I’m Taking a Step Back So My Kids Can Be Friends

The most vivid memory I have of the day I brought my son home from the hospital is of my gentle twenty-month-old daughter transforming into a ball of angry energy intent on disturbing her new little brother. Once he started walking and talking, he returned the favor— and made it his life mission to annoy his big sister as much as possible. They’ve spent ten years bickering like a married couple and often fighting like they’re in a boxing ring.

They’ve had epic arguments. Screamed, “I hate you.”  Have acted so thoroughly awful to each other I’ve wondered if they even like each other, let alone love.

The hope every parent has for their children — that they create the kind of sibling bond in which they both know they have someone on their side always, that they build a sibling friendship that lasts a lifetime — seemed more like wishful thinking than reality.

I need to let my kids grown their own relationship. (@DashaPetrenko via Twenty20)

Recently my children’s relationship has changed

But recently, something’s changed. They’re still bickering like a married couple and arguing over everything, but they’re also hanging out. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed — in between the bouts of bickering and fighting — that they’re talking to each other. Not just about what movie we should watch or whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, but about new song trends and unfair teachers and friends who aren’t acting the way friends should act.

I hear snippets of these conversations while making dinner. I catch glimpses of them, heads together, sharing secrets, which they don’t turn around and share with me. I walk past the sound of muffled voices coming from behind a bedroom door. I could knock on the door and ask to come in. I could walk over to where they’re giggling on the couch and ask to be let in on the joke. They might let me in. 

I don’t ask.

I want to nurture their burgeoning sibling friendship

One of two things will happen if I enter the room or the conversation. Either, the moment will end, and that all-important sibling friendship they’re just starting to form will fall apart. Or, the moment will expand to let me in, but rather than turning toward each other, they will turn toward me, as they have so many times before. And again, the sibling friendship they’re just starting to form won’t have the time it needs to solidify.

What I need to do — what I have been doing — is to take a step back. When I see them whispering to each other on the couch, I can’t step forward and ask what’s going on. When I hear them giggling, and then go silent when I walk into the room, I can’t ask to be let in on the joke.

To encourage their sibling relationships, I have to let our little tripod become a twosome —for a little while. I have to stand by myself outside the door while they grow up together.

I used to be the one they turned to

Easier said than done. When my husband, my children’s father died, my children turned to me. As their only parent, I was the one who heard about all the nightmares and secrets and dramas playing out with friends. I was the only one who listened to frustrations and triumphs, who doled out advice and shared life experiences. In our little tripod, I was the anchor point, the place they both went for all their needs.

Suddenly, I’m not.

They’re at that age where they’re starting to pull away from me, starting to figure out the lines of their independence and eventual adulthood. It’s a good thing. It means they feel secure enough to walk away because they know they have a safe place to return to. Even better, they’re bringing each other along. They’re strengthening bonds and building a more mature friendship, which I hope will last them long into their lives. Even (and excuse the morbidity) long after I’m gone. 

I miss being my kids main person

The truth is, I miss being in on the joke. I miss hearing all of it first. It’s lonely to stand on the other side of a closed door. Maybe it feels lonelier because the man who should have been standing there with me is gone. Maybe it always would have felt this lonely.

Instead of stepping inside the room, I wait. I wait for my son to urge my daughter to “tell mom what happened in social studies.” Or wait for my daughter to remind my son about that funny joke he told her that he should tell me, too. 

And inevitably…eventually…they do tell me. They do fill me in on the joke or the story. They fill me in in between fits of laughter that I don’t quite understand but am thrilled to see. They fill me in as they finish each other sentences and it makes my heart grow a few dozen sizes. They fill me in and remind me how grateful I am that they will have each other for the rest of their lives.

The reality is that one day we’ll be a tripod again. But instead of me being their anchor point, we’ll all be an anchor for each other. From what I understand about tripods, they work best when each point stands strong along with the others.

More Great Reading:

When Siblings Don’t Get Along: How To Handle The Heartbreak

About Elaine Roth

Elaine Roth's work has appeared on HuffPost, Refinery29, Scary Mommy, and Modern Loss. Her story was also featured on People.com. She has two kids and an adorably neurotic rescue dog who keep her busy when she's not writing or teaching Pilates. You can connect with Elaine on Instagram @thisyoungwidowlife.

Read more posts by Elaine

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