I have two girls who are just over a year apart in age, but almost complete opposites in so many ways.
My youngest is tall (taller than me even though she’s only 12) and thin. She loves to watch television and do crafts. Although she likes having friends over, she sometimes will choose to go off on her own for a while to get a break from people. She’s the classic introvert in that way, although not overly shy. She’s a STEM girl – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – although she also adores Pinterest and will happily spend hours meticulously recreating the crafts found there.
My oldest daughter has been shorter than her sister for the past 5-6 years and the gap has been increasing dramatically the past year. Although not “fat”, she has been self-conscious of her weight for as many years. As an extrovert she never tires of being with friends and is often the hostess, entertaining even Emma’s friends when they’re over. She gravitates toward leadership and has even received an award at school for her initiative there. She would much rather listen to music while chatting with her friends than do any kind of art project.
How could you possibly compare two individuals who are so different? Why would you want to?
And yet they constantly compare themselves to each other. This creates so much friction and animosity it’s sometimes difficult to tolerate.
Around the time the girls were 9 and 10 I finally read the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
In this book they talk about all the ways we create animosity between our kids without meaning to, and I realized my contribution to what was going on.
I know when they were little I would create mini competitions to get them to do what they needed to do – “Let’s see who can get ready for bed fastest!” I can’t tell you how beautifully this worked, but after reading this book I can see how I probably should have tried something different.
I try to be very conscious of how I phrase things with the girls, attempting to reinforce the idea that they are unique individuals with very different personalities, strengths and interests. Sometimes I can see this helping. There are little glimpses of collaboration when my oldest helps my youngest with a school project or my youngest invites her sister into her room to listen to music.
But even in these moments the bitterness still bubbles underneath the surface, just waiting to return.
Unfortunately their dad doesn’t understand how comparing them to each other or creating competitions feeds into this hostility they feel toward each other. Add to this their now 2 year old sister who they see as the “full time child” in that household and tension between them sizzles like bacon frying in a pan – just waiting for you to come close enough to splatter hot grease all over you.
So, I’m adding this book onto my reading list again – perhaps after the 10 books I already have stacked around me. I want to make sure I’m at least doing the best I can. I can’t change anything at his house but I know I can respond better to their bickering when they are with me. I just need to remember how.
I sometimes miss the days when their problems were easier to solve. Back then a hug or kiss could heal most anything.