“Ahhh. It is so nice that we are all eating dinner together so nicely, and no one is yelling or crying,” I said during the lull in an especially scrappy evening at home the other night.
As if on cue, Elle ripped the sippy cup out of Emme’s hands.
And more yelling and crying replaced eating dinner so nicely together.
“Can’t you two just be nice to one another?” I said, exasperated.
“Yeah, you’re sisters! You should be best friends,” Craig added.
Elle eyed us with the same glare of distaste that she had used for the sautéed beet greens on her plate only moments ago. Emme, meanwhile, continued wailing; “It not fair! Not fair!” (A new phrase that only further confirms my belief that my youngest daughter, at 2-1/2, is a natural-born drama queen).
A new mother recently told me that she couldn’t imagine her infant son growing up without a sibling, to share the joys of play and home life and growing up. I smiled knowingly, nodding my head dreamily, remembering the days I felt the same tug to give Elle a little brother or sister.
“Yeah, it’s great,” I said. And I wouldn’t say I was lying – just more of a calculated withholding of the whole truth about life under the grasp of sibling rivalry.
Parenting experts say sibling rivalry is most likely to occur when children are less than three years apart in age and when they are of the same gender. My children, both girls and born two-and-a-half years apart, could at times be the poster children for sibling rivalry.
As the oldest child, Elle is accustomed to getting what she wants, yet she knows she can’t just do what she wants: Her little sister is trained in the art of wailing on cue, thus soliciting her parents’ attention to resolve any and all injustices. And so big sister Elle is subtle in her torturing of her little sister.
Me: “Elle, it’s your sister’s turn to stand on the stool.”
Elle: “I know.”
Emme, in the background: “Wail, wail.”
Me: “Well, then please let her stand on the stool.”
Emme: “My turn! MY TURN!”
Elle: “I am.”
Emme: “You not! YOU NOT!”
Me: “Elle, please don’t stand on the stool when it’s your sister’s turn.”
Elle: “I am not standing on the stool. Look! I only have one foot on the stool.”
Me (internal dialogue): “Wail, wail.”
“One of the most important steps in understanding and dealing with sibling rivalry is to realize that it is an inevitable and normal part of family life,” I read on an online parenting forum.
So subtle incessant torment is an inevitable and normal part of life with two or more kids. Fabulous.
“Parents should make it clear to their children that treating all family members fairly does not mean treating them identically.”
OK, so here goes.
Me: “OK, Elle. Since you are bigger, why don’t you stand on the chair, and Emme can stand on the stool.”
Emme: “I want the chair!”
Elle: “No, Mom said I could stand on the chair!”
Emme: “Wail, wail.”
Me: “OK! Fine! I will get another chair!”
So much for the “fair is not identical” theory.
“I have to go downstairs. Don’t…” I want to say “hurt each other,” but I fear that would give them the idea to do just that. So I don’t finish the sentence and dash downstairs to get the other chair.
I am gone no more than a minute.
I return to the kitchen, where I have been trying to wash pumpkin seeds before the sisterly struggles sent me on this new mission to deal appropriately with sibling rivalry (or at least not lose my mind over it).
The girls are quietly sharing the stool. One is calmly filling a plastic teacup with pumpkin seeds, while the other peacefully stirs the bowl.
Elle: “Emme, can I have the spoon?”
Emme: “Sure, sissy.”
“Rivalry between siblings will often be at its worst whenever a parent is present.”
I stand in the kitchen, holding the chair, trying not to breathe lest I ruin the moment and the wailing begins anew.
“Once the parent leaves the room, the siblings may resume playing cooperatively together. This is merely a sign that the children are competing with one another for the parent’s attention or affection.”
I tiptoe away. Maybe, when assessing my role in dealing with the inevitable challenges of sibling rivalry, less is more.