Tuesday, April 22, 2014
'Siblings Without Rivalry': Learning how to be harmonious
I didn't know how wrong, until I read "Siblings Without Rivalry: How to help your children live together so you can live too" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Most mornings go like this in my house with my 9 year old daughter, Raina and my 4 year old daughter, Story:
Raina - "Story, stop chewing your toast so loud. It's making me sick."
Story - Pretends like she doesn't hear her sister. Chews even louder in Raina's direction.
Raina - (trying to keep her calm) "Please Story. I am asking nicely. The way you chew your toast is really gross, and I would appreciate if you would stop chewing like a cow. You don't want to be a cow do you?"
Story - Chews even louder in Raina's direction.
Raina - (whose face is now red with frustration and anger at her annoying little sister). "REALLY STORY! Why are you always like this? I asked nicely, and you can't do anything without being mean! Mommy, make Story stop chewing her toast at me!!! (very sarcastically with venom) She's a little white cow in here!!"
Me - "Raina, you chew with your mouth open, too. Story, Raina asked you to stop. Can you chew with your mouth closed?"
Story - Chews even louder at both me and Raina.
Raina - "MOMMY!!!!"
Story - "Stop it, Raina!!!"
Raina - (now in tears) "Mommy, make her stop!"
Story - (now screaming at her sister) "I DID STOP, RAINA. LEAVE ME ALONE!" (pushes Raina)
Raina - "Why are you always so mean to me?"
I could go on with this little morning dialogue, but even writing it makes my blood pressure go up a few ticks. I love my girls, but they are VERY opposite. Raina loves order and control. Story loves chaos and passion. Raina loves to be in charge. Story loves to create havoc. They love each other, but the amount of time they can actually get along varies from day to day. Some days, they find harmony for hours by building baby nurseries, or American Girl doll kingdoms. In the yard, sometimes they can play together without even a peep for whole afternoons as they use the steps for their stage and play mock versions of The Voice. Then, there are the days that they can't last for even 30 seconds in the same room together even if they are just watching a movie together. It's a constant poking match between them. Raina tries to control her sister's every move, and Story's stubbornness makes her rebel against the control.
After a long, harsh winter of too much together time, being outside and airing out is a welcome relief, but the shades of sibling discord still permeate the air in my house. When I read the SMART MAMA article about the book "Siblings Without Rivalry" I thought it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. The book offers helpful solutions to create more harmony amongst even the most volatile sibling relationships.
From the chapter on the perils of comparison (I didn't think I compared my girls until I read this chapter), to the chapter about not putting my children into set roles (okay, so maybe the angel and devil costumes two years ago for Halloween were a bit much), from the chapter about what to do about incessant fighting (not blame, not pick sides, not get involved . . . oops), I learned that many times I chose to handle their fights in a less than constructive manner. In my defense, I was doing the best I could with what I knew. I tried to be compassionate. I tried to listen. I tried to solve things for them. I thought I was being a good mom, but now I know how to handle things better.
Maybe my girls won't be best friends growing up like my ideal vision of a happy little family, but as Faber and Mazlish explain what I ideally want is to "equip them with the attitudes and skills they [will] need for all their caring relationships . . . I [don't] want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I [want] them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find the ways to resolve those differences." I can help them to resolve their conflicts and not make their fights into a contest of who Mommy (or Daddy) loves more.
After finishing the book, the girls were in Raina's room, and Story wanted to play with one of Raina's Monster High Dolls (which creep me out). Raina's voice was muffled at first and then I heard, "Keep your hands off my stuff you little brat. You break everything." Then, Story screamed and screamed just to annoy her sister even more. The alarm in my head sounded, and then I thought of the tools in the book. I walked upstairs gently. I looked at the girls and said, "Wow, the two of you sound very angry at each other. Raina, you must be very frustrated that Story keeps touching your dolls. Story you must be very frustrated that Raina is making it look so fun to play with these dolls and she doesn't want you to play with her. This is a very hard situation." The both looked at me with watery eyes. "I have confidence that the two of you can work out a solution that's fair to each of you." And then I calmly walked out of the room. I waited and heard some more discord, and then silence.
When I went up in 10 minutes to check on them just to make sure they didn't kill each other, the girls were both happily playing in Raina's room. Raina looked at me, "Mommy, guess what? We figured out that Story can play in here with me if she brings her Barbies, and I can play with my Monster High Dolls." I gave them both a hug and told them that I loved that they came up with their own solution.
Parenting is a work in progress, and books like "Siblings Without Rivalry" helps the process be much more harmonious. I may not have all the answers, but at least now I have a few tools to help me help my girls be more compassionate to each other.