As a mother of two daughters, my parenting goals are to raise self-sufficient women who display integrity and compassion, who live happy and fulfilling lives, and who share and value a strong family bond. Sometimes I lose sight of those goals when I am waist deep in the trenches of day-to-day life. As I sit typing this, my goal today is to steer my daughters successfully through the fifth grade to the carefree days of summer. But every once in a while, something quite random reminds me of the fundamental principles that should guide my parenting. Like last Saturday.
Let me backtrack a bit. My daughters play several interactive online games, including National Geographic Kids’ Animal Jam. Part of Animal Jam involves creating a den and trading virtual goods with other players to furnish your den or outfit your avatar. My daughters often play Animal Jam sitting side by side, on dueling laptops, consulting each other on trades. Last Saturday G was playing it alone in her room when I heard her frantically calling for her sister to come offer an opinion on a possible trade. What struck me at that moment, for whatever reason, was that G wanted her sister’s opinion on something of importance to her.
Listening to them last Saturday, my thoughts time traveled years ahead. I imagined them consulting each other about real life decisions, both big and small ones. Should I stay with this boyfriend? Should I lease this apartment? Would you wear these shoes with this outfit? Should I accept this job offer? Do you ever look at your children and wonder what their relationships will be like when they are grown? I do. While I believe that my daughters will follow very different paths, I pray that their connection will remain strong.
Like all siblings, my daughters bicker, argue, and annoy each other daily. Yet occasionally I get a glimpse into their complicated bond. Like the moment in preschool when three-year old E squared off against a classmate who was taunting G, demanding sternly, “Leave my sister alone.” Or the way that they are able to comfort each other in ways that I can’t. I still love to watch them sleep together, unconsciously intertwining their arms or their feet.
I believe that to nurture strong sibling relationships, parents should encourage their children’s individuality, celebrate their differences, and avoid comparing them to each other. Children should feel secure and loved for being exactly who they are. I expect different things from each of my daughters because they are very different people.
Being an only child myself, I’ve always been fascinated and a little envious of sibling relationships. I was 42 when my daughters were born. Despite my determination to live a very long time, it’s likely that they will live the second half of their lives without me. My hope for them is that they will always be able to count on each other in the ways that matter. I hope that as adults, their shared childhood memories will bridge their differences.
Recently someone asked G to describe the difference between a friend and a sister. She opined, “Friends can write part of the story of your life, but your sister can write the entire story.” And then she added, “Friends see you through their eyes, but a sister sees you though yours.” I hope that she always feels that way.