When my daughter was four, she begged and pleaded for us to give her a brother. We weren’t planning on having another child, we were even toying with the idea that maybe one child would be enough. My husband had just started his own business, and I was due to be promoted within the next few months making me one of the lead editors on a new program. On top of all that, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the very long tunnel known as “paying for others to watch our child”—just over a year left until kindergarten. Although it was sweet that she wanted a brother [NOTE: She did not want a sister. She had informed us that we already had one of those and we didn’t need another one], it was not in our plan. So, when we found out a few months later that we were indeed pregnant, we jokingly told her that she had wished him into existence.
Nearly seven years later, I believe she loves her brother as much today as she did when she wished for him as a small child. There are times that I also believe she may even think he owes his existence to her—and should therefore do everything she says. Most of the time, what she tells him to do, in fact, comes from a place of worry and love for him.
Not unlike a parent.
She yells at him if she thinks he’ll get hurt when we are crossing the street. She corrects him when he mistakenly uses the wrong word in a sentence, and she teaches him the correct pronunciation of words he finds difficult to pronounce. She yells at him when he does taekwondo kicks while walking down the street, in part because she is embarrassed, but also for fear that people may think that he’s odd. And at times, she is my echo, repeating every “no” or “stop it” I tell him, chiming in to somehow strengthen my point of view.
The problem with this is that my son does not want two mothers.
Each correction, raised voice, accusation to “stop it” or “don’t do that,” causes him to react with complete and total outrage—screaming, yelling, and threatening her with bodily harm. As their mother, it often feels like I am living in the middle of a war zone and I am meant to be the peacekeeper. In the end, at a loss for how to stop the fighting, I dole out punishments—somewhat arbitrarily—as I am unwilling to listen to the who-did-what-to-who’s.
I had always prided myself for trying to see life through my daughter’s eyes, especially when I struggled to understand her behavior or attitude. Up until last year, I don’t think I ever truly did this with my son. Depending on how their arguments started, I would often tell him to 1) ignore her; 2) not take everything she says so seriously; 3) understand that she loves him and that she’s just trying to help him. He would reject all of my rational justifications for her behavior, and his anger would turn into tears, while stating the unthinkable words “I hate her!” These words—words that were banned in our home—would sting like a slap in the face. No matter how I much I tried to nurture their relationship, I was failing.
Then one day—after a particularly terrible fight between the two of them—I suddenly found myself remembering what it was to be a child with an older sister. Unlike my children who are nearly five years apart, my sister is only 15 months older than me. When I was young, I remember looking to her as if she were the keeper of all the answers to my every question. As I grew, I remember wanting to be like her—and even more than that—I remember wanting her to love me, to like me, to think she was lucky to have me as her sister. But as children, this was not meant to be. Her every word or opinion about me—the music I listened to, the friends I had, the clothes I wore—left me feeling that I somehow wasn’t good enough. There were times I even felt ashamed to be myself in front of her for fear that I would be ridiculed for it. It would take us many years to mend the relationship that was so damaged when we were children. More than anything, I want to prevent my children from hurting one another so deeply that their relationship may be fractured as adults.
Looking back, it’s possible that my sister’s only intention was to help me find my way in the world—just as I know my daughter is trying to do for her brother. More importantly, I now know that this isn’t her job. My advice to my daughter is this: in order for her brother to grow up to be a confident young man, he needs his sister to show him the way through her actions—not her words. No matter her intentions, he needs to feel that she sees him—and loves him—for who he is, mispronunciations and all. My advice to my son is to know—even when his sister inevitably corrects him or gives him unwanted advice—that she loves him more than anyone else in her life. And, he should always remember that it was she who wished for him, and that she has always been thankful that he has come into her life.