For years my kids were not friends. My daughter’s standard line was, “my little brother ruined my life.”
I remember the short drive from school to our house, a maximum of fifteen minutes if we caught every red light, as a poking, whining, screaming descent in to hell every, freaking day. Why couldn’t they just sit next to each other in the car for the ride home without being jerks to each other? How did I raise two humans that seemed to annoy each other so much? What happened to walking home from school, anyway?
Whether they were arguing over what show to watch or just randomly insulting each other on the way to the bathroom, they seemed like they needed a constant referee.
Years ago I read an interview with the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (before her son died) about how proud she was that her children were friends and that if you didn’t manage to teach your children to be friends, you were a super shitty mom (I’m paraphrasing). Before reading that, I figured that no kid could help what family they were born in to and what are the chances that you are going to like the person who just also happened to be born in to your family. There are lots of people that I don’t like, I don’t want to put that kind of pressure and expectation on my kids. But reading Jackie O asserting that it was a feat of mothering skill to get your kids to like each other, made me feel like I had been doing it wrong.
I was talking about how bad I felt about failing at this clearly VERY CRUCIAL parenting job with a dear friend of mine. She assured me that just living together, they were creating a bond. They would have shared memories and, eventually, that would be the basis for some kind of friendship even if they turned out to be very different adults. She also pointed out that Jackie O had nannies (as in, more than one at a time available whenever she needed them so she could go take a nap or read a good book pretty much any time her kids worked her nerves) and didn’t they go to boarding school? So the number of actual mothering tasks she had to perform was far fewer than most of us. So were we really going to accept her judgment? Sorry, Jackie – love the turtlenecks, but I’m going to pass on the mama guilt trip.
So I continued my laissez-faire attitude toward trying to make my kids like each other. Other than showing some basic human kindness to each other, I wasn’t going to make them “be nice” to each other. I didn’t enforce mandatory hugs or hanging out together when they didn’t want to. They didn’t have to let each other come into their rooms or include the other when they went to play at a friend’s house.
And then one day it happened…
I heard the sound of my daughter’s laughter coming from my son’s room. After a while, she left his room, and he came to find me and said, “she just came in and started talking to me!”. I told him, I think she likes hanging out with you. His eyes sparkled and he stifled a grin, saying, “really? do you think so?”. Fourteen year old boys aren’t used to 16 year old girls wanting to sit in their bedrooms and giggle, particularly not 16 year old sisters that are constantly pointing out that your room (and you) have a funk.
I come across them now and then, chatting while sprawled on the stairs (why do teenagers so love the most uncomfortable spot in the house?) or showing each other something funny on their phone. They are both still introverts, they mostly keep to themselves when they are at home. But they do love to talk stories of how many times I burn the bread or how dumb this or that new movie looks. She tells me to go easier on him about his grades. He tells me he’ll carry her bags in from the car.
It might not be friendship, but I think we will be able to have poke-free Thanksgiving Dinners some day.