Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will My Kids Ever Like Each Other?

It's the little things that make my heart sing, especially when it comes to my children. Let's just say my kids are not Facebook kids. They don't sit around the fire singing Kumbaya while they braid each other's hair and offer words of encouragement or affirmations to one another. Nope. My kids will, instead, engage in a pissing contest of who has it worse or who can roll their eyes the furthest while they listen to the other talk. It's painful as a parent to watch such behavior when the whole reason to have more than one was to give them family to love. I suppose when you put an eighteen-year-old video junkie with a girlfriend, a sixteen-year-old girl who is more cynical than complementary and an eleven-year-old who only wants to be acknowledged that she exists to her older siblings and will get that acknowledgement by positive or negative force, it can create quite a bit of tension in the family.

Well, today was one of those Kumbaya moments that I will forever cement in my brain as a small step for sibling-kind. It happened before I even rolled myself out of bed. From my room, I heard the sound of the front door close followed by a car exiting the driveway. Maybe my son was heading to his girlfriend's house? Maybe he was heading to the bank to cash his checks (uh, wait, it's too early for the bank), where on earth was he going this early in the morning? I decided to investigate. I threw on my robe and walked upstairs - yes he was gone, but so were the girls. Someone must have kidnaped the girls!! I grabbed my phone and sent a text to my one of my daughters asking where they were. They actually all went out to breakfast, WITH EACH OTHER!

Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe, back in the dark recesses of their being, there is a part of them that realizes how lucky they are to have each other and that they truly do love each other. I do see glimpses from time to time of their love for one another, but I wish it were more prevalent - on a day to day basis. No matter how many times I remind them to treat each other with respect, it seems to fall on deaf ears...or does it?

I thought back to when I was a kid - my only sibling was, and still is, five and a half years older than me (yes, that half is and has always been important). I was (and I am sure she can attest to this) the annoying little sister. We seemed to fight a lot. I even remember spitting at her! She was so lucky because she was able to to more things than I could (because she was older, of course). She was always cooler, hanging with friends, going to dances and driving. I remember how she would rest her left arm on the window frame of the car as she drove around like she was showing off, and I would get so jealous. It was hard being the baby sister. But I also remember the times we laughed until our sides hurt. I remember sitting in the back of the closed cab pickup truck, as we drove to our grandparent's on a snowy day for Christmas and sliding into a ditch, clinging to each other. We loved each other; we just didn't always show it.

So what does this mean for my kids? I think their love for each other is growing, like a stubborn tree. It has its good years and its difficult ones. Each phase of their journey through life is different and can probably never align perfectly to have sibling bliss, but it can have moments of harmony among the chaos.

If your children struggle to keep the peace, here are some things you can try:

1.  If they're not killing each other, try to stay out of it and allow them to work it out on their own. Too often, as parents, we just want to keep the peace. But stopping them from talking it (or shouting it) out, doesn't help them learn how to work things out on their own. They will be much better problem solvers as they get older if they are given the opportunity to work things out at home without being prompted or stopped altogether.

2.  Separate them if it gets physical. Give them time alone to think about what happened and how they can resolve it peacefully. This also gives you, the parent, time to think of how you will help them resolve this problem without getting too emotional or drawn-in to their ploys.

3. Establish house rules and consequences.  If you have already created rules and consequences, you are ahead of the game. However, you must enforce them. Sometimes all kids need are defined boundaries they know will be enforced to keep their behavior in line.

4. Make each child feel important. Birth order does encourage some rivalry between siblings - it's pretty much a proven fact. The younger children are jealous of the older children because they get to do so many cool things. The older children are jealous of the younger children because they get to do things at an earlier age, etc. None of my children feels I treat them equally, and they're correct, I don't. I expect more mature behavior from my sixteen-year-old than my eleven-year-old.  I also allow my older children more freedom which makes my little one feel left out. But what's important here, is to build up the importance of their age and their accomplishments. Making them feel unique within the family helps them see their place and helps them feel important.

5.  Praise your children when you like what you see. It's so easy for parents to point out what their kids do wrong which only feeds low self-esteem. I have caught myself more times than I would like to admit, pointing out the negatives of their behavior. But what I have found, is when I commend them for a nice comment or gesture, they eat it up like candy. They love to hear how thoughtful they were to take their sister's or brother's dish to the sink or how kind it was to complement their sibling on their singing or the cute outfit they were wearing. If we focus on finding these gestures and giving them kudos for their positive interaction, they will want to do it again and again. After a while, they will find it easier to compliment than ridicule each other.

Peace and harmony among siblings is not always going to happen unless you are a Facebook family. Kids will fight. Heck, anyone who lives with another human being for an extended period of time, especially if they didn't have a choice, will not always see eye to eye. Why do you think your parents tried to talk you out of rooming with your best friend in college?! After a while, even the most even-tempered people can become frustrated and irritable.

I would like to think that this morning, I was given a small glimpse into the potential of my children's future relationships with one another. I can only hope they will grow closer as they mature and that the one thing I asked of them will be granted - to love one another and to be there for each other through the good and the bad. I gifted them with siblings, I just hope they realize what a true gift it really is.

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