On Sunday afternoon, Mark took Oliver for a boys’ afternoon to a hockey game. I was home with the girls and realized how much the dynamic shifts when one sibling is taken out of the equation.
Similarly when Martha is still asleep and the two older kids are playing together or when Eleanor is at school and Oliver and Martha settle in for an activity… very different.
The sibling dynamic is a complex one. One that I grapple with. How much is innate personality and disposition and how much is parental strategy and management.
Our kids are all about 18 months apart so they can often engage in similar games and enjoy each other. Eleanor is usually driving the boat, Oliver is happily following her lead but absolutely inserting his opinion and voice. Martha will dip in and out as she’s in the mood. Sometimes joining, sometimes happy on her own. And Louisa just watches the way one would watch a tennis match… back and forth, back and forth.
As a parent, I’m more inclined to focus on the times when the kids are yelling and screaming and fighting. I’d like to think that they are laughing and playing and loving more often than not. But I can’t help but worry about the moments when they yank something away from their sibling with disrespect and fury. The times when they scream with venom, “I’m NEVER playing with you again.” The impulsive punch. Or the kick. The selfish slamming of a door or the refusal to assist or help or communicate with each other.
How much bickering is normal? How much is too much? How much is good for these kids as they learn interpersonal skills and conflict resolution and asserting themselves. And how much is destructive and possibly affecting their self esteem or happiness.
I have a fantasy of my kids walking down the sidewalk together, arm-in-arm, giggling… just happier because they’re together. Comforting each other in times of sadness and cheering for each other in times of accomplishment.
The reality is more like one of them running over to greet the other who meets that enthusiasm with a stiff arm and a tongue sticking out. Or a gesture of physical affection elicits the hurling of toys at heads. Or a toddler who consider’s ‘gentle’ to be squeezing a head and rolling on top of the baby.
So I skim the parenting books and the world wide web. Looking for explanations and strategies that don’t involve tying the children together or threatening them to “be nice”. Pretty much convinced that I must be creating these dyspeptic sibling dynamics. Certain that Oliver is so volatile because I yell too much. Confident that Eleanor refuses to hug her siblings because of the shell she’s built up to withstand the pressure we put on her as the oldest. And secure in the theory that Martha resists help from her brother and sister because she’s been bossed around so much that she fears their assistance.
Or maybe… this is just what siblings do. They love. They fight. They laugh. They tease. And they learn together. If one struggles with affection, then maybe our lovey dovey child will rub off a bit. If one of them forgets to use words when problems spring up, then perhaps the chatterbox will model peer communication. And our kid who wants help with everything? Well maybe the independent nature of the others will motivate some self-initiative!
I’m not sure I have a point or a takeaway here… but I’m fascinated by the dynamics of sibling relationships. Terrified that I might play a roll and hopeful that perhaps these kids will get along however they’re predisposed to get along!
What are your thoughts on sibling dynamics? Is fighting normal or a sign of something to be addressed? How do you facilitate sibling love and affection? Or don’t you?!
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