Tuesdays are one of my main work days, so with Ted being home with the kids, he decided to institute a 'no tolerance' policy to fighting, rudeness, snatching, tattling, pushing, yelling, trying to rip each others' head off when we're not looking.
He told me that by noon, our daughter had kissed our son twice. Without being asked.
There are some amazing books out there about parenting and sibling rivalry and adoption and attachment; we have read some and need to read more. In the meantime, I have asked people I know and respect who have also adopted older children (especially out of birth order) to give us some advice. Here are some of the things they said:
"For our kids, finding small ways that she could help him, helped their relationship. It's not the "right" thing according to some books, but it worked like magic. She got self esteem from helping, he attached to her b/c she helped to care take, etc. The nice part, now that they are attached to each other, is that I see him help her in ways that she needs. He's very protective of her ("Dentist, you be nice to my sister!") and helps her socially (introduces her to friends he makes at the park, etc.). So it's no longer one sided. At all."
Our daughter is a natural caregiver, so we hated seeing her reject Abe. The last couple of days, it's been great to see her be a true big sister to him.
"We would talk about our family values in small doses. Like, 'we're a family so that means we forgive each other'. Or 'In a family we spend time together and love each other'. I don't know if it really helped them but it helped me to keep my goals out in the open."
I loved this one. We have been doing this too. It's helpful to explain "In this family, we forgive each other," or "In our family, we don't grab things that aren't ours."
"We tried to get them laughing together. Photo booth was easy and fun for this. All of us trying to make the same facial expressions. This was good for them."
This one has been pretty easy since B is quick to laugh, especially at her brother when he is pouting or simply being dramatic. It didn't hit me until last night how truly funny his dramatic faces are. So she and I have been imitating him (fine line between this and mocking, so we're careful) when the eyes furrow and bottom lip comes out with anguished cries about his movie being over. We all stand in front of the mirror and take turns "being" A, and it's not long before even he is laughing.
"We gave them joint jobs like clearing the table together or painting a picture on the same canvas. This always started out as competition but over time I think it helped them to see they were a team."
Yes, we love this one too. Yesterday, I directed the kids as they cleaned the entire kitchen together. They wiped the table and counters, loaded the dishwasher, swept the floor, washed the pots. They seemed genuinely happy to be doing a job together. I was shocked. And happy.
"We started special date times with each of the kids."
We haven't made it to this one much but we hope to soon.
"I started keeping a gratitude journal. It was not fun to constantly be putting out fires. I was stressed and afraid that things would always be difficult. And, this is hard to put out there, but I began to worry that we'd make a terrible mistake. Its hard to be a loving, attentive momma with a mindset like that. The gratitude journal really helped me. I also made sure I had time for yoga a couple times a week. I also started drinking more wine. These things helped me keep a heart of love and parent from a point of strength and calm. I also did this little experiment where I would look at my life through my pictures at the end of the day. It does something good for your perspective. I prayed. I talked to people I could trust not to judge me but just to listen and offer empathy or advice."
Yes, wine. Thank you.
"And yes, Abe will be ok.
In fact, Abe will be BETTER.
Abe will be great, even because of this change, you just can't see it yet.
He was made for this too."
This one, of course, made me cry.
I don't want to make it sound like the sibling rivalry issues are over. They're not. The kids still fight and push and get annoyed with each other and snatch. The difference now is that we don't let anything slide anymore. When it happens, here is our basic 'method'.
All activity stops.
The kids come to us and stand still to listen.
We say simply whatever our 'value' is and how their behavior is not reflecting this.
They turn to face each other and apologize as needed.
Hugs required. Kisses optional.
I am so thankful for the wise people in our life. We couldn't do this without our "village." There is now some light at the end of this tunnel.