Monday, January 18, 2010

Sibling Rivalry: I Make It Up As I Go Along.

I am an only child.

Who now has 3 children of her own.

All of whom were born within the same 4-year period.

This means that: (a) there is a lot of sibling rivalry under this roof; and (b) I have no CLUE what I'm doing here.

Again highlighting my parental ignorance, I once assumed that sibling rivalry would first come into the equation when the children reached 7, 8 years old. I thought to myself, before that age there's nothing much to be rivals over, right?

Wrong. While I was fortunate enough to have spared myself the jealous rage that I've heard many older children experience when a new baby is introduced to the household (my kids were either 18 months or 36 months old when they became big sisters-- too young to have any reliable memory about the solitude of their lives up to that point), the peaceful cohabitation was woefully brief. By the time my older daughters reached 3 and 4 years old, respectively, sister war could erupt at any time, and over the NUTTIEST things. It wasn't Mommy's attention or Daddy's lap that they were fighting over, no-- it was WHO OPENED THE FRONT DOOR FIRST! and WHO GOT INTO THE BATH FIRST! and WHO WAS SERVED GRAPES FIRST! and you get the idea.

This was even *after* we'd learned our lesson the hard way and begun purchasing all toys, clothes, bowls, etc., in duplicate (now triplicate!), thinking that a multitude of identical material goods would cut down on the hysteria. Nay, what we didn't anticipate was that the real issues of pride were tied up in the *intangible* rewards (for instance, the highly-coveted responsibility of being allowed to press "play" on the remote control, sometimes prompting the non-"play"-pressing sibling to boycott the movie altogether, which manifests true stupidity if you ask me) (then again, I'm not a sibling, so maybe it really does ruin the film?).

Months of trying to reason with the little buggers proved utterly fruitless ("Why are we ARGUING about this? Don't you people GET that IT! DOESN'T! MATTER!"), and so, like a character in Lord of the Rings, I was forced to make up new rules, from scratch, that would hopefully introduce harmony into this completely uncivilized population I had wandered into. (Resist my attempts at martyrdom, by the way; I'm sure there are universes of books written on this very topic for this very age group; I've just decided that it's more important to keep abreast of Runway and Idol than to actually learn from the experts about how to do my job.)

So after several trial-and-error attempts that yielded mostly errors, for now we have placed this household under The (Made-Up) Law of "SPECIAL DAYS"-- and so far, gosh darn it, it's working! The strategy: On odd days of the month, it's Child #1's SPECIAL DAY. On even days, it's Child #2's SPECIAL DAY. (Don't ask me about the two potential consecutive odd days at the end of a month, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.) If it's YOUR SPECIAL DAY, then heck! party like a rock star! Whenever there's a question of doing something FIRST, you WIN! Whenever there's a movie that needs to be selected, you DECIDE! Whenever there's a dispute over who gets the PINK plastic bowl for fruit (god only knows how we ended up with 8 purples, 2 yellows, and 1 treasured pink), it's YOURS! Furthermore, when it's YOUR SPECIAL DAY, you are the proud holder of these illustrious titles: FIRST to get in and out of the car, FIRST to open any door, FIRST to be served meals, and FIRST to get tucked into bed! (One of those is a trick! bwahaha.)

Now before you rush out and implement SPECIAL DAYS in your own home, I should warn you that it is a policy not immune to abuses, no. My eldest daughter tends to confuse SPECIAL DAY with EVIL DICTATOR DAY, meaning that she occasionally tries to relegate her younger sister to just standing in the corner watching while she eats ALL the snacks and chooses ALL the books and hogs ALL the arts-and-crafts materials. So there is a certain amount of police work that is required, sure. But I have to say, overall it's really helped. In fact, nothing's funnier than overhearing this exchange between the sisters:

"Get off me!"
"Stop it!"
"It's MY day!"
"No, it's MY day!"

[thoughtful silence]

"Wait, was it your day yesterday?"
"Um, no, wasn't it yours, 'cuz you told me I could get out of the bath first even though it wasn't my day?"
"No, that was the day before yesterday, right?"
"I don't know, let's go ask Mom whose day it is."

And usually, by the time I pretend to hear them calling me, they've forgotten what they were fighting about in the first place.

See? Turns out I know exactly what I'm doing.


  1. Yes, my sister-in-law has twins, and she divides it up by day of the week... M,W,F, and Sunday morning, sibling A gets to choose whatever. T,Th,Sat and Sunday afternoon is sibling B's choice. Works well, overall... I will be implementing this once sibling rivalry arives in our house.

  2. I am an older sibling and I can assure you that the appropriate rule is that older sibs are always right, and always go first.

  3. Great solution! Very inventive and certainly a lot more fun for everyone than an endless cycle of threats and timeouts. You're a natural! (Just out of curiosity: what happens when one child's Special Day falls on the other child's birthday or the like...does anything trump one's Special Day?)

    When my older brother and I fought as kids, my mom would declare that we no longer existed to one another. We could not interact with each other in any way or even look at one another. Moreover, if we'd mention our sibling's name to my mom (usually in the form of a complaint) she would calmly brush us off with "I don't know what you're talking about, you don't have a brother/sister" and go back to what she was doing. This was so upsetting that we'd almost immediately go back to being friends. Later, once we were in the midst of having fun together, she'd point out how lucky we were to have each other.

    Speaking of siblings...for those of us that are contemplating having more children - I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on both the number of children and the spacing between them.

  4. Hi Rick... yes, I have 3 kids... but the youngest is only 20 months old... and her only contribution to sibling rivalry at this point is to screech, "BABY'S TURN!!!" whenever either of her sisters touches anything. Thus, when her vocabulary expands, I assume we will have to rotate Special Days to once every 3 days. I will need a calendar by then for sure. :)