I had to pop in and talk to the anesthesiologist the other day as part of my hospital pre-admittance checklist. “Is this your first?” he asked, and I’m not sure why, but I’ve been getting that a lot lately.
“No, this is my ninth,” I said.
“I knew it!” he replied, and I looked at him funny. “We have four and my wife said, ‘No more.” I knew I married a quitter!”
He’s actually a great guy, a devoted father and husband, and the ensuing conversation with him made my day. (You don’t get so many of these random conversations with strangers any more, since cell phones took over the world.)
One of the things we talked about was sibling rivalry. It’s a question I get a lot, with Evie being so obviously spoiled with attention: “What is Evie going to think of the new baby?” The truth is, I don’t even think about it. I assume she’s going to adore her new sibling, just like her siblings adored her, and just like each baby that came before her was adored.
All I have to do is stay out of the way.
Well, almost. I’ve talked before about vision and intention in creating a family culture, and it helps to have some ground rules in place. These are some of ours:
- Your brothers and sisters are your best friends. Whenever there has been an altercation between siblings that required my stepping in, I mediate, without taking sides, and then force a reconciliation. Yup, I force it. “Give your sister a hug and tell her she’s your best friend.” Anesthesiology Guy remembers having to kiss his brothers, but it breaks the tension, and sets them back on friendly ground, and, eventually, they actually are best friends.
- No tattling allowed. This one can be tricky, because you have to teach them that sometimes, they’re really and truly going to need an adult and what those times are, but you also don’t want to be constantly jumping into sibling squabbles. They’ll use you as a pawn to get their own way, and you want to stay out of that. My rule: “Are they hurting themselves or someone else? Is anybody’s personal property in danger of being destroyed? No? Then you guys are going to have to work this out yourselves.” And then there’s the companion rule: “Well, she shouldn’t have done that thing, but since you just tattled, I can’t really punish her for it. And you, don’t do that thing again!” After a (very short) while, the children quit telling on each other, since it has no effect, and they learn to trust each other.
- Let them have their secrets. You don’t need to know everything. But at the same time, you have to teach them the difference between good secrets and bad secrets. Most of what normal children will want to keep from you are just silly or embarrassing things, but some secrets are dangerous, and children need to be taught what kinds of secrets to keep and which to tell. Questions they need to ask themselves: “Is my sibling being hurt by this secret? Is somebody else being hurt? Is someone else’s property being damaged or destroyed?” If the answer is yes for any of these, they need to get a parent involved. I know my kids have secrets from me, but they don’t have secrets from each other. And I also know that if someone is in actual trouble, or in danger of getting themselves there, those same best-friend siblings will come to me, and I’ll figure out how to deal with the situation without betraying that trust.
- Don’t be envious of their relationships with each other! You are a powerful force in their lives, an irreplaceable source of love and wisdom, and allowing them friendships with each other in no way takes away from what you are to them as mother. I know my older girls really start to feel it when work and school schedules have kept them apart for more than a day, and when they are finally all home at the same time, they’ll hide in their room for hours, giggling and chatting and secret-sharing. That’s a good thing, even if you’d like to catch up with them, too. They’ll get around to you eventually.
- One last thing: Kids are people, too. What I mean by that is that they won’t all have the same interests, strengths or dreams, and just like we take our adult friends each as individuals, with their own quirks and beauties, we need to embrace that in our children as well. We can’t have cookie-cutter ideals of who our children should be, try to force them into the same mold, compare and contrast. Admire them for who they are individually, and the gifts they bring to the world, and they’ll learn to admire the best in each other, too. Help them each to work toward their dreams and overcome their weaknesses, and they’ll learn how to encourage each other, too. Just love them through their sorrows without trying to preach or correct, and they’ll learn to be compassionate and supportive of each other, too. Basically, model good friendship with your children, and for your children; they’ll learn by watching your example.
None of us really likes to think about it, but hopefully, these children will outlive us. Wouldn’t strong friendships with their siblings be a most beautiful heritage to leave them? To pass on to the generations that follow?
And thanks to Anesthesiology Guy for getting me thinking about children and friendships!
(PS: Your wife is not a quitter; she’s probably just tired. Two year olds are hard!)