By Guest Blogger Clare Jordan
A friend recently asked me how our twins get along together so well. I’ve often said that for two people who’ve spent almost every waking hour of their 17 years together, they do remarkably well.
But there is really a lot more to it.
Thinking beyond our twins, I am grateful every day to see how much each of our four children genuinely like each other. It makes me wonder, is this normal? Sibling relationships can be tricky, with so many dynamics at play, we don’t always like our brothers and sisters, even if we may still love them at heart.
So how did this happen? Why do our children actually LIKE each other?
Disclaimer: I have zero expertise in child development other than my own experience, so that is all that is shared below – one person’s good experience. Take it for what it’s worth to you, and I hope you find it helpful:
I remember telling a friend when Katie-Gray was born that I wouldn’t know how to be a good mother because I’m not good with kids. My friend wisely reminded me that I wasn’t going to have a “kid” right away; I was having a baby, and I loved babies and knew what to do with them, so I would learn to love older children as she grew into one as well.
It still holds true that for the most part, we don’t know what we are doing with our first child. They are our parenthood experiments.
She was a good experiment. I found a few hard rules to live by, and these have met with success for Katie-Gray who is now 21 and about to graduate cum laude from the College of Design at N.C. State, her #1 college choice. Followed for the most part, I think these rules helped raise children who like each other, and who are good friends to others as well:
- Be kind. All the children know this is the top and most basic rule of our home. You will do well in life to be kind to one another and all who you know. These two words hung on a sign by the playground in our back yard, and settled many disputes. Kindness begets kindness, and our children learned from this that being kind to each other made them like each other more.
- Treat others as you want to be treated. In arguments, speak as you want to be spoken to. In making decisions, consider the feelings of others. Show hospitality to your guests. These simple concepts are hard to teach to young children who don’t yet understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but it is our job as parents to create good citizens, those that recognize a world wherein they have opportunities to treat everyone they meet as well as they themselves expect to be treated. Our children see the way we treat the waitress as much as the respect we show their principal. They know the angry parent who yells at the coach, and they naturally respond with each other given what they see from us as parents. It is this kind of “love thy neighbor” in action at home that inspires children who love (and like) each other.
- Do your best. When told there was no such thing as “doing your best” by my 9th grade guidance counselor, I was dismayed. The first-born pleaser in me thought I always did my best. He said, there is always something more that could be done. Recognizing that we want to try and do our best, but that there are always ways we could improve is a good life lesson to raise children who work hard and who care. And children who care tend to have high standards for themselves as well as for those around them. I hope that what they expect of each other makes them like each other more too.
- Stay calm. Not over-reacting can save many situations, and keep friendships strong. A calm tone of voice and reassuring nature in raising children allowed me to give short reasons rather than drawn-out explanations so that we kept clear understandings and didn’t unnecessarily upset each other. Living in a home where calm heads prevail helps children have more confidence in their own abilities to manage good relationships, including among each other as siblings.
- Be reliable. When you say you will do something as a parent, children need to depend on you. The same holds true for their relationships with each other and with friends and future teachers, teammates, colleagues, etc. Be there and be a good, dependable person. Consistency in punishments, boundaries and expectations has helped our children know what to expect and to count on each other to be reliable siblings as well.
With these (and more) “rules to live by,” Katie-Gray has always fallen into that typical first-born leader role, and fortunately, her siblings seem to respect and truly like her. They will at times call her for advice before calling me, which I see as the highest compliment to having raised the kind of children we want.
Hattie and Sarah are 17, juniors in high school. Last night they were working on homework together, and even in their occasional disagreements, the one constant, obviously apparent in their relationship is good humor.
One sister may say to the other, “You are the worst!” Then they will both crack up laughing at each other as the other sister reminds her, “Don’t hate on me.” This is common around our house.
They keep each other in check without offending.
Observations are shared openly, absent feelings of personal attack.
They have similar life goals and temperaments, both striving to do well and also have a good time and enjoy life together and among others.
When the girls participated in “Girls on the Run” in elementary school, their coaches noticed the phenomenon of their sense of being a “unit,” and how it worked to draw others to them. “Where two or more are gathered,” really comes into play here in a nice way, as they are a natural set of two, of which others want to be a part. As children, therefore, they’ve always made friends easily, as they are by definition their own group, and kids all want to be a part of the group.
It should be pointed out too, that these girls make a GOOD group. They are generally happy, positive people; they are likeable. I think that, as siblings, they like each other foremost because they are likeable people. They have a good understanding of themselves as individuals and as sisters, and they agree about who they are and how they will (and will not) conduct themselves, even as teenagers, which can mean that friendships will change over time, but they remain close as a twin unit.
For the twins, and all of our children, the sort of “Golden Rule” I’ve often stated for them to live by is:
- Be the kind of person other people want to be around.
- Surround yourself with people who make you better.
The Blended-In Baby Boy
Jack was 10 when we got married. An only child, he joined a family of three girls, instantly gaining baby boy status.
Fred, his father, used to complain that the girls were hard on Jack. They would tell him to get his elbows off the table, tuck in his shirt, tie his shoes, and not eat with his hands. They would say things like, “You’re wearing that?!”
What Fred came to see over time, was that these comments, which could be taken as criticisms, were actually the most loving way for siblings to allow Jack to integrate into their world. The best complement they could offer was to have the comfort-level to treat Jack with them same sibling-relationship they had with each other.
Over time they have developed a genuine love for each other because they truly know and care about one another; not because we told them they had to. This is critical for blended families. We cannot force relationships, but can only do our part to nurture children who are loveable and loving people.
Overall, as parents, we have (unknowingly, for the most part) done a couple of things that may have led our children to be more likely to be and remain friendly with each other:
- We have always tried to treat them all fairly, which includes explaining to the children that, “fair does not always mean equal.”
- We have given our children the freedom to not be nice to each other all the time – sometimes they need to argue it out on their own, and we’ve tried to let them do that.
Finally, all of this occurs with the end goal in mind – our job as parents is to raise independent adults! I hope that also includes raising children who are and who become people who are likeable, and who we want to be around. Those are siblings who will like each other as well.