Tuesday, March 30, 2010

sibling revelry (or something like that)

This whole sibling relationship thing is one of the biggest quagmires of my mothering mission.  How do I foster peaceful, respectful relationships (I'm not even talking about *friendships* at this point) among these little people that will serve as the basis for friendships (there it is) to last throughout their lives?  Can this be done without micro-managing everything but also not abandoning children to figure things out for themselves with no tools or training on how to do so such that one ends up always bearing the brunt of another's ire or being bullied?  Is there a way to cultivate positive feelings between and among them without forcing affections that may not be authentic (at least, not now)?

Siblings are among the greatest gifts parents can give their children, as these people (ideally) serve as lifelong ties to family and God himself.  Getting my bambini to the point of having this kind of relationship is something to which I devote a huge amount of time and energy every day.  It is an extension of my basic day-to-day agenda: form these young souls in the virtues and values Christ shows by his own example to be the way we are called to live this life. 

I have one sister.  She's almost 17 (we collaborate on this blog).  This means that I was nearly 15 when she was born, so we are essentially two only children sharing the same mother (who is an only child) and father.  We have always had a special relationship, but it does not feature the typical sibling dynamics that involve sharing toys and taking turns riding shotgun and what not.  Most of the insights into sibling dynamics I have come from the three cousins (sisters, they are) I spent many a summer with in Chicago, along with those I gleaned growing up with the family of three boys and the girl who inherited many of my outgrown clothes.  I now have two brothers-in-law, one of whom will soon celebrate his first anniversary of marriage to my lovely sister-in-law.

I've read a few books on the topic of siblings (among them Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk fame, which I also have read -- more than once now) hoping to find some instructions, really, on navigating the tumultuous waters of sibling relations.  I think in the end, though, it comes down to helping the littles understand our individual identities as children of God.

I hope to instill within each of our bambini the knowledge that he or she is God's unique creation with a place in our family that his or hers alone.  It is because of this God-given identity that we love each of these children for who they are and who God will call them to become.  Each of us in the family has some role to play in the formation of the rest of us -- we are each a part of another's path to holiness and heaven.

I realize that in the course of childhood -- especially one with siblings as close in age as our bambini are -- conflict, upset, disappointment, frustration, and even jealousy are not entirely avoidable.   None of us is perfect, and we will unfortunately hurt each other at some point and need to seek forgiveness.  But in working out these kinks of self-control and emotional management, I hope to help us all learn to recognize within ourselves those things that set us off (so to speak) as well as the things that set each other off and avoid or work through them so that when they present themselves they don't lead to someone getting hurt physically or emotionally.  At times this seems an impossible goal, but I have to believe and keep working as though it is not.

When our lass was born, our elder lad was especially excited to meet and hold her, and he remains (for the most part) quite taken with her.  I'll always remember the deepest belly laughs we've ever heard from her coming in response to some silly faces he made at her when she was about four months old.  He also seems to have a lot of fun with his younger brother a lot of the time, discussing trucks or jamming with their banjos to classic rock music or digging in the yard.  Our younger lad has a great capacity for generosity and kindness; he often says things like "I love my sister" or "I love you" to his brother (who usually answers in kind).   

As sweet as those moments are, there are also times like in the not-so-distant past when the younger lad would tell his brother to go to Dallas, as it happened that my beloved had made several brief business trips there *and* we had family traveling to or from Dallas, so it must have seemed to a very young child like Dallas was the place where people were when they weren't here.  

Both lads often show great gentleness and deference to the lass when she toddles up to get in the middle of their Lego structure or makes a move for one of their trucks.  They'll usually ask me for help or offer her some other toy as a distraction from the ones they're playing with.  As she gets older, she's less easily dissuaded.  They keep trying. 

But then the time comes when someone gets fed up and smacks someone else or says something like "I don't like you".  It happens.  I can't help but get upset when one of my children hurts another one.  I know it's imperative for me to channel that feeling into a productive one that helps them all learn the virtues of self-control, temperance, justice, and kindness.  Likewise, as with many other struggles that seem to be par for the course in this season of our family life, a sense of humor and levity go a long way in restoring peace, soothing hurts, and moving us all past the cause of trouble and into a better place.

I don't expect perfect peace here, but can't they all just get along?

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