thriving in Grade One and now that Avery’s doing more learning with letters and numbers in JK, the girls are very big on playing school together. Anna is getting better at stepping out of her usual frustrated-big-sister role and into a mentoring one. On the way home from school one day, Anna said, “Once Avery’s in SK, I’m going to teach her math. Then, when she’s in Grade One, she’ll be awesome.”
 
Avery is crying wolf a little less, and standing up for herself more and I think it’s making Anna think twice before she bulldozes through her sister to enforce her rules or ideas. Anna’s general attitude about Avery is evolving — from bratty little sister to a partner and playmate and, dare I say, friend. 
 
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not all sunshine and rainbows all the time, not by a long shot. We still have days — even weeks — that are pretty brutal. Anna snatches whatever she wants out of Avery’s hands or screams at her to do what she’s told; Avery takes Anna’s most prized possessions and hides them, or refuses to leave Anna’s room. But I’ve started to see a glimmer of hope that they won’t grow up hating each other. It brings me to tears — in a good way, this time. They are sharing better and can (sometimes) negotiate the rules of their games. Avery will cry if she’s lost the chance to kiss Anna goodbye before she goes to school. Anna will pull Avery into a whispering, giggly plan to build a fort.
 
Maybe they will always be hot and cold with each other. I’m OK with that now. Sisters are the original “frenemies” aren’t they? But I think they’ve both come to an age where they’ve gained some confidence in themselves and seem happy and stimulated and engaged in life, and are carrying that into their relationship. I thought I’d never see the day, and that’s what had me so disheartened. But now that I’ve seen the love and caring that can live between them, I don’t mind donning the referee uniform every now and then. Game on.

Is there sibling rivalry in your household? How do you handle the situation?