Having experienced sibling rivalry herself while growing up, our writer, Aimee Dawis, Ph.D, learns what it’s like from the perspective of a parent, and how to sort it out.
Coming from a family of five children, I am no stranger to sibling rivalry. My sister, who is only a year younger than me, has always excelled in school. Her success in virtually all of her academic subjects and extra-curricular activities was rather intimidating for an older sister who was struggling with Mathematics. Being so close in age, we were constantly fighting – almost on a daily basis!
When I was ten years old, my parents decided to send me to Singapore. I spent my formative years with my grandmother and blossomed under Singapore’s educational system. I cultivated a love for the English language during the eight years I spent there. At the end of my education in Singapore, I managed to earn high honours in English and humanities, as well as honours in Mathematics.
As I look back on my years in Singapore, I realise that absence does make the heart grow fonder. My sister and I grew closer through letters and phone calls. We only saw each other when I returned to Jakarta during my school vacations, so we knew better than to quarrel during the precious time we spent together.
History Repeats Itself
Now a mother of two girls − Putri, 11 years, and Hillary, five, I often witness how my daughters fight and make up. An only child for most of her preschool years, Putri often voiced her loneliness. She asked for a sibling, preferably a younger sister. Her wish came true when Hillary arrived.
However, when the initial novelty of having a baby sister wore off, the usually sensible Putri started throwing tantrums. She realised that she had to share some of the spotlight with a newcomer and became unhappy as a result. Bewildered, my husband and I consulted our own parents. Other than my sister, I also have three brothers, whereas my husband is the seventh of nine siblings. Our parents were thus the best people we could turn to for advice.
After they listened − with some amusement − to our stories about Putri and her jealousy of her baby sister, our parents told us to put aside some time for just Putri. As I was busy with Hillary during my confinement, my husband took Putri to play at the park or spent quiet moments watching television together. He also attended her school performance. In retrospect, my husband’s willingness to spend more time with our older daughter managed to calm her down. He also strengthened his own bond with her during the special father-daughter time that they shared.
As both girls grow up, it never ceases to amaze me how they can find ways to argue over a trivial matter such as snacks or toys! Thankfully, most of the squabbles are resolved quickly and the girls usually forget about their little ‘incidents’ by the following day. At times, however, Putri would resent the fact that she should give in to her little sister. For example, she could not understand why she had to wait her turn when it came to the TV. For a girl on the cusp of adolescence, the television channels that she wanted to watch were different from the programmes that Hillary enjoyed watching on Disney Junior.
Pointing to her heavy schoolwork load and the need to relax in-between homework and many assessment papers, she demanded to watch the television when she came home, even though her younger sister was there first. Putri was upset that her younger sister was lounging on the sofa, watching her favourite programmes.
My husband and I explained to her that Hillary needed to learn and understand the concept of taking turns. Therefore, we could not allow her – the older sister – to barge in and change the channels right away. Grudgingly, Putri agreed to wait her turn. On the other hand, we made sure that Hillary informed her sister when she had finished her television programme.
Despite their little tiffs, I am always deeply heartened to see how little Hillary looks up to her older sister. Fortunately, Putri is a wonderful role model. She is a brilliant student who excels academically in and outside of school. She also plays the piano and violin. Whenever Putri gets out her school work, Hillary, always wanting to be like her older sister, will also pull out her own books and start scribbling letters of the alphabet, reciting numbers or colouring. Putri also adores her little sister and comforts her when Hillary has a little cut or is frightened during thunderstorms.
As parents, we should treasure the moments when our children interact with their siblings. As far as possible, avoid practising favouritism. Each child blooms differently at distinct stages. No two persons are alike and we should not expect our children to mirror one another.
As for my sister and I, we often share parenting tips with each other as we have become parents ourselves. I firmly believe that siblings can become best friends for life. That is why we should always teach our children to always honour and love their sisters and brothers.
The writer taught communication studies, newspaper and organizational writing while pursuing her degrees at Cornell University and New York University. Currently teaching Communications, English and writing at the University of Indonesia and other institutions, she is also the author of The Chinese of Indonesia and Their Search for Identity and Portraits of Inspiring Chinese-Indonesian Women.
This article was first published in Nasional Montessori Gazette, Fourth Edition (May 2016), Jakarta, Indonesia.