Saturday, July 26, 2008

Siblings

I am an only child. I know nothing about having siblings. OK, I have a step brother, but our parents didn't marry until we were 11 years old and by then we were both pretty set as only children. Plus we only sporadically lived in the same house and were never forced to interact much. We made some feeble attempta at the sibling thing for a couple of years, but after a big fight, that neither of us got over, we pretty much ignored each other. Other than a brief hug at family occasions where I also prompt my kids to call him Uncle J, I try to pretend he doesn't exist. I think the feeling's mutual.

I also grew up with a whole slew of cousins who were often very much like siblings to me. I mean often during the summer we moved around as a whole pack with various aunts and uncles carting us off to the beach or the amusement park or the movies - or just hanging out in each other's backyards or our grandparents house.

I spent so much time with my cousins during my childhood that I think it caused me to take on many of the personality traits of someone with siblings. In many ways, I just don't have the outlook or attitude of an only child. People are always surprised when I tell them I don't have brothers and sisters.

Still, I am an only child. There are things about having a sibling that I will never understand. Things I never have to deal with, and other things that I will always miss out on.

I will never have anyone in my life who knows just what it's like to deal with my mother and my father as the child of each of them. There is a bond I see when I look at my cousins grouped together with their siblings that I will never experience. And I will never, ever understand the complex set of emotions that are sibling rivalry.

So, when I made the decision to have another child I was a little apprehensive. I knew that there would be things my children would go through with each other that I just would never understand. And I feared that I wouldn't know how to resolve these things - how to help them through them. Everyone told me not to worry, that it wasn't a big deal, that I would find a way.

They were wrong. I was right.

I thought for a while that I had escaped sibling rivalry. That the 6 year age difference meant that there couldn't be anything for them to fight over. That the age difference would allow each of them to have so much alone time with me and the Bull that they would never feel the need to compete.

I was wrong.

From the beginning, Sugar has resented the changes in her life that Spice have brought about. In some ways I don't blame her. Before Spice, the Bull and I would drop everything to play with Sugar. We entertained her semingly endlessly and were happy to do it. And at first we managed to maintain that with her. But as soon as Spice started moving around on her own, that started to go out of the window.

More often than not for the last couple of years, when Sugar has asked to play a game she has heard, "No," because we haven't been able to figure out how to play a game with Sugar without Spice destroying the game in the process.

When I write it like that it sounds so awful. That we've denied Sugar something as simple as a sitting down and playing a board game for two years. I will be the first one to admit that becoming a parent of two has been a challenge for me. While I have enough love for a hundred kids, I have to admit that my energy and organizational abilities were better suited to one kid than two.

With two kids I've always been a step or two behind. Things are all stacking up to tall and I'm constantly running around trying to stop things from tipping over, or cleaning up the result of a tumbled tower. This has left little time or energy for figuring out how to make time, make a way to fit in the things both kids need without one feeling left out.

I guess I just kind of hoped it would all balance itself out. Sure, there hasn't been much time for Sugar's activities at home - but in every other way, Sugar has remained the main one. She's still the one to get all the classes and playdates and other activities. Spice has gotten the short end of the stick by just living her life being carted around to Sugars activities and social events.

And in the end, I guess I've done both of them a disservice. And worse, I've hurt their relationship. Sugar resents the time with us that Spice has taken away from her. And Spice, after years of going everywhere that Sugar goes and doing everything that Sugar does, believes that the sun rises and sets on Sugar.

So now at the ages of 3yo and 9yo, Spice wants nothing more than to be with Sugar and to do what she does. And Sugar wants nothing more than to be away from Spice and to do NOTHING Spice wants her to do.

Day in and day out it's the same thing. We drop Sugar off at camp and Spice cries as we drive away - "I want Sugar!!! Why do I have to leave my sister? I want to stay with her. Can't I stay? I'll just watch. Can't I just watch her?" It takes endless distraction and promises of favorite activities, not to mention repeatedly playing songs that used to be Sugar's favorites over and over on the car stereo as Spice talks about how she will sing them with her at the end of the day, before Spice calms down and begins to accept the prospect of a day without her sister.

Then the day comes to an end and finally we pick Sugar up from camp. This should be the answer to my prayers, but it's not. Sugar climbs into the car and Spice enthusiastically says, "Sugar!! What are we going to play?" And Sugar says, "I don't want to play." Spice offers up every game she's ever heard Sugar play - hand clapping games, rhyming games, singing games, and Sugar just sulks and say, "No, no, no," to everything. Or worse, she refuses to answer Spice at all. Spice just cheerfully calls Sugar over and over and over and gets nothing back.

Now, Sugar and Spice have their names for good reason. Sugar is generally a sweet and agreeable kid and Spice is, well, spicy. So, for a long time, Sugar felt she was justified in treating Spice poorly because she thought of herself as the good kid and Spice as the bad one. It took me a minute, but I realized that I was reinforcing this perception in things I sad and stories I told people about how much more agreeable Sugar was when she was whatever age Spice was at the time of the telling.

So I rather bluntly made it clear to Sugar that she and Spice are different, but that one is not better than the other. And I don't love either of them more than the other. That I love both of them with all my heart. That I feel fiercely protective of both of them and that I can not imagine ever letting ANYONE treat either of them poorly. And that included each of them - that I could not and would not allow them to treat each other badly.

Over the last few weeks I have tried harder and harder to make it clear to Sugar that she needs to treat her sister well. And it seems it falls on deaf ears, because, if anything, I think her behavior towards Spice has gotten worse. It has reached the point where family members have begun commenting on it. Suggesting that maybe Sugar needs time away from Spice.

But how much more time could she get away from her. Sugar is at camp all day. From 9am to 5pm she has an 8 hour break from Spice. Usually by the time we get home it's 5:30 or 6pm and the girls go to bed no later than 9pm. So 3 hours is the most time they are really around each other. How much more time does Sugar need without Spice?

I even, often make a few minutes each day for Sugar to be alone with me. At times I take Spice to St. Aunt and pick Sugar up from camp alone. We have the half-hour drive to St. Aunt's place together and I sometimes stop along the way at the library so we have even more time together. And still, when we get to Spice, Sugar is surly and resentful of her sister.

I found myself, by the end of this last week starting to resent Sugar. Starting to really feel badly towards her in a way I never have before. I found that I was dreading the weekend and wanted to just send Sugar to spend the weekend with her grandparents and just enjoy doing fun things with Spice. Part of me thought that maybe some time away from all of us would do Spice good. But, I couldn't do it out of resentment - and that's what I was feeling.

It's hard for me to admit having really negative feelings about one of my children. And it's been heartrending for me. On the one hand, I can't help but feel badly towards someone who is treating one of my children poorly. But on th other hand - that person IS my child and I love her as intensely as the one I want to protect. That's just more twisted up than I can handle.

I, finally, Friday night, told Sugar that her and I would have a talk on Sunday. That she should spend the weekend thinking about what it is that she needs to be an active member of this family. What it is that she needs to be able to get along with her sister. That I can not live with things as they have been and that she has to work with me to make it better. I was very honest with her. I reminded her that I am an only child - so I sometimes can't understand how it's hard to have a sister, and I can't make it better unless she helps me understand.

This afternoon, I have to sit down with her. I am both fearful and hopeful. I don't know how to make things better here. I really don't. Maybe there is no way. Maybe they just have to go through it.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my cousins. Thinking about the ways they got along and didn't as kids. Mostly, they got along. There wasn't this resentment that the other person was just there that I see Sugar exhibiting towards Spice. We all played together. We all helped each other and did things together. Sure, we fought from time to time - but there was a general acceptance that isn't happening between my kids.

I recently talked to two of my cousins who are brother and sister and 5 years apart in age. They said it never even occurred to them to be resentful of each other. They were together - that's all there was.

Why can't my kids be like that?

6 comments:

professor said...

first and foremost, both my parents are only children...they didn't even have cousins close to their age to play with...bigbears only interaction were with sisters who she swears to this day never fought...she couldn't understand why me and bearmaiden where strangling each other behind the bedroom door...
my children are eight years apart...I joke and say I'm raising two only children...but even so there is sibling rivalry that lasts to this day, even though choclahontas has moved out...
speaking from sisterdom, and having witness my own children...leave it alone...the only time I see MMB is when she going to the bathroom or kitchen...most times she locked in her room doing God knows what, but still managing to get on my nerves...
I don't know your living situation, but I would guess that sugar is needing her own space...a place where she can put her things without them being touched or moved...a place where she can debrief...allow her the time and space and by the time she's sixteen she should be back to normal...hopefully...
I've briefly addressed about five issues very briefly...but all this to say you're doing a really good job...sugar is entering the hateful stage as spice enters the annoying stage and there is not much you can do but keep your sanity...
CALGON TAKE ME AWAY...

Fat Lady said...

Thanks Professor - knowing that you are a sister, have a sister and have been raising sisters, I was looking for your input.

Sometimes I try and other times I just throw up my hands. If there's anyone I feel really sorry for it's the Bull! He just wanders around looking at all of us like we're out of our minds and trying to relate throw in his input which usually gets met with screams of "Mommy!!!" Poor guy.

Maybe you're right. Maybe I just need to sit back and let them do what they do and stop stressing it so much. I do see that all involved are in particularly funky developmental stages right now. Three is the most horrible age in childhood (I don't even want to think about what 13 will be like - though I imagine it as a bigger, badder 3) and at 9 Sugar is a little bundle of newly budding hormones. The combination is not pretty. I think I'll be locking myself in the bathroom a lot over the next year.

The Bear Maiden said...

LOL. As the other half of the sisterdom, and the older more agreeable one (back in the day) I was gonna say as an only child you're reading a little more into the situation than there is. Cuz there's a coupla things going on... like the Professor said Sugar is just entering that extremely selfish and self-centered pre-pubescent stage that people don't readily notice in only children. It's more marked in a sibling because people expect siblings to get along.

Resentment of the other sibling doesn't have anything to do with it. I would regularly beat the hell out of the Professor as a kid... doing mean stuff like pushing her down stairs or throwing salt in her face and it wasn't cuz I resented her. It was cuz she was a pain in my ass and got on my nerves. But I loved her to death, and had someone come in at that moment and tried to hurt her or taken my side I would have defended her to my death.

LOL... my sister's right about Bigbear's bewilderment at our fights. One day were WERE strangling each other behind our apartment door. My uncle knocked on my parents door (they lived across the hall and Uncly next door) to express his concern, and my mother wisely stayed her ass in her own apartment. Yet there was another time I felt a girl was threatening my sister and a 3YO Diva, and I knocked the girl on her ass with one punch.

The thing you can do, that my mother did, was let them know that no matter how they feel about each other, they are to look out for each in the outside world. That even though they get mad at each other, they should always respect each other, fight fairly, and look out for each other. That they ARE each other's best freind. They are young enough to believe it, to accept that, and as they get older yes there will be differences... age differences and personality differences, but they will be friends. I see it in them now... And they will always be sisters.

You're doing a good job :) Call Bigbear once in a while, lol

professor said...

just another note...the sweet loving child you knew has gone away not to return until 16/17...relax...lock yourself in the bathroom with spice and enjoy her until she turns 9...
I have also found that you can't satisfy either one so, as poppy said, find the middle age and cater to that...or do what I do and say to the big one "this is what I'm doing and you have no choice but to go along...and pretend your having fun"..."

Ros said...

I can remember being 3 and loathing my little brother. I bit him hard enough to draw blood. I beat him up on a regular basis. We'd scream insults at each other from opposite ends of the house. And then suddenly somewhere in our early teens we were friends.
Do you think part of the problem could that Spice does essentially worship Sugar? Personally I think I'd feel more charitable towards a (perceived) PITA younger sib if she wasn't up my ass all the time -- not necessarily not around me, but letting me have some mental space. Sugar may not be the introvert you & The Bull are, but does she need some "her" time that she's not getting?

AzĂșcar said...

I found you from Jennifer James' blog (who I love.)


Wow.

Are you my mom from 25 years ago?

Listen, my mom was an only child and she had four kids. She had no idea what to do with us and how to handle the sibling rivalry. She is also an immigrant to this country and had to acclimate to our unique culture of raising children (for instance, she didn't have a clue about what prom was.)

I can tell your concern from your post and I have to say, it sucks now, it might get worse, but someday it will work out.

There are six years between me and my baby sister. I probably ignored her for the better part of the decade, when I wasn't deliberately ostracizing her. I would scream at her and be just mean. Yes, the age difference was stark, but it will never again be as stark as it was yesterday. The older they grow the less the gap matters. Now, as adults, she's one of my best friends and we just get each other. No one else on earth understands your background and your experience like your sister, sometimes it just takes a little longer to get to that place.

I sometimes think back to what my mom was going through and I really feel for her. We were brutal, sometimes physically, to each other and she had no frame of reference.

From my perspective, you're doing the right thing: emphasizing that they are siblings who need to find a way to get along. My mother would make us sit in our room and hold hands. We were punished for not including each other. Somehow, with the encouragement and baseline rules, we girls finally got along.

Anyway, just a ray of hope, we get along like a house a fire now. We have no resentments about our childhood, just funny stories about the terrible things we did to each other.