One thing that warms the heart of any parent is the opportunity to watch their children happily playing with each other.
For me, it’s a combination of joy as well as relief. Of late, the latter mostly, because that means I can finally take a break!
Sigh…caring for C is a constant roller-coaster, one I’ve blogged about before on numerous occasions. The delays in his development thanks to autism makes every day an even bigger challenge!
There are days I just wish I could disappear to some sunny deserted island, lie down on a swaying hammock between two coconut trees, sip ice tea through a long, slender straw, and allow the ocean breeze to lull me to sleep. Far away from the vicissitudes of life.
Oops! Sorry. Where was I again? Oh yes, my children at play with each other.
Such moments don’t come as often as they used to, but they do still give me opportunities to pause and reflect on my own progress. Progress in terms of accepting and “flowing” with C’s timeline of moods and mastery of daily living skills.
There was a time
More than two years ago, I wrote about a day at the playground that made me tear up. It was the sight of C struggling to complete a rope obstacle with his big brother encouraging and helping him from start to finish.
Fast forward to today and I am a little better now. When they play together and I see how J takes care of his little brother, I am able to relax as I sit by the sidelines watching them.
But it doesn’t mean the boys are necessarily bonding more and better now.
For one thing, they don’t play together as often as before. As J enters the teen years, his moods, needs, interests have changed quite a bit. Rare now are the moments he desires to be seen playing with small kids at playgrounds, even if the small kid is his younger brother C.
For another thing, this is a busy year for J as he sits for our country’s national examinations next month.
An important exam that’ll determine which secondary school he goes to next year, so understandably he’s been spending more time studying.
As his parents, my wife and I try not to add to the pressure he’s experiencing. But that also means we have to respect that he needs more time daily to hit the books, and thus spend less time playing with C.
C however continues to hold his big brother in high regard, preferring to play with him than us his parents. But the “distance” J unconsciously puts between them this season confuses C. So he ends up snapping more frequently now at his brother’s seeming “slight” of him, leading to daily mini-skirmishes between them.
Call it sibling rivalry or whatever, these moments can accumulate enough to drive this parent berserk!
Solution for sibling rivalry? Sibling solidarity
So like all wise parents, I go to Google for help! Haha…
Admittedly, many tips can be easily pulled out from the Internet. Tips like those I found here that list ideas like staying calm, planning more fun family times and treating each kid fairly (but not equally). All good and all helpful to some degree.
However, like many things in life, general principles of living well need to be specifically applied to unique situations in order to have any meaningful and lasting effect. And just because something works well this week, doesn’t mean it will the next.
For example, my wife plans outdoor times for the family as often as possible (during the pre-Covid days especially), but each time as the years pass, it’s become harder to get the kids to go out. Now that J’s a bona fide teenager, it’s an even more challenging endeavour.
And since C looks up to him, it’s a double whammy! Many’s the time my wife and I have had to literally threaten the withholding of privileges like TV and Internet screen times in order to gain compliance and get them to step out of the house.
Exhausting to say the least!
Yet we both know the way to reduce sibling rivalry and discord is to create moments and memories of them in free and joyous play. In order to strengthen their sibling relationship. To build sibling solidarity in the long term.
As we age and realise that the day will come when we’re no longer around to care for C, the burden of his continued care must inevitably fall on J. In order not for this monumental task to be seen so, it’s important we help J and C to be close.
I know all too well the ramifications otherwise. Of the four siblings I have, I’m only in close touch with one! Even then, we bicker every now and then, not seeing eye to eye on many an issue.
Building moments and memories
So for me and my wife, the journey must continue.
To find practical ways daily to infuse camaraderie between our sons so as the years pass, their paths don’t diverge beyond all hope of reconnecting.
– Going outdoors (even during these pandemic times) will continue to factor into our planning for contact time weekly, if not daily.
– Watching family-friendly films regularly to enjoy and talk about.
– Paying attention by listening to one another intentionally and lovingly. This must continue to be modelled well by us the parents. Beginning with deliberately shifting our bodies in each other’s direction to show we’re listening.
– Putting away those seductive mobile devices of our modern lives! (Unless of course it’s for something useful or meaningful like talking to each other when we’re miles apart)
– Noting down daily events and experiences that together we can appreciate and be thankful for. Actually we already do so, on a whiteboard chart in our living room for all to see.
– Taking more pictures. We used to when they were younger. We may need to again; then compile fun family albums at the end of the year to help us reminisce with fondness and familiarity.
Hopefully all these ways will help build moments and memories for us and the boys in these ensuing years.
And most importantly, build up their sibling solidarity!