A dear friend of mine just had her second child, and, as is already family lore, her older son gazed upon his new brother and welcomed him with a “No. No. No. No.” The mysteries of sibling relationships have been of particular interest to me, obviously, for the past, ohhhh almost 2 years I’d say. I recently met a grown brother and sister who were hanging out together, as they do every weekend, and I asked them their secret. They shrugged and said that their parents always told them it was important for them to be friends. Could it be that simple? Can you make your kids get along with each other?
Now, my children could not be more different in temperament. Every morning Ollie grabs his shoes and stands by the door and points and pleads, “Down!” The great loves of his life are going places, running, yelling, smashing things, kicking things, and trains and also trains. Harper’s favorite thing is to stay in her nightgown all day and to cry, when anyone goes near the door “I’m not going outside!” Left to her own devices, she prefers: sitting quietly and looking at books, sitting quietly and playing with paper dolls, sitting quietly and doing art projects. They do have some common ground in their shared love of jumping up and down, which I’m sure our downstairs neighbors find incredibly charming.
Just in case we have some say in the matter, ever since Ollie was born nary a fortnight after Harper’s second birthday, we have been waging a full-on assault of sibling-relationship information warfare. The thought is, if kids become what they are told, or even if any of it rubs off a tiny bit, might as well tell them over and over: “You are best friends. Brothers and sisters stick together. You are a team. Not only that, you are psyched to share a room. GO FAMILY!”
In this vein, we bombard them with the ruthlessness of communist USSR propogandists. I’m not talking about “there’s a new baby in the house” type books, most of which take a “and that’s a bummer” tack. I mean just nice models of nice siblings.
Harper still loves everything Charlie and Lola. (Saw the cartoon once, wasn’t terribly interested. But the books! Oh the books!) Siblings who share a room and are nice to each other. Check. Big sibling looks after little sibling. Check check. So we assign Charlie and Lola studies at least once a day.
The Magic Treehouse books, which I mentioned in my roundup of chapter books, features a non-squabbling brother/sister pair who goes on great adventures together. Perfect. I like to throw a little notebook in a backpack and tell Harper she and Ollie are Jack and Annie and goodbye, have fun with the dinosaurs.
Runners-up: Max and Ruby, though Ruby is a bit bossy if you ask me. But Max, with his non-verbal, grinning mischeviousness, is a pretty good stand in for our own baby brother character.
We’ve just discovered the Olive Us video series and are all pretty obsessed. These lovely, under-5-minute videos show an adorable family of 6 (!) siblings having sweet, wholesome fun together while wearing really cute clothes. Mountain picnics. Making cookies. Washing the car. The best.
Learning by Rote:
Adam brilliantly instituted a program called “The Adventures of Harper and Ollie on Earth.” This started off as a simple homemade binder to hold drawings we collaborate on, of adventures Harper and Ollie had, have, or may someday have, and has really taken off. Harper always wants to draw Harper and Ollie stories (sample quote: “Ollie! Get away! I want to draw a Harper and Ollie story!”), about, say, when they are grownups and live together in Manhattan, where it is fancy, and ride their scooters together to the café. Or else, when they go skydiving together, holding on to a rope that is taped to the sky. Now that she is starting to draw figures and faces herself this is even less work for us, and the result is a cuter-than-cute scrapbook of hypothetical sibling adventures dreamed up while one sibling was napping.
Any other happy sibling propaganda we should check out? We’re committed to making this life-long psychological experiment work. I’m pretty excited to meet them in Manhattan for lunch circa 2033.