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Things have been pretty darn quiet around our house the last few days. Our son has been off on a school trip to Yosemite, so our daughter is living the life of an only child.

What a relief!

Don’t get me wrong: I adore both of my kids. I couldn’t imagine life without either of them. I’m glad I have them both.

But the truth is, the only extended period of time in which they got along really well was when she was a baby. And not just a baby but that tiny, sweet baby who didn’t yet know how to make her big brother cry. As soon as she figured that out, well, the merry-go-round started to turn.

This is not to say that they never get along. There are some activities they do really well together: They love to go down into the woods to their “fort” and hang out there… as long as my son doesn’t start criticizing his sister for how she pronounces a word. They like to play Minecraft together… as long as my daughter’s avatar doesn’t decide to beat up my son’s avatar with a pick-axe. They like to exchange weird e-mail… as long as my son doesn’t criticize her use of weird fonts and as long as my daughter doesn’t send him more and more e-mails that just contain the word “poopie” copied and pasted hundreds of times. They like to play games together… until one of them has to win.

So you see how it goes: They know each other’s buttons well. They push those buttons. Then they give the button-pusher the satisfaction of retaliation. And so the merry-go-round goes round.


Gratuitous new puppy photo. The puppy and the big girl played so hard they just had to go to sleep!

I grew up in a large family, and in many ways my kids’ interactions are not that different from ones I remember from childhood. The big difference is that they have only each other. When one of my siblings got sick of another, we had others to play or fight with. Sometimes when we were feeling especially anti-social, we’d move down into the basement with the spiders!

But my kids can’t get away from each other. Even when my son was in school, they seemed intent on butting heads whenever possible.

The reality of it is that at some point, they will have to detach.

My son will learn that he will never, ever make his sister perfect. Or, conversely, he will realize that she is perfect (as much as any human is), so he should just stop trying to change her.

My daughter will learn that when you poke people they react. Her brother is not a stuffed animal, a dartboard, or a tree she can climb. She cannot rule the world through force of will alone.

Both kids will realize what most governments still can’t get a handle on: reacting to injustice with more injustice just ramps it up. The day one child makes the decision to rise above, not to react anymore to the petty hurts that the other inflicts throughout the day, is the day our house will become more peaceful.

That’s the theory, at least!

Of course, this is all talk. Action is much harder. So occasional, enforced vacations like this one are good for us all. My daughter can come to me for companionship, but I’m never going to be as good as the boy who goes into the forest to help her build a fort. My son can come to me seeking justice, but he’s never going to find me in his Mindcraft world, building a structure for him that says “I love you” in actions if not words. Their friends are there for them, of course, but friends come and go.

Siblings are irreplaceable. So get on that merry-go-round, kids, and play nice… or at least as nice as my siblings and I played, when we weren’t slamming each other’s fingers in the door.

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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