Earlier this morning, my children were at it again – screaming at the top of their lungs and fighting over something completely mundane, such as a cushion.
This wasn’t a one-off. My children fight and argue countless times a day. If there isn’t a valid reason to argue, they’ll create one – the best so far was an argument over which patch of grass to sit on in the garden. It lasted over an hour.
My son, Alex, is nine and my daughter, Adriana, is four. While I’ll admit the age gap might play a part, I also think it’s personality. They’re both stubborn, want to win, hate losing and hate not being the centre of attention.
On one occasion, Alex did very well in a school test.
“You did brilliantly! You’re so clever!” I said, wrapping him in my arms.
A furious little person with a face like thunder stepped forward.
“And what about me?” Adriana hissed. “Am I not clever too?”
To say we suffer from a little sibling rivalry in our household is putting it lightly. We need two sets of everything – from Lego to a plate of biscuits – otherwise World War 3 will break out. It’s stressful, and not a day goes by that I don’t berate myself and wonder whether I’ve done something wrong.
They seem to loathe each other. I always thought brothers and sisters would love each other and be there for each other
I sometimes gaze with wonder at other people’s children as they hold hands, push each other on swings and share toys. I have to resist the urge to march over, drag the mother aside and ask: “Please, please tell me your secret.”
Adverts and TV programmes don’t help. Children’s channels often show siblings getting along, playing together and looking after each other.
Then I’ll look at my two, rolling around on the floor and yelling.
“Life definitely doesn’t mirror art in this house,” I mutter daily.
One evening, after a particularly difficult day which ended with my kids threatening violence to each other over a single piece of yellow Lego, I collapsed, exhausted on the sofa, head in hands.
“We’re doing something wrong,” I said to my husband, Cornel. “They seem to loathe each other. I always thought brothers and sisters would love each other and be there for each other. They’d fight to the death over a bread stick.”
Cornel simply shrugged. He’s an only child so he doesn’t get it. He had no screaming, no blazing rows, to competition over food, toys or the TV remote.
“I sometimes felt I missed something not having a sibling,” he said, putting his fingers in his ears. “Now, I feel quite lucky.”
Had I done something wrong in raising my kids?
I have a sister, but never remembered us having these kinds of blazing rows and screeching sessions. In fact, although my sister and I too have a five-year age-gap, we became thick as thieves once both in our teens and have been close ever since.
I began to blame myself.
Had I done something wrong in raising my kids?
Should I have been firmer? Should I have had them closer together? Should I call in the United Nations?
What if they continue this way all their lives? Will they never be close? Never have Christmases together or support each other when I’m long gone?
Then the other day I was reading up on sibling rivalry when I found a study which surprised me. Research done by the University of Cambridge found that, rather than being bad for children and families, sibling rivalry is actually good for them.
It said sibling rivalry, arguing and fighting teaches children invaluable social skills, vocabulary and emotional development. It also found that far from denting kids’ self-esteem, competitiveness makes the second child more popular and successful in later life.
In a nutshell, instead of being bad for children, sibling rivalry is a positive thing, teaching them great skills for life.
I almost wept with sheer relief. As I stopped reading and heard the yells from upstairs as my children had yet another blazing row, I automatically stood up, ready to run upstairs, separate them and tell them to stop.
The screeches continued but I simply ignored them
But then I hesitated. I remembered the study. And instead of going upstairs to negotiate a peace process, I calmly walked into the kitchen, closed the doors and made myself a cup of tea.
The screeches continued but I simply ignored them.
It felt liberating.
Of course, since then my children have argued hundreds of times. It’s not always easy to stand back. And in the more hysterical, verging-on-violent episodes, I do step in to separate them.
Adriana’s been known to throw things at Alex with the chilling accuracy of Oddjob, the James Bond villain (the one who used to throw his razor-sharp bowler hat to assassinate enemies). So sometimes intervention is necessary.
My children are even learning another new important skill – the ability to solve the argument between themselves
But, most of the time, I’m learning to let them fight it out. And do you know something?
The arguments do eventually end and fizzle out. In fact, without me getting involved and adding to the heightened tensions by screaming at them to stop, my children are even learning another new important skill – the ability to solve the argument between themselves.
Just a few evenings ago, I was listening in at the door upstairs after another argument and heard Alex say: “Let’s stop this now.”
And another little voice said: “All right, then.”
So tonight, as my kids wrestle over the last piece of crusty bread at the dinner table, or race each other to the bathroom to get there first, or yell over lost Lego, I shall bite my lip and walk away.
After all, their fights, shouting and rivalry are actually good for them.