If you’re like me, you’re looking for silver linings these days as hard as you’re looking for the morning’s abandoned cup of coffee at nap-time. We all know the struggles and anxieties we have as school starts again (whether in-person or at home) and the pandemic moves into a new season, one that we were optimistically thinking might be much more normal than it is. But the advantages are harder to find. A bright side of being stuck at home? Growing the sibling bond.

Since the shutdown began in March, I had been focused on the obvious bright side: extra time at home I was getting to spend with my kids. I was getting to see them learn, I was getting to see them with my husband more, I was getting to slow down and go at their pace. But let’s be honest: The warm fuzzy feelings about spending 24 hours a day with our kids are wearing off as we drag ourselves into the school year. The normal breaks we would have gotten — for me, that’s preschool and playdates and get-togethers with other adults; for others, it might be school and extracurricular activities and babysitters — are gone or drastically diminished. It’s easy for me to get stuck in the downsides of all this time at home with my two little kids who need a lot of attention and playtime. But what has become clear even when (especially when?) I am ready for a break from them is that my two kids are spending some serious quality time together.

Separate from my relationship with each of them, they are developing a bond that I hope outlasts my lifetime. As my daughter rounded the corner to the 18-month mark this summer, she became more and more of a person. She and my 3.5-year-old started exchanging weird (loud) noises, playing silly little games I don’t understand, and making each other laugh. This extra time together is an opportunity to build on that relationship and cement the idea that they can be friends for life. So how can we help that sibling bond grow right now while we have the time (and keep encouraging it even once social activities are back to normal)?

Ignore them. When asking other moms how they encourage the sibling bond, the answer I keep hearing is “ignore them.” This is exactly the kind of advice I want to hear in 2020 when I’m overwhelmed and burnt out! Brothers and sisters seem to play better together — less whining and bickering and fighting over toys — when the parents remove themselves from the situation. I’ve been trying it more on my two small ones, and even at these ages it makes a difference. If I’m not refereeing, they have to figure things out themselves. If I’m not nipping annoying activities in the bud, they get to be loud and crazy together. If I’m not being overprotective of the little one, the big one gets to see her as a playmate instead of a baby. Sometimes that means I find the toddler in a dark closet 15 minutes later, but if she likes it, I guess I do too.

Make them a team. It’s really easy to separate siblings based on what they can and can’t do. My almost-4-year-old can count, recognize shapes and letters, run and jump, and well, talk. My not-yet-2-year-old just can’t. As we do preschool at home, it’d be easy to just think of lessons for him, but I’m making an effort to involve them both in projects and activities so they can work together and he can help her. As they get older, I plan to give them chores and projects to tackle together and team them up to play parents-vs.-kids games and to work toward special rewards. If they can view themselves as a unit now, maybe that attitude will carry on.

Don’t encourage rivalries. It’s natural to make comparisons when you have more than one kid, but try not to focus on the differences. Since my kids are so little, it doesn’t make much difference now, but I need to start practicing for the future when it’s harder for them to avoid direct comparisons of grades, talents and friendships. I’m working to celebrate each kid’s strengths, withhold blame when the little one starts crying, and plan one-on-one time with each of them.

In time, we’ll all return to a new normal with socialization outside of our houses. Until then, I’m pouring my last bits of energy into growing the little bond I see forming in front of me. Over time, I hope they’ll be great friends who enjoy running off and playing without me … and I’ll get a little more time to drink my coffee in peace.

Photo Credit :: Lauren Samuels Photography 

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Bethany Farnsworth is a human jungle gym, napkin, and personal shopper to her kids Peter, 3, and Lydia, 1. She met her husband at Baylor and moved from Waco to Houston to Dallas before finally settling in Austin in October 2019. She loves podcasts, iced coffee, uninterrupted bathroom time, traveling, coming home after traveling, and spending too much time planning activities that hold her kids' attention for 30 seconds. On a good weekend, you'll find her and her crew on a hiking trail or at a brewery -- you'll recognize them by the table full of toys and snacks. Read more at bethanyfarnsworth.com or @bethanyfarns on Instagram.

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