How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part III

3. Use the plural, not singular. For my parents, it was always “both of you” plural and not “you” singular. (In Russian we have singular and plural forms of the pronoun “you.”) Whenever one of us messed up in any way, both were blamed. Even today, my mother always says automatically,

“Your sister and you never listen to my advice on how to feed the baby!”

I’m not the one with the baby, my sister is. I haven’t fed any babies for over two decades. For my mother, however, it is impossible to single out one of us as being in the wrong.

In childhood, if one of us got a bad grade (which, in our family, was anything lower than an A), both were condemned as horrible students who’d end up in the gutter.

“Mom,” I’d say indignantly, “Molly is the one who got a B. I’m a straight A student. Why are you yelling at me?”

“Yes? And what have you done to help her not get the B? Huh? Both of you are disappointing me right now!”

People are always horrified to hear that we would both be punished for the mistakes of one of us. “But that is so unfair!” they say. “Why should a person be punished for what somebody else did?”

I strongly believe, however, that it was a brilliant strategy. Those childhood punishments seem so unimportant today when compared to the kind of solidarity that it created between us. Today, Molly and I lead very different lives. I have a lot more degrees but she makes a lot more money. She has her own thriving business but I have a lot of free time. She has many friends but I have a popular blog. I’m married, she isn’t. I’m childless, she is not. I weigh a lot more than she has. She can drive but I can’t. I’m autistic, and she is the epitome of NT. However, none of these differences have ever caused any kind of competitiveness between us. Since childhood, we saw each other as a team. It was never me versus her, but, rather, us against the world.

And that, I believe, is beautiful.

How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part II

2. Don’t arbitrate. All siblings have petty fights and squabbles about trivial things that they perceive as hugely important. Of course, they turn to their parents to arbitrate their conflicts. Our parents, however, refused to do this every single time.

“Dad!” I would holler. “Molly tore my dress / bit off the nose of my favorite toy piglet / ate my homework / pushed me / spit on my book! Are you going to tell her that she is wrong and that she is a brat???”

“Go back to your sister and figure this out with her,” my father would invariably respond.

“But she is WRONG!!!” I would vociferate indignantly.

“I don’t care,” he’d say. “This is all between you.”

Of course, I would immediately be overcome with a sense of a huge injustice being done to me. Those useless adults! They never wanted to help one, even when one was absolutely right. What was the point of having them around anyways?

This intense dislike of unfair horrible adults needed to be shared with a compassionate listener who would understand my grievance. I’d go back to the room I shared with my sister.

“So what did Dad say?” she’d inquire.

“Well, you know how they are. Never willing to do anything one asks them!”

“I know!” Molly would say. “Remember that time when you hid my doll? They never wanted to punish you for that.”

“Useless people.”

“So true.”

United in our dislike of heartless adults, we would go back to playing together in perfect harmony.

How to Raise Loving Siblings?, Part I

Here, I described my relationship with my sister which is absolutely the best and the closest sibling relationship I have ever had a chance to observe. I’m sure there are people who have just as great a bond with their brother or sister, but I am convinced that nobody in the world has a stronger one. I simply do not believe this is possible.

So what can the parents do to ensure that their children develop such a relationship? Here is a list of things my parents did. They obviously worked* because the result is spectacular:

1. Address sibling rivalry. When a child is used to being the one and only in her parents’ life, it might be traumatic to see a baby join the family and get the bulk of everybody’s attention. As a result, sibling rivalry might arise with an older sibling trying to divert the love and the attention back to herself. When Molly was born, I was old enough to notice that I wasn’t the center of my parents’ universe any longer and, of course, I was very jealous. My mother addressed this issue once and for all with the following conversation (which she doesn’t even remember any more but which had an absolutely life-changing importance to a 6-year-old me):

“You must have noticed that I spend all of my time with Molly now, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded petulantly. “You don’t even play with me any more.”

“You see, ” my mother said. “I’ve known and loved you for six years longer than her. And this will never change. No matter how old you and Molly get to be, my love for you will always be six years longer.”

“Really??” I asked. “What about when I’m 28?” (That was the age of real senility in my 6-year-old mind.)

“Yes, when you are 28 and 48 and 68. Which is why right now I’m trying to make this up for her in a way by spending all this time with her. She is little and she might not understand this as well as you do. Do you want to help me make her feel almost as loved as you are?”

From that moment on, any jealousy I felt simply evaporated. I started feeling sorry for the little baby who was six endless years less loved than I was.

* I am not addressing a relationship between twins because it is very special and different from one between regular siblings, and I simply have no knowledge about how it works.