Sibling Rivalry

Two little girls sat in a gravel alleyway in Pärnu throwing rocks at each other. “You stole my babies!” one yelled at the other. “No, you stole my babies!” the other one fired back, pelting her sister with stones.

The “babies” were actually little rocks. For a good twenty minutes they had played peacefully, naming their “babies” who shared a home together on an old brick. “This one’s name is Maria!” six-year-old Marta held up a tiny blue stone. “This one’s name is Villem!” announced three-year-old Anna. It was a sunny day, the sky a dream-like blue. What could go wrong? At some point, though, someone took “Baby Maria” or “Baby Villem” over to the wrong side of the pile. And that’s when the war began.

I never thought little girls could fight so fiercely. When my daughters start battling though, there are no boundaries. Long-legged Marta naturally brings her feet to her defenses, kicking at her sister’s face. Rolypoly Anna reciprocates by using her sturdy strength. Rather than kick from afar like Marta, Anna goes straight for her sister’s hair. By the time I wade in to stop a conflict, both are usually crying. “Anna pulled my hair!” Marta will whimper. “Marta kicked me,” Anna will whine. I try to console them equally, holding Marta in my left arm, Anna in my right.

“Girls, you should be nice to each other,” I adopt my most fatherly tone. “Not every girl gets a sister. It’s a special honor.” But even as I hug them, Marta will manage to get one of her feet back into Anna’s face, and Anna will grab a lock of Marta’s hair and pull. “Let go,” Marta will growl. “He’s my daddy!” “No, no!” Anna yelps back. “He’s MY daddy.” Anna will tug harder. Marta will kick again. And me? Worn down by the two little beasts, I inevitably collapse on the ground, my two offspring writhing and rolling and kicking and punching and crying all over me.

To me, my daughters’ rivalry is a mystery. My kids have the same parents. They live in the same home and so, arguably, are the products of the same environment. You would think that would make them somehow equal: equally parented, equally fed, equally clothed, equally entertained, equally bathed, and, ultimately, equally loved. And yet, they fight over everything: what clothes to wear, what food to eat, what movie to watch: even in a gravel driveway in Pärnu, they managed to fight over rocks.

What is the solution? How do I stop my kids from trying to kill each other? There is some modern idea that if we read enough self help books, if we go to enough counselors, we can somehow eradicate every problem in existence, including sibling rivalry.There are plenty of self-help books out there, no doubt written by experienced psychologists who have done loads of studies and all of which I am sure would be helpful to read if I didn’t have two children to pull apart every day.

I have asked Estonian dads for advice, but their answers haven’t been encouraging. “They are fighting all the time,” I lamented to Jüri, a father of three young men. “And they will keep on fighting for the rest of their lives,” he answered, puffing quietly at his pipe. “They will still be fighting long after you and I are gone.” Rein, a father of two grown women, offered a similarly bleak forecast. “Kids” he grunted, “are only good when they sleep.”

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