The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 24, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Sisters can be friends, but are still siblings

JOPLIN, Mo. — I began filling my head with rose-colored dreams the day we found out we’d be having a second daughter. Never having had a sister of my own, I wished the best for my daughters’ future relationship. These girls would be the very best of friends.

And some days, they really are. They entertain themselves for hours with a companionship that appears easy and comfortable.

Then, there are the other days -- the kind that make me wonder if it wouldn’t be better to lock them in separate rooms just to get some relief from the bickering. My daughters -- those lovable, tender souls born of the same family and held by the same hearts -- are capable of volleying angry accusations back and forth as if they were sworn enemies.

I step into their disagreements unprepared and all I can think about in the heat of the moment is to make it stop. Stop the yelling, stop the meanness, stop the petty tattling. I dole out consequences and take away items of conflict, all in the name of immediate peace.

But the heart of the matter isn’t about resolving that single issue. Consequential peace is only external; it sloughs off at each new altercation. The solution can’t be for one girl to give an apology or one girl to lose her turn. While those things work once (repeated into infinity), they don’t teach my daughters to get along without my involvement. What is needed is some inherent, internal force of understanding.

Half the time, though, the instructions I give one sister are at direct odds with those I give the other. I’ll tell the irritated kindergartner that it isn’t okay to demand silence from the preschooler who is happily singing a made-up song. And then I’ll turn around and tell the preschooler that it’s important to sing quietly or privately, so as not to bother those around us.

I even confuse myself with these solutions. I don’t want my older daughter to be intolerant of a bit of joyful -- if grating -- noise from her sister, but I also don’t want to encourage my younger daughter to be irritating at the expense of other people’s comfort.

So the arguments escalate while I ponder the correct course.

Only recently has the solution hit me square in my spun-sugared mind: Invoke the power of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It works like a gem in sibling disagreements because almost every altercation needs dual solutions. One sibling should have been more considerate, and the other should have been more patient. One sister should have spoken more kindly, and the other should have been slower to judge.

Using the golden rule also has the added benefit of instilling an inherent understanding of consideration for others. Deep commitment to treating others as you’d wish to be treated helps children learn how to get along without a parent needing to step in at each argument. Even better, if learned early, application of the golden rule should stop the arguments from occurring in the first place.

Admittedly, this is beginning to sound as rose-colored as the dreams I was trying to blink away in the first place. Call me a die-hard Pollyanna if you will, but teaching consideration for others is never wrong. I feel confident that adopting the golden rule as our family’s most vital reminder will only help our daughters get along more peacefully in the future.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.

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