Several years ago I had a chat with my friend's mom while we were visiting their farm house for the afternoon. My kids were only babies and I was expressing the worry I had about raising siblings since I had been an only child until I was too old to fight with my baby sister.
My friend, S, is two years older than her brother, the exact shape of my current family. She had told me stories of playing with her brother, of being best friends growing up. Unlike many of my other friends, she had no tales of hatred, of fighting or of vying for their parents' attention.
While I had the chance, I asked S's mother how she did it, raising kids who actually liked their siblings while they were young. It seemed a bit unusual since most of the sibling stories were more along the lines of another friend who told of the time she got mad at her brother and chased him around the house with a steak knife.
S's mom smiled benignly. "I don't buy the whole sibling rivalry thing," she said comfortably. "Kids behave as they are expected to behave and I expected my kids to treat each other with respect."
Her answer floored me. She simply taught her kids to be nice to each other. Just as she taught them to dress themselves and tie their shoes. I made a promise to myself that I would do the same thing with my kids. Or at least make a valiant attempt to do so. All of the stories of children who grew up hating their brothers and sisters made me so sad I wanted something better for our family. Not to mention the atmosphere of anger, yelling, fighting and harassment was not something I wanted for our house.
So as my kids have gotten older we work a lot on this concept. It's not acceptable in our house to take one another's toys while playing. I demonstrate how to share rather than hoard toys. The stronger, louder person does not necessarily need to have the best or most toys. Of course throwing, hitting, biting or screaming are replaced by asking nicely for things and taking turns. We work a lot on resolving conflicts that do come up with an emphasis on favoring the other person and communicating. Curly can tend to get bossy and when she does, I remind her how much she dislikes it at the playground when someone does it to her. Conversely, Mister gets grabby and whiny, so I work with him on patience to wait for his turn.
I think some parents would say I am too restraining, too strict. I put too many boundaries on my children. But last night I saw the fruit of my work in expecting respect. Hubby and I had an activity we wanted to do, so I asked the kids to play nicely in their room for an hour, then play in the bath tub for a while. After the bath they had a little more time to play and a story time. For the entire evening, a little over three hours, there was not one fight, there was no screaming or anger. They played imaginative games, enjoying each other's company for the entire time.
When Curly is asked who her best friend is, she always answers with her brother's name. She has never seen him as a pest or a tag-along. Mister adores his elder sibling, enjoying her games and her chatter. I have to admit it is a lot of work, constantly redirecting, training, demonstrating or refocusing. But as I see my children build such a wonderful relationship, it is worth it. Instead of a relationship of revenge and competition, it's one of respect, unusual in such an outspoken, strong-willed child as Curly. Last night I was proud of my children as they worked out conflict themselves, shared toys and games and treated one another with kindness.