With two toddlers in one home, I struggle with deciding when to intervene and mediate the fights between my sons and when to let them work things out--usually with lots of screaming involved.
So many moments between my sons remind me of moments my younger sister and I shared. I'm fascinated by how sibling rivalry so often takes the same shape, but in different families.
My sister is four and a half years younger than me. When we were school age, my room was the only room in the house with pink carpet. To protect my domain from the sticky fingers of my younger sibling, I declared a "pink carpet rule:" she was allowed to be anywhere in the house without pink carpet.
She was the typical younger sister: always eager to do what I was doing and incredibly skilled at finding the best ways to irritate me.
And I was the typical older sister: alternating between trying to ignore her high pitched voice and feeling jealous of the extra attention she got.
But from this chaos of childhood bickering, I've gleaned some insights on how to parent siblings.
Now that my youngest son is walking, he uses his new motor skills to knock down block towers his older brother builds. He always gets that gleam of delight in his eye before they come crashing to the ground, eager for his brother's enraged reaction.
Any reaction from his brother is enough reaction for him, because it means contact; it represents a form of communication between them. Even if that communication is screaming.
So I've taken to putting my oldest in his room and putting a baby gate across the open doorway to keep the youngest out of his brother's room. My oldest can build block towers without having them knocked down and the youngest can still waddle up to the gate and see his brother, though at a distance. While sharing is an important skill to teach children, it's unrealistic to ask that they never have something of their own to enjoy just for themselves.
Turns out, even though my childish pink carpet rule was born of envy and overzealous protection of my space, it wasn't a completely bad instinct. Often, my sister would settle right outside the line of the pink carpet and play barbies while I listened to music in my room. And as we each were busy in our separate activity we'd talk about our days and what we thought about everything that had recently happened to us. The line between us gave us the space we needed to bond. And to this day she's the person I still most want to talk to, crossing over the thresholds of our homes to share our experiences.
My sons aren't there yet. The oldest sometimes acts like he wishes his younger brother didn't exist, ignoring him with a deft turn of the face. The youngest throws toys over the baby gate in an attempt to rile his brother. So for my sons, maybe the boundary between them isn't bonding for them yet. Maybe it's still more about separation and keeping the peace. But someday, there will be less toy throwing and more talking, the kind of talk only brothers can have.