Friday, July 16, 2010

Sibling Revelry

Barbara: My sisters—I have two wonderful younger sisters who I promise you I adore—tell me that I used to ban them from my room and basement clubhouse by scattering industrial staples, tines up, all over the floor and taping signs of bloody knives to the walls. Me? But I’m so nice. So sweet, so demure. Or at least I was back then. I swear!

I have two daughters, 3 years apart, who were inseparable as youngsters, but who have gone through their own phase of bloody knives and threatening hardware. For all intents and purposes, they are the picture of lovely sweetness. But when it comes to a stolen top or a dismissive sentence, the claws can unsheathe between them in a second. I remember when the younger was 9 and her sister was 12, Younger wrote an essay about her sister for French school where she said: “On n’a plus la meme chimie,” which translates to: “We don’t have the same chemistry anymore.” It was a turning-point moment for us as their parents: “Ah, she is aware; she is mourning something.”

When I watch the occasional sibling spats now, I cringe remembering my own unfeeling teenaged behaviour toward my sisters, realizing how very, very affecting it must have been to them. They remember believing I hated them (for a year or two); I just remember how cute they were. I’m making a point, of course—I know my sisters have good memories of me in our childhood too (I hope!)—but that point comes boomeranging back when you have your own kids.

I thought I could circumvent the great sibling divide by talking my daughters through their crises, teaching them how to see their sister’s side, proposing compromises. It seemed to work—peace usually came pretty quickly, if grudgingly—and I kinda patted myself on the back for taking the time and not listening to the old adage of letting them “work it out”. But the other day, I bemoaned to my husband that maybe I did interfere too much: if I’d let them “work it out” more, they might be closer now, having learned through necessity that they are each other’s greatest allies. My husband—he really can be both sweet and wise—gave me a gentle smile and reassured me that we let them work it out plenty, that even this older-teen adversity is completely normal, that they have enough wonderful times together that the occasional spat won’t ruin them for later, and that they will become great friends when the time is right.

In other words, if I see bloody knives and sharp tines between them every now and then, they might prefer to remember instead intense bonding over invented songs on road trips, shared secrets and serious advice, or mutual hysteria when their mother mispronounces “cool” words (apparently “kootch” isn’t a class of weed, but something else entirely. Shut up.).

Just like my sisters and I did years ago, my girls are working it out.

Deb: First off, I have to say that I know Barb’s beautiful and sweet daughters and they are aces in my book, both of them. I have actually, despite all the time I spend there, never seen them at each other’s throats. A snipe here, a sneer there, and eyes on the ceiling to be sure, but never bloody knives! But I’m glad they go at it hammer and tongs and still adore each other because I think it makes for a lifelong relationship of honesty with one another, which they will need more and more as life envelopes them.

I only have one child so he has never experienced that and I really think it would have helped him. As a result of no sibling to spar and dismiss, he is not really good at confrontation. He is only now learning to stand up for himself and, until recently, we have seen him sometimes steamrolled by good friends. I lament that he did not have a sibling relationship, but he seems to be absolutely fine with it. Always claims he is happy that he did not. But of course it might be because he doesn’t know what he is missing.

The sibling relationship is amazing. Two different people with the same genetic patterning living their young lives together under one roof. I have one brother who is six years younger than me. We are very, very close. Although during the teen years our relationship could be summed up in one sentence: “Here’s a quarter, now get lost”.


  1. I am an only child as well, and I don't mind being. I like having that extra time with my family. I don't like to fight as well, so I think that if my parents would have had another child, we would have been fighting all the time. To me I am just not missing out on having another brother,and sister. I like to be by my self, like I have said in my new "About Me." page on my blog. If my parents would have had another child then I would not be by self at all. I do have a friend that is like a sister to me. We have been friends ever since 2nd grade and we are still are like sister's to this day. We get into little fights every now and then,but nothing big.It is nice to have someone to talk to when you can't talk to your parents.

    PS:If you look at some of my post as well as the new "About Me" page on my blog you can see why I don't like to have any body really close to me like a brother or a sister.

  2. Awwww - sweet story. I have three kids and can relate to both of you.

    My first two are five years apart, and used to fight over things like..."he's using MY word." (Apparently there were words my daughter had exclusive rights to, because this was a constant.). I'm happy to report they're adults now, and extremely close. They even share words.

    My third child came along as a surprise 15 years later, so he is growing up like an only child. I've kept him in playgroups and around other kids as much as possible so he can learn how to compete, fight for his rights, and all that good stuff that siblings teach you through adversity.

  3. I'm the eldest of four and apparently bullied and terrorized my siblings. Now that I'm all grown up, sweet and nice (hee!), they put up with me. But I watch my back. :)

    My kids are 22 and 17 and the oldest is mentally like a six-year-old. Sort of. Other times, like a 15-year-old. It's interesting to watch the sibling rivalry and resentment play out at *his* rate of development, but sometimes I have to remember there is a good reason why at 22 he is still gritting his teeth when his younger brother enters the room.

    In the long run, they'll get it all worked out and have each other's backs as adults. I'm sure of it.

  4. I have to older sisters, but I came along ten years after my youngest sister, so while I did have siblings I have at times been like an only child. Because of this I have never really fought a lot with either of them, though my youngest sister and I had some run-ins when I was a stubborn and nosy child, and she was an angsty teenager.

    My oldest sister took me to the movies or had me stay over at her apartment, so she was the one I bonded the most with when I was a child, but once I grew up I have become as close to my younger sister.

    I'm willing to guess that this will happen with your daughters too, Barbara. Once they have passed a certain age they will realize what a wonderful bond the one existing between siblings is.

    As for your son, Deb, perhaps he can find a similar bond with friends or other family members? My mother is an only child, but she has many cousins - some of which she is really close with - and they are siblings as good as any to her.

  5. I love this post and, as a sister (as well as as a mother now with two boys -- brothers, eh? ;))I can totally relate.

    I remember the fights and the hurt, but more than that, I rememer the love and support and unconditional adoration, and it buoys us, still, today.

    Even if she has a hot dog lip and was, as I tried often to convince her - the sister that was adopted. ;)

  6. I am an only child, and I have an only child. My parents (actually, my dad, the male chauvenist pig who rules my mom like she's chattle and she lets him) decided I would be an only child. But, I wish my son were not. I would've liked to have had more children, but it wasn't meant to be.

    My biggest aggravation is that so many people (at least weekly!) feel the need to comment negatively on the fact that my son is an only child. Matter of fact, just today, a lady came up to me and said, "He needs some brothers and sisters!" A total stranger, out of the blue, for no good reason. It just makes my blood boil. #1 It almost killed both me and him bringing him into the world. I had a very complicated pregnancy and have lasting health problems from it that would make it extremely high risk for me to carry another baby. And, my son was in the NICU when he was born --- a terrifying experience I wish on no family. #2 I'm not married. I'm not going to have children out of wedlock even if I could. That is COMPLETELY alien to folks around here. Absolutely incomprehensible. #3 I'm 37. My son's 11. I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm too old to start over with a new baby. I need to survive his teenage years and then start my Life 2.0.

    It also pisses me off when people comment that I have it "easy" that I "only have one." He's a 2E child, and while he is the most fabulous person I know, it is an unrelenting challenge raising him and seeing to his exceptional needs.

    Sorry, this whole siblings and only children discussion really touches a nerve this afternoon after that witch weighed in with her very unsolicited and unwanted opinion this afternoon. And, like I said, I get this at least weekly -- like it's some character flaw on my part that I "only have one child." Really, REALLY pisses me off.

    Also, maybe I shouldn't type comments while tired and hungry. Oh well...

  7. I am the oldest of 4. My sister and I are the bookends. The 2 boys are in between. We are now very close. But as kids...

  8. My sisters and I NEVER fought. We had nothing but amazing times together, making and hiding in forts, creating plays with puppets and/or live actors, and playing board games. We loved being together and were incredibly supportive of whatever event was happening in the other's life.... Or at least that`s what I was telling a friend the other day because that is exactly how I remember it. My friend looked at me as if I was completely insane, and even suggested that I might be LYING!!! I gave her lots of reasons for why my siblings and I got along so well and went on my merry way. Then I started to think about my childhood. I looked past the loving feelings and the great times we had and poked a memory finger into the "industrial staples, tines up" type of events. Funny thing is that those memories are there, and can be found if I scrounge around deeply enough, but honestly, who needs to? What I learned from doing that memory poking is that, I don't need to go there (except to check that I am actually 'sane'), it's the positive things that I remember most because it is those things that live in my heart and frame the relationships I now have with my sisters.
    In other words, I know that in the future your girls will be all about the good times, because they are "the picture of lovely sweetness."

  9. I'm thirteen months younger than my older sister, and I guess I haven't quite reached the point where the negative memories surrender to the positive. We get along BETTER now, at 21 and 22, but high school holds vivid memories for me of a time when I worshipped my sister, and she routinely told me that "if you weren't my sister, you're exactly the kind of person I DON'T like." And then proceeded to exclude me from participating in anything that she participated in (and she did almost everything).

    My younger sister is ten years younger, and has been completely spoiled, and raised entirely different than my older sister and I. So, we fight, too. The conflict comes from the fact that I remember how my sister and I were raised, and when my younger sister gets away with all kinds of crap, and manipulates my parents, I can't help but step in and say, "hellooo? something's WRONG here."

    Ah, well. I'm still holding out for those promised good sibling relationships somewhere in the future.

  10. I love all the sibling/no sibling stories. It's amazing how evocative that relationship can be.

    Rigel, sorry about the unthinking remarks of strangers, but as so many of our only kids have chimed in (and we know so many), it is easy to say that kids are not deprived if they don't have siblings, but simply living different experiences.

    And to Nicole's point, childhood memories are so fluid that they can easily be coloured by your state of mind at any given moment. If you're feeling great, you're remembering the great stuff. If you're down, you remember the crap. (PS, I love "memory poking"). Hey, that would be good fodder for another blog post, huh?

    Thanks to all of you with siblings for reassuring me that siblings do, for the most part, move past any growing pains and reconnect with each other.

  11. OK, I'm less ranty today. LOL

    As I mentioned earlier, I, too, was an only child. While I don't feel like I missed out by not having siblings, I do have one complaint about having been an only child. There was no buffer between me and my parents. My mother didn't really have a life. *I* was her life. And, she drove me crazy. Room mother, Girl Scout troop leader, field trip chaperon, and on and on and on. There was no divide in her attention. I could not get away from her!!! I could never just be myself, and I never had freedom. She was always oppressively THERE. I had no privacy growing up. None. She wouldn't even knock and wait before opening my bedroom door. I couldn't get a stamp without her knowing who I was writing and what the letter said. She drove me crazy. The only reason I ever felt the need for siblings was that they would've served as diversions for my mother.
    She only started to let up a little once I was in around 10th grade or so, but to this day she still has zero respect for my privacy. When she comes to visit, she acts like she runs my home. I go through a lot of ibuprofen and antacid chewy tablets whenever she's visiting.

    With my son being an only child, this is something I have consciously tried to do differently with him.

  12. I am the oldest and don't have many memories of my sister who was three years younger. She, however, has millions of me. Why? I think if I was so terrific why did my parents have another. We were not in junior high or high school at the same time and I have no memory at all of her in grammar school with me. We are close for sisters. We play the good cop and bad cop with our aging mother and I will kill myself if I didn't have my sister now to lament how hard our mother is to take care of. It does take a village to keep her cared for at 83. She is really disabled and unable to walk and her brain is weird on any given day. My sister and I talk everyday about our Mom. We never went out as couples or had any of the same friends. But I wouldn't trade her for anyone in an emergency or if I need someone to pick me up or drive me somewhere (anywhere). She is on it.
    My sons used to be great friends until they took wives who are not crazy about each other. But it is getting better if they have to see each other by themselves with their kids. My nieces confide in me sometimes over their mother as do my sons with my sister and brother-in-law. Overall, considering my parents dysfunctions we turned out pretty damn good. Thanks for inspiring me to think about this today.

  13. Welcome Madgew to this wonderful mishmash of fabulous fits and misfits! Every comment a gem! As I read them all over tonight I thought, funny but it's like we are as siblings to one another, supporting, bitching, sharing. You make families where you find them right? Thank you all.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.