Sometimes sibling rivalry changes and puts a smile on parents’ faces. That’s what’s happening for me today as my eldest takes my youngest to the Tower of London. It’s their first really big day out together, larger than a shopping expedition, to see the crown jewels.
My biggest fear is that one might want to leave the other in the Tower. This isn’t the odd hour or two, but a train ride into London, long queues, masses of opportunities to annoy and /or lose each other. But this is what Julie suggests in this week’s podcast: a big shared experience which challenges them and can bring them closer as siblings.
One day they will be the links to a significant part of each other’s lives – their childhood. Each of them will know what it was like to be in our particular family, with our particular family’s peculiarities, curious ways and individual members. Maybe this knowledge can be generalised, but every family is slightly different in its own way. These sibling memories can only be shared with each other.
Maybe this will make them closer one day, as maturity sets in. When silly squabbles about this, that or the other become just memories of them each trying to get one up on the other. When they were vying to be number one. I remember it this way with my sister.
Sometimes we could argue like the best of them, but as we’ve grown I’ve grown to really value her and really love her. And now, as our parents are both growing older, we talk about them in different ways. They are no longer the grownup referees between us , they are people we care for, but people who don’t always understand that actually we are now grownups too. This is what my sister and I share now; the frustration and humour of the situation.
Now I realise that my sister is better at many things than me. She may have started in the same place as me, but she sees the world differently. When I pause to reflect I understand that often there’s more merit to her view than mine, especially in matters where emotional intelligence is required. I trust her.
Perhaps the shared experiences I remember as a child that brought us together weren’t as I’d hope. Our parents arguing upstairs; downstairs my sister and I overhearing. As the oldest she told me to do something about it. The best I could think of was try to interrupt things with, ‘Mum, what’s for tea?’ All parents argue. All children worry when the parents argue, because they’re meant to be the solid rocks behind their young lives. And when things were patched up, my sister and I went on with our lives, doing as children do – arguing and thinking of themselves.
I don’t know whether it’s harder for brother/sister siblings to share experiences as siblings of the same sex. Certainly my sister and I didn’t go out together with friends and didn’t talk about things like boyfriends/girlfriends. But I would like to think that in the outbreaks of peace and love between siblings some really valuable memories were banked.
If my sister and I will one day be chief mourners at our parents’ funerals, our children will also be without us one day. Then I would rest better in the knowledge that they love each other, and would look out for each other, even if they don’t live in one another’s pockets.
Perhaps the need for this knowledge increases if one of your children has additional needs. It isn’t that I expect my eldest to look after my youngest, it’s more that I hope there’s enough love and liking between them to want to spend time in each other’s company. Maybe they won’t be best friends as some sisters are because they will always be in different places in their lives, but the one thing for sure is life always throws some hardships, some heartaches, in everyone’s way, and I would love to think they would be there for one another to support each other.
Part of that is to build trust, liking and friendship between them, over and above love that they naturally feel towards each other. This comes partly from doing things together without guidance from parents. I hope today my children have a really good time, laugh over an ice-cream, and possibly make the odd joke at us parents’ expense. Perhaps what would be best is if they think of this day in forty years, and say, ‘Do you remember that time we went to the Tower of London, just me and you, no parents – what a great day!’