Space relations: Preventing sibling rivalry


File photo. File photo.

The issue of personal space comes up in my household a lot. Both my 5-year-old daughter and husband have a high tolerance for physical proximity—they tend to sit close, speak close, and don’t even seem to notice when they accidentally, but quite frequently, elbow me in the ribs.

Conversely, my 2-and-a-half-year-old and I have what, ahem, others in the house call “huge space bubbles.”

Technically speaking, the concept of personal space is called proxemics. (This is just one of the many helpful factoids I’ve learned since becoming a parent. Among other recently acquired knowledge: the average incubation period of the chicken pox virus (14 days); the maximum speed of a cheetah (70 mph); and the amount of ibuprofen it takes to recover from an up-all-night-with-a-puking-toddler hangover (800mg).)

But we prefer the term “space bubble.” You’ll hear it uttered (shouted) several times a day at my house:

Younger Sister growling because Older Sister has crossed the line onto “her” couch cushion? “Space bubble!” I’ll remind Older Sister.

Younger Sister whining because Older Sister has placed one toe in the playroom where an elaborate baby doll triage station has been established? “Sissy is no where near your space bubble!” I’ll call out.

Older Sister and Husband now sit together on one side of the dinner table where they can elbow each other’s ribs to their hearts’ content while the rest of us can eat in peace and spaciousness on the other side.

My own sanity aside, this recognition of differences among our family’s temperaments ultimately is my way of attempting to prevent one of my worst parenting nightmares: SIBLING RIVALRY.

Oh, I have the common sense bases covered, of course. I’ve never said, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” to either one (even though I’ve thought it many—many—times), and Husband and I give both kids one-on-one time so they’ll feel loved and appreciated as individuals rather than only as a sisterly unit. But my mission to cultivate sibling bonding has taken on even more strategic proportions, because here’s another important fact I’ve learned since becoming a parent: The best way to ensure a friendship is to create a common enemy. In this case, yours truly.

Playtime hijinks
Occasionally, when I find them rowdily engaged in cooperative play, I’ll swoop in and invent a reason to chide them in the most ridiculous way possible:

“Are you spilling too much water outside the bathtub? What will the poor fish in the ocean have to drink?”

“Can you guys laugh without being so loud?”

“You’re making the My Little Ponies be nice to each other, right?”

And then I’ll smile to myself at my cunning when I hear them giggling at me together behind my back.

Treat trickery
Sometimes I’ll create a rule for the achievement of, say, a special post-school snack, and then purposely forget the terms just so Older Sister can correct me and look like a hero to Younger Sister: “YOU said we could get ice cream if we brushed our teeth without complaining this morning. You didn’t say anything about keeping our coats buttoned!”

Inane narration
“Wow, that was really thoughtful of Older Sister to let you play with her [insert toy Older Sister no longer cares about that’s missing half its pieces]. She must really love you!”

Or, “I noticed Younger Sister didn’t scream, ‘You’re hurting my ears!’ at you in the car when you sang along to the radio this time. She must really love you!”

I know I’m setting myself up for future ridicule when the girls grow up and return to our house for a visit, high on the horse of their independent lives, and crack each other up re-telling tales of my buffoonery.

And that will be one proud parenting moment indeed.

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