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siblings

My face fell as I tried to comprehend what my step-father was telling me. My older brother was invited to go swimming at our neighbor’s house. The second I heard the news I went bounding into the house to fetch my swim suit and that’s when a new hard truth of growing up smacked me in the face when my step-dad suggested that the invitation was for him only. The days of social invitations being extended to both of us were over. My perception that we would always be a package deal was gone.

They NEED Space

Now I am on the flip side of this milestone of growing up. My kids are reaching this same age of separation. My oldest daughter is 8 and my son is 6. They are just now starting to participate in activities separate from one another and while for years it’s been easiest to attend the same parties and outings, this mama is actually grateful the days of the sibling package deal are coming to an end.

My kids love each other, they really do, in those few brief moments between bouts of fighting. Spending hours upon hours with each other only brings them closer to physical blows. They are getting to the age where they NEED their own separate friends, activities and space to explore their own identities, apart from each other.

What Does She Have?

I don’t know if it’s because they are only two years apart, but my son has always looked to my daughter to understand himself and his world. He would happily wolf down his dinner, but the second my daughter proclaimed, “I don’t like this.” that was it. He wouldn’t touch it again. He constantly looks to her to judge what he can have or what he wants and it’s so beyond frustrating. He’ll make his belly sick eating one more cookie to keep equal count with his sister rather than listening to his own hunger cues.

This is the first year we enrolled them both in basketball (in separate age divisions) and the first year Jay is in Cub Scouts while it’s Hannah’s second year in Girl Scouts. It’s been really nice that they each have their own activities. Jay can go to Cub Scouts with Daddy and build pine wood derby cars and Hannah can go on Girl Scout trips to the state capital or horseback riding without her little brother tagging along. For the very first time in his life, Jay is beginning to find his own way. He’s discovering what he likes to do apart from her interests.

Watch Out For Landmines!

I see the landmines of this age. Birthday parties are still really difficult. I find myself asking the birthday child’s parents if it’s ok to bring siblings to the party when I have no childcare options. There are times it’s just easier to lump them in as a set, especially because they’re close in age. I’m lucky that we’ll always have friends who have children my children’s ages. The pairing off will be easy, though my youngest will eventually find herself the odd man out.

But at what age is it ok to let your kids make their own separate friends? At this age they are just forming their own identities and may not have the same interests anymore. At what point does the package deal begin to take away from their own individual selves?

Is it hard to navigate these waters? Heck yeah! But I also know that I can’t just throw the oars in the water and let the current decide which way we’re going to go. This is the age where I’m going to have to dole out the hard life lesson that they won’t always be invited and welcome at the same outings.

Jay was not happy that his sister got to go horseback riding with her Girl Scout troop last weekend, but we told him that the event was for Girl Scouts and he was not a part of the group just like his sister is not a part of his Cub Scout troop or the activities they do. Instead my husband took him out for breakfast. They got haircuts and McDonald’s (my son’s favorite) and then spent the rest of the afternoon fishing.

Special But Separate

He got a special day that was completely separate from hers. He ended up adjusting to this special but separate treatment pretty well. I know there will be days we won’t get so lucky. My husband works some weekends so it’s not always possible to plan a special outing just for one child because the other has plans.

It’s also a little bittersweet. It’s the end of the era of “Hannah and Jay” and the rebirth of “Hannah” and “Jay” as individuals. I want them to define themselves on their own terms, but I know this means they’re growing up. They aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t simply there at every event by default and that will be complicated at first. It’ll require a lot more juggling of our busy work and volunteer schedules. It’ll mean more driving them around to separate activities.

What Do YOU Want?

I’ve spent years asking my son, “No, what do YOU want? You can’t just ask what your sister has.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what things and friends he will choose for himself. I want to see that spark in his eyes when he defines himself without her. My daughter, much like myself, has always been pretty independent, but this is a big stepping stone for him.

They’ll always be close in age. They’ll never remember a time when the other wasn’t in their lives. I am glad though that they’re starting to find out that they don’t have to do everything together in order to be big part of each other’s lives.

Did your kids go through this type of separation and at what ages?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Jay finally "earned" his dessert by eating his dinner. He doesn't even remember the mini-tantrum it took to get to this moment.

Jay finally “earned” his dessert by eating his dinner. He doesn’t even remember the mini-tantrum it took to get to this moment.

My House, My Rules

Back before there were lengthy discussions about bottle vs. breast or what was “good parenting” and what was “bad parenting” was my parents’ hardcore parenting style. No sugar coating or being your child’s friend. My parents were great, but by today’s standards they’d be hardcore. Only because today I think a lot of parents live in fear of their children’s tantrums, disapproval or hearing the words “I hate you.” To me, if I don’t hear that once a week at least it means I’m not doing my job. I think our parents’ generation was more concerned that we had full bellies, a roof over our heads, good grades, and acted respectfully, especially to our elders. They didn’t concern themselves so much with the organic not organic debate or whether or not to vaccinate. I think my generation sometimes can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees.

Inspired by my Step-dad’s immortal words, “If you don’t like what’s for dinner, the diner is down the street,” here are three hardcore parenting lessons we should have learned to make our lives a whole lot easier.

1. You Eat What I Make – Did we like every dish put in front of us? No. But we ate it because there was no separate kids meal to choose from. I honestly don’t know how moms manage to put together multiple meals each night, but I simply refuse. If my kids don’t like something they are still required to eat a little of it. I think as moms it’s easy to get tired of the fight, but in my house it’s “No dinner, No dessert.” Not eating is not a choice. Kids aren’t going to like what they are given sometimes, but I want them to learn to make the best of it. A boss will not simply take an assignment off their plate (pun intended) because they don’t like it. I don’t ask that they clean their plates, only that they make a decent effort.

2. No Means No – Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one? What it really means is quit asking me because my decision is final. Being a parent is sometimes like being subjected to terrorist level manipulation tactics. The screaming, the complaining, the nagging, all in an effort to wear down your patience so you’ll give in. We all want to be the “good parent,” but it’s so important that we are people of our word whether they want to hear it or not. If no means maybe, we’ll spend our lives arguing with our kids.

3. You Can Do It Yourself – As soon as my kids master a new skill I say a silent prayer of thanks. Why? Because it’s one less thing I need to do for them. I was making my own lunches in elementary school and could cook and do laundry long before high school, things that don’t seem to happen much anymore. Our parents taught us self-reliance and trust when they told us to do things for ourselves. While my kids are still young and can’t do a lot of things on their own, giving them ownership over the things they can do teaches them responsibility. They get themselves dressed and brush their teeth, hang up their backpacks and put their dishes in the dishwasher. Doing the little things for your kids may seem quicker and easier, but in the long run encouraging them to do things for themselves will give them independence and you a much needed break.

No Drama Mama

What rules from your childhood do you now use as a parent? Follow me on Facebook.

 

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