“One day we won’t see him anymore.”
“One day he will be married and busy.”
“And we won’t get to swing with him.”
In our backyard, enjoying the long awaiting arrival of cold weather, I overhear my middle child explaining to her sister what she expects to happen with her baby brother. She knows adulthood will separate them as they are now.
It breaks my heart in two.
“Cherish the days,” they write. “You’ll miss this,” the grandmothers whisper into my ear. This three-car seats, double stroller, diaper bag season of motherhood is bittersweet since it will transition into a new season of talking back and puberty. But what about the stages of childhood we miss as adults? What if those reminders to be in the present could apply to our children as well?
The time my children have now with their siblings is magical and uninterrupted. I remember the wrestling fights, vacations, and late-night hide-and-seek games I played with my three siblings, and I’m nostalgic for those moments when we just had each other. I am going to “cherish the days” in many ways, including fostering the sibling relationship. Even though the days are long and the years are short, I intend for my children to have each other. I find it important to reflect on this as priorities change and the years go by.
The fact is, the close relationships I have with my siblings were intentionally developed by my parents; individuality and independence were encouraged, but more importance was placed on family and being a team. If someone had a cheer event, baseball game, dance recital, etc., we weren’t asked if we wanted to go and support our sibling; we packed into the car and showed up. As we got older, I was impressed when my (divorced) parents brought my siblings for parents’ weekend at my university, and I certainly tried to make the bigger moments of my younger sister’s senior year even though I was states away. We celebrated together. Much effort was put into cultivating the strong bonds we have between us.
When I look into parenting strategies and styles, I am most drawn to how I can raise my children to be close to their siblings just as I am. A relationship between siblings is as complicated as it is simple: there are age differences, personality variations, and individuality in preferences to name a few. The things that appeared to divide us as siblings are, in fact, the reasons I love each of them. I have the brother I can call for health and financial advice, an older sister who has been through the infant, no-sleeping stage, and a little sister who is my cheerleader when life gets especially rough. How do I make sure my children will pick up the phone in their thirties and catch up just as we do?
“One day I will move away, but you will move with me.”
“One day I will have kids, but you can play with us.”
“And we will have to cook for Mommy and Daddy.”
The relationship you have with your sibling will be longer than any other, so how do we foster this in our family? It’s difficult to imagine, but siblings will lean on each other as their parents age, and becoming a caretaker can be challenging when you face it alone. The values I am teaching my children are not solely to make them good human beings in their communities (top priority, of course), but to teach them the value of family. I see that they naturally seek to take care of one another and even prefer to play with each other rather than with me or my husband. Occasionally this makes me sad, but it is also exciting to see their bond. This is one area of parenting that I am attempting to mirror from my upbringing and, while there are variables, in my experience, these tried and true tricks make a difference:
Leave: My parenting looks like a stealthy game of jump rope, as I jump in and out of the scene, game, or art activity. As they get older I initiate interactions and model appropriate play for them, but then I take a step back and let the kids take over. Bickering, learning to share, and smaller quibbles are ignored as I let them figure it out themselves.
Watch: Favoritism from a parent may damage the relationship between siblings (duh). We watch what we say closely. I am cautious not to compare them, and to provide positive verbal reinforcement to praise our children as equals in frequency as possible. Competition is healthy, but not when they feel like they are competing for love.
Work: We help one another, and in that action, I strive to show my children that they aren’t just helping Mommy or Daddy but one another. Chores can be done as a team, and that may mean folding all the laundry—not just yours, kiddo.
Share: As in rooms, not just toys. Our daughters initiated a sleepover routine where they chose to sleep in the same bedroom, and it reminded me of when my younger sister would crawl into my bed at night (to my annoyance). We shared responsibility for our room and making the bed, and I do believe this also helps bring my girls closer. A play room, office, or shared table would also serve this purpose.
Give: Love languages vary, but our children love to receive gifts and favors, so we make a point to have each child make a card for the other during a special event. At a ballet recital, the siblings give a flower to the dancer or make a poster for a competition. While this is expected from parents, when siblings give something of themselves, it is a big deal!
Each family memory is built upon my hopes that they will transition from relying on us, the parents, to relying on each other. Yes, Mommy can make me feel better, but so can my sister and brother. They stick up for each other just as I do, they will nourish each other as I do, and they will comfort one another as I do. We are a team, and when the time comes for my husband and I to (gracefully) age and pass away, they will not be alone.
“One day it will just be us.”
“One day we will miss them.”
But they will still have each other.