Official library records show that I first borrowed Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, in September of 2012. My older son was four, and my younger son was 22 months old. My memories of this time are foggy, but I remember a great deal of construction by the former and a great deal of destruction by the latter. Screaming, crying, threats, tantrums, and more than one biting incident ensued. I thought things like, It will be so nice when the little one can talk more and build things and really play with his brother. They will be so happy to have each other if we can just get through this challenging time!
So when I saw this book on the parents’ shelf of the library’s children’s room, sandwiched between the board books and the stuffed animals and within easy reach of my beanbag chair (because once upon a time a brilliant librarian realized parents of young children had no hope of making it upstairs to the adult nonfiction shelves), I reached. I knew the authors’ names, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, because they also wrote the classic How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, a book I own but haven’t read. I’m sure that reading it would change my life.
I’m equally sure that if I’d read Siblings two years ago instead of renewing it three times before finally returning it in defeat, I’d be sitting pretty now. I read the opening chapters, and I’m here to tell you it’s well-written, engaging, filled with concrete examples and even cartoons for the visual learners. I stopped reading it because at the end of a long day of parenting a toddler and a preschooler, the last thing I wanted to do after wrestling them into bed was think about how I could be doing it better. I didn’t want to think about them at all.
I wanted to snuggle up with my husband on the couch and watch The Voice and, when I wasn’t occupied with shoving knockoff Pirate’s Booty into my mouth and washing it down with wine, make insightful suggestions about the contestants’ performances.
The other thing about the book: it was kind of a downer. Because even though we were trying our best, some of what we were doing was flat-out wrong. When our older son said something negative about the younger one, we disagreed. “Of course you don’t hate your brother! You love him!” This, it turns out, is dismissive, and leads to pushing bad feelings down. These feelings will probably come out later in worse ways, like punching said brother.
The differences in their temperaments were striking, and I found them fascinating and talked about them a lot. Some of the differences seemed innocuous, like how the older one had climbed everything that could be climbed as a toddler and the younger one was simply not interested in climbing, but these qualities were accumulating into a narrative of a challenging child and an easy child. As the “difficult” child in my sibling pair, I still find the stories of how I never slept and constantly threw tantrums annoying. I mean, I was somewhere between zero and three years old when these things happened. I don’t remember any of them. I turned into a well behaved, if sometimes witheringly sarcastic, teenager, and I’m a loving daughter and upstanding citizen now. If I ever made it to the last chapter, “Making Peace with the Past,” maybe I’d figure it all out. But it was plain depressing that I was repeating patterns that annoyed me, and so I closed the book and turned on the TV and discussed the importance of song choice with my husband.
Exactly two years later, it caught my eye on the parents’ shelf again. I checked it out and dove in.