I am not one for reading research studies, journals or articles on childhood development, and here I find myself deep in the throws of a career in childhood development, and feeling that I need a bit of a frame of reference. So far, I have been taking the "experimental," hands-on approach to motherhood, don't we all to a degree, but one aspect of parenting that is really tugging at my curiosity is how in the heck to raise siblings, and I have THREE! A pro-active approach to it might be to read a couple articles on the topic, check out a couple books at the library, give myself some summer homework. You just want to help cultivate and nurture your kids' bonds with each other in preparation for what is to be, God willing, a very long and fruitful, dynamic journey together in life. I am not a great sister, probably not even a good sister, but here I am now raising a set of sisters. The natural thing to say is, "I want them to be better than me," and in fact, that was typed here until I deleted it and thought it through a little more. It isn't that I want Remy or Arlo to be better than me. What is better? How is the bond of a sibling measured? What degree of love can we place on a sibling pairing? What I do hope we can teach them, show them by example, and share with them, and am charged with as a caretaker, is how to be civil, respectful, peaceful, mindful, accepting, empathetic, understanding and loving, and not just towards each other because they are family, but to other people because we are human. So, raising siblings, maybe, is not, or should not be a "thing," in as much as we are just here to raise decent human beings. It's what they do with those earliest lessons and the interpersonal communication and interactions they have with another, period.
So how can we do this? A brief Google search brought up this article , "Five Tips for Cultivating Sibling Friendships," from a blog called Supersisters, published on PBS Parents from 2010. In it, one of the tips suggested was to create opportunities for children to help each other, and not just the eldest child aiding you with the younger child/children, but also encouraging littles to create acts of kindness towards their elder siblings. This made me think of examples of how I have done this so far. Whenever I read something, I try to apply it to my own life. A moment from last night popped into my head. It was after dinner on the patio and we were making smores on the barbecue. The girls seemed a little too young for the mushy marshmallow mess, so instead they gravitated to the individual items. Tasting a marshmallow, nibbling a cracker and they really LOVED the, "Chock-et," as Arlo calls it. So I was breaking pieces of chocolate off and I asked Arlo to hand Remy one of the two pieces. She waltzed over, "Hee y'go.." Usually I pipe in, "What do you say?!" I am trying to be more silent and let them practice the manners instilled so far. So I waited. Remy looked at Arlo and said, "Thank you!"
This may not seem blog worthy, but it is! This is the beginnings. This is communication exchange between two siblings. Sharing the last two pieces of chocolate, anything for that matter, at this age is as big an issue as sharing the family car on date night down the road when they are teens. Looking for little tiny moments to teach little people how to split resources, give something good to another because it makes the other feel good which in turn should make you happy, is what I can do as a childhood development professional. Handing a 22 month old two sweet Hershey's rectangles, and entrusting her to give one to her sister is a BIG deal, for that 22 month old and for that three year old waiting at the other end of the patio.
I am not one to dwell in the past or revisit and fixate on how I was raised and what we did or didn't do in our family growing up. It's there. All there. The memories, the feelings, the past is there. And there it will be. For me, we draw on our own experiences and can only build upon that, shape it, mold it into what we see to be more ideal. It doesn't have to be about making it "better," "stronger." My mother instilled these same principles mentioned above in me, the manifestation and display of these things can be different, and that's okay. The bonds between siblings are deeply personal, and perhaps don't need to be defined or explained, they're just there. While some siblings might peacock their affection, other sibling sets may in fact share that same deep love and connection but it remains subdued, private, and some might even think non-existent.
I don't expect Remy to be best friends with Arlo, although of course that would be lovely, but I expect them to be civil, respectful, peaceful, mindful, accepting, empathetic, understanding and loving towards each other, as well as to others. Do they need to share a secret language, paint each others' nails, share clothes and speak to each other every day? No. Do I hope that when they are older and have children and one is having such a tough mom day that she calls the other out of the blue, crying, screaming, breaking down emotionally, that the other drops everything and drives across town, during rush hour, when she is afraid of driving on major roads to begin with just to be with her because she knows she needs someone to be with? Yes. Raising siblings to me doesn't mean that they just learn to happily borrow each other's shoes, but that they know how to walk in them too.
Here are some photos we took on our walk around our neighborhood after dinner the other night. I set out to take current "portraits" of the girls for framing. Another aspect of siblings, the second usually does get less wall space! It's taken me almost two years to get an enlarged print in the hallway frame! This mini photo shoot was me rectifying that. I loved the light and these are some of my favorite photos of them. Remy kept grabbing Arlo to hug her and pose with her and Arlo would whine and lean forward and try to run away. Also, I was trying to get photos primarily of Arlo and Remy kept photo bombing the shots and trying to get in the frame so i had to block her with my body and keep her back and then she'd go off and pout which made me feel terrible... We met Bailey the Beagle on his walk, checked out a huge, yellow fire hydrant, and ended at the playground at the elementary school. Memories I want to keep.