My daughters love each other. I think. At least this is what I tell myself most days when the two of them are going for each other’s jugulars. Honest to goodness, there are moments when their knock-down/drag-outs feel like the ninth round in a Tyson-Holyfield fight—sweaty, loud, nasty, brutal.
Alas, Mari and Lila are sisters. And this is what sisters do. They fight. They make up. They play. Somebody gets on the other’s nerves and then they start the whole thing all over again—usually precipitated by Lila, the little sister, doing something annoying and Mari, the bigger one, acting like the Earth is going to fall off of its rotational axis if the 9-year-old doesn’t get out of her face, pronto.
This bothers me. A lot. Maybe because I’m a little sister and can say, with certainty, that it sucks when older siblings act like they don’t like you. But mostly because what mother doesn’t want her kids to get along? Through thick and thin, heck or high water, family is all you got. You can’t pick them—or discard them—like you do friends; family is much more valuable than that. When you are hungry, they feed you. When you need shelter, family puts a roof over your head. When you’re sad, here comes a hug from someone who genuinely loves you and wants the best for you. You can’t always count on that with folks who aren’t your kin.
This is what I find myself telling Mari more and more, particularly as she gets into that surly tween thing where everybody and everything is a nuisance and she’d much rather close herself off in her room and read/watch TV/pick her toes than be, like, human. Particularly with her little sister. And I get it—I understand that little sisters are expert at pushing buttons and that sometimes the pre-teen hormones stewing in the veins make being pleasant to others way tricky. But it’s precisely in those moments, I explain to Mari when she’s being a bit extra mean to Lila, that she needs to learn how to work through the emotions of it all and be a little bigger about it—a little more mature. She is, after all, her little sister’s role model, the kid she most admires and wants to be like. Surely, that has to count for something.
After one particularly nasty encounter—I don’t know what brought it on but by the time I got involved, there were tears… lots of tears—I sent Lila off to her room while Mari and I devised a game plan for how to handle her little sister, without yelling, crying, fussing or the laying of hands. There were “You Can Play With Me Now” coupons involved—earned when Lila isn’t being a pain and redeemable when she wants to enter Mari’s room and talk or watch TV or play a board game. But more importantly, there was an insistence from my tween that everyone—not just her little sister, but her parents, too— learn how to and get comfortable with giving her space to just… be. For us to stop taking her quest for quiet time as a direct affront to our very beings.
Indeed, she has that right.
There is still the fighting, for sure. But there is understanding, too. And now, if Mari says (nicely) that she just needs her space, we give it to her. And in return, she uses that quiet time to store up the energy she needs to play with and be nice to Lila—a concept even the 9-year-old little sister can understand.
And most days, everyone is satisfied.