Zwambag: My rival, my friend

The Motherload

Our kids only have 20 months between them in age. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not much. And it definitely has its benefits.

Infancy with my son was a challenge for many reasons. My daughter was really too young to understand what was happening when we brought him home, so the transition period was far more difficult than it would have been had she been even the age she is now. They were both so little that leaving the house was a problem because they both needed to be carried and heavily attended to, and this mama only has two hands. My daughter wanted to help and snuggle the baby, but she was very limited in what she was able (and allowed) to do. This ended up manifesting with things like my son being covered in stickers after I took two minutes to pee, with them unattended in the living room.

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That being said, I am so glad we endured the challenging infancy to get where we are now.

Now that he’s older and walking, talking, learning and coming up with all sorts of ways to keep me on my toes, he has become a great playmate for my daughter.

Absolutely nothing in the world beats the feeling I get when I hear two little giggles coming from one of the bedrooms down the hall as they play together. They love to race cars together or chase each other around the house. She reads him books and shows him how to do things he hasn’t learned yet, like completing a new puzzle. She makes burp noises that causes him to howl with laughter, and he does most the things she tells him too (which, in case it’s not obvious, is awesome in her book).

But as awesome as the giggles are, they usually come to an abrupt end and are replaced by yelling, screaming, crying and sometimes even a shove for good measure.

Sibling rivalry, oh, how I hoped you’d just stay away.

I have an older brother. We’re friends now, but growing up? Well, I kind of hated him. I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual. He picked on me. I actually have a distinct memory of him putting a beanbag chair over my head and sitting on it at one point. He wasn’t allowed to sit in the back seat of the van because he would annoy me to the point of my parents wanting to abandon us on the side of the road. We actually had a fight over pushing a shopping cart one day that resulted in a tipped cart, smashed eggs, bruised fruit and a rather explosive jug of milk. I’m pretty sure my mom could have killed us that day.

I don’t really know what his memories are, but I imagine I’m the typical annoying little sister in them. I was also a hormonal teenager that gave him quite a lesson in women from the stories I’ve heard.

Either way, the struggle was real. Our sibling rivalry was intense and it prevented us from really having any good memories of each other in childhood. We get along well now as adults, but I always wonder what it would have been like to have a sibling who I was friends with as a child.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot more lately as I watch the love-hate relationship my kids seem to be developing with each other.

How do I create a dynamic in which they’re allowed to feel what they feel, but they also have a hope of getting along on a more regular basis?

What we’ve decided is pretty simple. We have one rule for them and one rule for us.

For them, they don’t have to be friends, but they DO have to respect each other.

It just never works when you try to force someone to be friends. Especially if their personalities don’t happen to jive. My son and daughter are VERY different from one another and I’m afraid their personalities may cause some barriers in getting along. Already, I see my daughter’s organized, A-type way of doing things fully at odds with my son’s chaos king ways.

So when my daughter doesn’t like the way my son chooses to play with the fridge magnets, we simply explain to her that not everyone plays with things the same way she chooses to and direct her to the other side of the fridge. When my son gets frustrated because he can’t climb something that his sister can, we get excited and show him how to cheer for her rather than scream in her direction when she leaves him behind.

For us, the rule is simple: Don’t get involved.

Every time they have a fight and they come running to us, they are asking us to pick sides. I won’t do it. I won’t feed in to a rivalry I don’t want. I won’t give them attention for a fight that they can resolve.

Siblings are often our first difficult relationships. As much as we love them, we are often just at odds with them. Siblings teach us about life. They teach us about how to deal with challenges in relationships, about compassion and kindness, about conflict resolution and about embracing our differences. I feel like keeping my hands out of this cookie jar and allowing them to find their own boundaries in their relationship is the best way to actually encourage friendship. 

Friendships are born of choice. So, the first step in getting my kids to be friends has got to be giving them one.

All I can do is hope they choose each other.


Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.

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