One boy, one girl. Sounds like the perfect little family. My two children aged three and 13 months are just starting to understand what it means to have a sibling. Companionship, love, trust, a friend for life are all things that, as a father, you hope your children will share. The thing is though, no-one has explained this to them. They are in the middle of the rivalry, competition and jealousy phase. But slowly but surely, they are figuring it out for themselves.
Their first phase of interaction was marked by confusion and horror from Arun. He had been king of the castle for as long as he could remember and was bemused and hurt when Mummy and Daddy brought home this alien creature into his life. One of his favourite songs is “Girl from Mars” by Ash. I am sure that he thinks this song is about his little sister. His initial reaction was to accept that his mother needed to spend a lot of time with this new interloper but to guard my attention jealously. I remember one occasion when Meri was about two weeks old and the four of us were in our bed enjoying a Saturday morning lie in. I reached across and picked up Meri to give her a hug. I caught the look on Arun’s face: he was bereft. His eyes were wide open in shock and his lip was quivering in despair. “I am lost! Abandon all hope!” his expression said.
However, he soon came to understand that she was here to stay and not (as I am sure he had initially hoped) a mere visitor. She on the other hand did what little sisters do and adored her older brother. Every time Arun played with a new toy, Meri would want to join in. Every time he left the room, Meri would want to come. For his part, he tolerated her at best. He saw her as an inevitable, if annoying, addition to his world. As she tried to engage with him, he would studiously ignore her attentions and simply move onto the next thing. She would follow him around like a loyal lapdog, desperate for his attention and approval.
Next has come the rivalry. Meri is developing at a prodigious rate and is catching Arun up in all she is doing. So, very often they are looking to play with the same toys and read the same books. If Arun wants a hug, then Meri wants a hug. This leads to some conflict and commonly used phrases in our lounge are: “Play nicely together!”; “Don’t snatch!” and “Share!”
Finally we are seeing the green shoots of the next phase – friendship. Yesterday Arun got a proper telling off for bad behaviour. As he lay on the floor to grizzle and complain, his sister crawled over to him and with genuine tenderness looked at him and started patting him on the chest to comfort him. In reverse, after one of their more severe spats during which I had to use all three of the famous phrases above, Arun went over to Meri and gave a little hug to show contrition. My Victorian Dad persona dissolved and was replaced with a glow of pride and affection.
Having brothers or sisters must seem like a mixed blessing at times. I am delighted that my children are going through the journey of life together and doing all the normal things because squabbling, jealousy and rivalry are the flip side of companionship, trust and love. As I sometimes say to them, they have to love each other because Mummy and Daddy won’t always be there. They have to learn to be there for each other.