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Rivalry Between Sisters

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
My 2 DSDs are with us for the summer. A is 13 1/2 and M is 11. DH an I also have a 5 month old son. Before they arrived I had visions of the fun things we would do this summer, the different learning experiences I would introduce them to, of bonding with them. I had anticipated they may be jealous of their new baby brother and I was very careful to give them attention and involve them. I brainstormed lots of ways to make the transition easier for them, such as regular alone time with their dad and occasionally time with me without their brother. However, I've found the jealousy has nothing to do with the new baby and everything to do with each other. The girls love their brother. They argue about who gets to hold him, change his diapers, pick out his clothes, etc. They also argue about everything else. It seems that they can't be in the same room without arguing. A says horribly cruel things to M. They resort to physical violence. A hit M while M was holding the baby. Another time they were arguing over whose turn it was to hold the baby and M forcefully shoved the baby at A. They've also resorted to throwing hard objects.

I am alone with them while DH is at work and I really value my time with them. I view it as an opportunity to help them sort through the emotions causing their rivalry. However, I'm at a loss as to how to help them. Ideally, I want to approach it from an Attachment Parent perspective. I don't view it as a step-parent/stepchild issue, really, as we generally have a great relationship. Meanwhile, the violence and constant rivalry (literally from the moment they wake up) takes every ounce of energy and patience I have. I've talked with them so many times on the importance of respect, not only respect of their elders (and their elders respect of them) but respecting each other. I apply natural consequences (during the days DH is at work) such as if there is any violence we are not going out to do the planned activity of the day because I won't take children who are hitting each other out in public. For the most part, the physical violence has calmed down--only to be replaced by verbally bashing each other and arguing.

I lack experience dealing with older children's issues. I know that with puberty comes lots of emotions, but I don't think they should be arguing to this extent. It's upsetting to the entire home. I've been so stressed that it affects me physically. I feel like I am a ball of nerves most days and I try to mask that to the extent possible. I'm used to maintaining a peaceful home. Violence is completely unacceptable to me. I cringe each time I hear them say mean things to each other, such as "M, You're stupid. You can't dance. You can't sing. You'll never be as good as me, so stop trying. You're evil and of the devil. I wish you were never born..."

Please give all the advice you can as to how DH and I can lovingly restore the positive energy in our home. How do we teach them to be respectful of each other's space, thoughts, feelings, interests? How do we show them they are each equally loved for their unique attributes and that they can share some of the same talents (such as a talent for singing or drawing). I tell them there is lots of room for many people to be talented and gifted in certain areas and that another person's talents or attributes don't take away from our own. How do we help them to learn to be supportive of each other as young women?

Advice and book recommendations are welcome. For what it's worth, their bio mom has been encountering the same difficulties with them and has expressed an interest in working together in co-parenting. I would love to have some attachment parenting ideas to bring to the table.

post #2 of 12
I wish I had answers. My older sister and I sounded much like this but it was that way long before puberty. It never really got better.

I used to HATE when people said it was just sibling rivalry. It belittled the emotions that were very real and the abuse which was just as real. We did family counseling, which did not help her, but really helped me. As it turns out, my sister is bipolar and it was not diagnosed until much later in life, after I left home.

I would definately acknowlege that the emotions are strong and someday they will have the freedom to choose whether to be near each other. If it is simply sibling rivalry, helping them find something to cooperate on or bond over might help. Best of luck!
post #3 of 12
That also sounds very similar to me and my sister when we were growing up; though we were never specific, as you quoted your girls as being...it was more of a general "I hate you!" kind of atmosphere for about, oh, 5 years. Till I left for college.

As MamaChicken related, my sister, too, is bipolar, but was not diagnosed till after I had left the house. Not that I'm saying that's the problem, esp. since it seems that both girls are "giving and getting" it equally.

The reason it is better for me and my sister now is that we are living individual lives 2000 miles apart. I know you only have the girls for the summer, but is there a chance for them to be apart from each other at least a few days a week? Friends to hang out with? I think middle school is such a tough age to be sisters that close in years, because you are both wanting very much to be "individuals" but you are lost without each other, too. Do they at least have separate bedrooms at your house: a place where each of them can go to be by herself? Middle school for me caused a need for some serious, solitary introspection!

I am glad that you have been able to stop the physical mean-ness, but yes: my sister and I would have verbal screeching matches that would put my mother in tears. And oooh: we were (are?) so competitive!!! It was ridiculous; still is. Would family counseling be an option for you all this summer? My parents started that with my sister after I had left for college, and I'm not sure how much it helped her, but it really helped my parents to deal with my sister's moods and actions in a much more final and positive way.

I wish I could help more...but I must admit that I am not much good for this, because my sister and I still have so many, many problems. I dearly wish that we all would have gone to counseling as a family, or even just sent me and my sister for sibling counseling! I think it would have helped a lot.
post #4 of 12
Do you have the money and opportunity to enroll them in classes for the summer? One or two classes per child, to give them time away from each other to do fun & interesting things. Maybe there's something through a local community center or something?

As much sense as it makes to take away fun opportunities as a consequence for their misbehavior, it forces them to continue the dynamic they've created. Changing the scenery and getting them active could keep them too busy to attack each other. Swimming, hiking, etc. may make them work so hard that they don't have a spare breath for verbal abuse. Taking them to exhibits that engage their senses of wonder may distract them from their anger with each other. If nothing else works, just send them to separate sides of the house with piles of books. Maybe they'll become so bored that they form a truce.

My brother and I fought violently and cruelly throughout our childhoods. Our parent's divorce, the wrenching custody battle, being in the middle of their fights over visitation schedules and such all contributed to our dynamic. The stress from being raised by a single mother and money troubles also kept things tense between us. And, mental illness - on everyone's part - certainly didn't help. We couldn't lash out at our parents, so we lashed out at each other. And we competed for their attention. Eventually, we became best friends, and we get along very well as adults. I wish we'd figured out how to get along earlier.
post #5 of 12
The idea of natural consequences seems like it should apply, but honestly, with the level of bickering/fighting, and the emotional toll it takes on you, you may want to have a different plan. Getting out of the house, for a drive, a class, a swim-whatever, is key. Keeping everyone together in the house rarely works, in my experience.

Kids this age also need a lot of physical outlet, so if you can plan for them to be physically active it may help. The worst mood of an adolescent can sometimes be released through activity. Also, I agree about some seperate classes or camps fopr each girl, if it's possible.
post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 


One of the sacrifices that we make as a family so that I can be a SAHM is having one family vehicle, which my husband takes to work 5 days a week. So although I try to get out with the girls and baby almost every day, we are limited to what is within walking distance. We walk to the pool, the park, library and occasionally museums. Every Friday we watch a movie at the library. I try to do arts and crafts with them. I really like the idea of having them work together on some things to foster teamwork and negotiation skills. Right now they are busy planning their brother's 5 month old birthday party, as they won't be here for his first birthday. I also like the idea of having them spend a little time apart. I took M on a writer's date to a coffee shop while A stayed home with her dad and watched a movie. We all had a good time. Next time I will take A instead of M and slightly alter the activity to fit A's personality and interests. Their dad also takes them to the pool without their brother, as well as taking them on dad/daughter dates individually. Your suggestions really helped.

Regarding the logical consequences, I have not had to follow through on the consequence of not going out to do an activity if they are being violent. DH and I took a very firm stance against violence in our home. Violence is against our religion and everything that we believe in. Plus, I have a baby to protect from violence. It is the one thing I absolutely will not allow at all costs. So far the threat of the consequence has worked. Now, if they are bickering without being physically violent, I think it is better to take them out, although I do let them know that we'll all have more fun if we decide to get along.

We had a family meeting the other night, in which I discussed with the girls the way that I have been feeling regarding stress. I thought it was important to get to the root of their rivalry, much of what I sense is jealousy. They each talked a little about their jealousy of the other, when they feel jealous, why they feel jealous, etc. We discussed how jealousy and anger are only emotions. What matters is that they identify and process the emotions in a way that is constructive and respectful. They've been doing better since our discussion. And I have been feeling much less stressed, as well.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I'm open to hearing more advice, stories or anything you would like to share. They're really good girls. I think, ultimately, I want to give them tools to resolve their conflict and to strengthen their relationship.
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Any book recommendations? Thanks!
post #8 of 12
I want to commend you on your efforts! I think you will be fine if you are validating their feelings and helping them learn to communicate with one another. Other than that, just be patient and know that it will be different soon. Can't promise better, but definately different!
post #9 of 12
I really love your idea of family sessions where you encourage the girls to identify the feelings beneath the jealousy and fighting. Structured listening is very powerful. If you can get them used to saying to each other what is in their heart, I think it will be less and less necessary for them to resort to the fighting and hurtfulness.

They sure are lucky to have a stepmom like you!
post #10 of 12
Do they have separate spaces at your house or are they sharing a room? My DDs can't spend every minute with each other. They need breaks. If they have separate spaces, then the minute they start in, spend them to their rooms for a break from each other.

Are they getting regular contact with their friends? Are the close enough to visit their friends? Are they on facebook? They need to be connected to their regular social support (IMHO).

Are they allowed the same movies/music/food that they are used to at home? Sibs can act out stress with each other that really isn't about each other.

I really like the book "siblings without rivalry" and "liberated parents, liberated children"
post #11 of 12
Is it possible for you to drive your DH to work so that you could have the car during the day and pick him up from work too?

Do your DH have anyone he can carpool with to and from work?

Is there any public transportation he can use from home to work?

So far, it looks like, what you have been doing helps and I hope it'll continue to go up.
post #12 of 12
Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post
Do they have separate spaces at your house or are they sharing a room? My DDs can't spend every minute with each other. They need breaks. If they have separate spaces, then the minute they start in, spend them to their rooms for a break from each other.

Are they getting regular contact with their friends? Are the close enough to visit their friends? Are they on facebook? They need to be connected to their regular social support (IMHO).

Are they allowed the same movies/music/food that they are used to at home? Sibs can act out stress with each other that really isn't about each other.

I really like the book "siblings without rivalry" and "liberated parents, liberated children"

I would second finding local opportunities they can explore - perhaps away from each other so they can get a bit of space. Swim lessons, day camps, etc...hopefully you live near stuff! Even going to the library a few times a week on their own will give them some space.
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