Saturday, November 2, 2013

Raising Siblings Who Love and Like Each Other

Life is Good: our kids love each other!

Month of Gratitude: Day One

Last week, the big kid had a few days off of school because of parent-teacher conferences. (Our conference went very well, thanks for asking!) Our little one still had his morning playroom, though. It was nice to get to spend some dedicated alone time with the big kid. We made a "lair" for ninja turtles out of recycled yogurt containers, paint stirrers, legos, and painter's tape. The big kid loved it. And I loved being with him.

The morning whizzed by and soon, we were off to pick up little brother. I knew that the little one would love this weekly playroom when I signed him up. He loves other kids. Truly, "Social" should be his middle name. Each week, his gate picks up as we get closer to the playroom door. He whips off his jacket and raises his arms for one of the teachers to pick him up and over the Dutch door. If I am lucky, I'll hear the back of his blonde head yell, "Bye, mommy!" as he runs off to greet the other two-year olds. Equally, when I pick him up, he looks up and smiles, says, "Hi, mama!" and keeps on playing. With some coaxing by his teacher, he makes his way over and we leave to go home.

Grant and I usually have a good laugh later that evening as I recall it all to him. Truly, we are so grateful that both of our kids feel confident and comfortable away from us. I attribute a little bit of it to nurture and a little bit of it to nature. Both of our kids lean a bit more toward the extrovert side of things. (They did spend ten months with me in the womb, after all!) And so I think they naturally like to be around other people and enjoy that kind of energy. However, we have done our best to lay a foundation of stability in our family so that our children feel safe and secure. I think that when kids feel confident and stable in their own family and home life, they are able to carry that with them out into the world.

Of course, there is more to it than that. Knowing your individual child's needs are important. Paying attention to transitions is essential. And a million other variables and individualities.

So, I am usually "chopped liver" at playroom pick up. And I'm okay with that. I give it a little chuckle and say a little prayer of thanks that I don't have to deal with the pain of walking away from a child crying for me, shrieking with fear, screaming with abandonment. I don't know how I would manage that. Truly.

Imagine my surprise when the big kid and I walked into the playroom and little brother looked up, jumped up, and raced over to us yelling the big kid's name. Really? So that's what it takes to get you excited about leaving playroom? Not me, not the one who cradled you in my belly for ten months, giving up caffeine and sushi (painful!). Not me, the one who walked around like a zombie for months and months so that you could have a full belly at all hours of the night and early morning. Not me, whose every thought and breath is yours, whose heart beats for you. (Okay, I'll admit that last part was a bit dramatic. There are just things we cannot deny about ourselves. I have to indulge this part of me. Sometimes it comes out in gestures, most often it appears as words, inflection, and volume. And occasionally, I allow it to peek out in my writing. I hope it gave you a chuckle!)

Truth is, as we drove home, I grinned from ear to ear. Our children love each other. They really love each other! And I am grateful for it. The little one soaks up every word and gesture of his older brother. He's not so much a shadow as his other half. They are so often side by side, hand in hand. Hugging, snuggling, tickling. Smiles and giggles abound. And the big kid adores his little brother, too. Moments away from each other are celebrated with smiles and squeezes. The big kid finds such entertainment in his little brother's latest accomplishments and words, as we all do. I love the way his voice changes when he tries to teach the little one how to play something. Sweetness drips like honey.

I was quickly skimming my pinterest home page a couple of days ago when I noticed someone had pinned this post about how to raise kids who get along well together. It's a short list. And I agree with the first bullet point: family time. There is no way your kids will grow up feeling truly bonded unless you bond as a family and make spending time together a priority. How you spend that time is as unique as your own family. It's just about the togetherness. And of course, (another bullet point) modeling respect. This seems like such a given. And yet, in our fast-paced, need-it-now, everything at your fingertips, overly-connected society, I think we often short cut with each other like we zip through email. If we take the time to sit down and listen, give uninterrupted eye contact, and see and treat our children as small people, not babies or kids, they will treat each other the same way (and us, too!).

Since we have a two-year old, I am not able to leave my kids to their own devices when it comes to disagreements. I often have to talk through things with them. I may have to try to explain why little brother might have committed a certain "crime". I might have to give the words to little brother to help him express that he wants his brother to share or he wants to join in on the fun. But soon, I will begin to try what the mama from the post suggests---letting the kids work through their own disputes, limiting moderation to necessity. It's a slippery slope, though, I think. Mishandled disputes can lead to resentment, so I will keep my eyes and ears open.

I don't think that arguing and fighting has to be a normal part of growing up in a family. I don't think that pushing & taking and yelling & stealing has to be part of the process. Maybe I am naive, maybe it is because there was such a gap in age between my brother & sister and me. Maybe I will change my view in ten years. But for now, my aim and goal is to raise children who can talk through disputes and disappointments. Kids who feel like teammates not opponents. Siblings who rally around each other, not battle against each other. 

I've never sat down and made a list of my goals as a mother. I've certainly thought about what is important to me, though. To be sure, family is everything. Family comes first. Family is more important than any thing or any event. And we cast our net wide when we refer to family. It includes second and third cousins and Godparents and friends who are so loving and supportive that they might as well be "blood". We are grateful for each and every one of them.

My children loving each other and liking each other is near the top of my never recorded list. I want them to grow up enjoying each other, depending on each other, trusting each other. I want them to be more than siblings, I want them to be friends. I want them to be bonded. Truly bonded. I want them to be something to each other that no one else in this world can be to them. And I know that sometimes this will be easy to encourage and that maybe some day, it might need more thought and intention to enable. My hope and prayer is that it will always be easy and that the simplicity comes out of the environment of our family. That the love we show and the home life that we live will breed nothing but love, support, and a true friendship. I hope they can always have enough in common to be able to relate to each other and enough differences not to feel competitive or compared. I hope they will celebrate each others' triumphs and hold each other up when they don't.

So how do you raise siblings who truly like and love each other? The answer is the same for just about every other parenting question, don't you think? You are the example. You show your best self. You put your best foot forward. You be the person who you want your child to be. And when you fail, when you make a mistake, when you have a bad day, you admit it. And then you show your children how to apologize or how to forgive. How to get down on your knees and ask God to help you make it right again. And how to make it a better day tomorrow.

We can't deny it. Our children are a product of their home life. They are a walking, talking reflection of who they spend most of their time with. Us. So with prayer, and intention, love, enthusiasm (and lots of caffeine!), today, I will give them my best, my all.  And the reflection I hope to see is the two of them hugging, giggling, smiling...together.


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