I’ve not yet shared the truth of when I first learned I was having a girl for my second baby: I sobbed some very agonized sobs. You see, it’s not that I was opposed to girls. I, in fact, am a girl and generally like girl-related stuff. The problem came into play in that I was beyond convinced I was having a boy. I was, more accurately stated, certain I was having a boy.
My husband was one of four boys, and my sister and I rolled female herd as the only children in our family. To me, that was simply what siblings were–boys or girls; not boys and girls. With this skewed understanding, I set forth and made my plans. As a dedicated planner, I took these plans very seriously. When my first child entered this world as a boy, it was set: I would have a family of all boys. Our dog is even male. I resolved myself to a lone journey in our household as the sole bearer of two X chromosomes, the only family member who could ever properly appreciate Gilmore Girls.
And then the ultrasound tech uttered the unfathomable: there were two teeny lines on the screen. Screech! Halting screech on all life plans. “But what will we name her?” I wailed to my husband and then bawled for a successive two hours. Pregnant women are very boss at the whole drama thing. Also, I simply didn’t think Luke would suit well for a girl.
Let’s fast-forward a bit on this tale of ridiculous woe and transform it into what it really is: sheer, utter delight that I have a precious little girl and we can share this female gig together on this earth. Praise God.
But what really was the cause of my anxiety? Aside from the fact that I couldn’t reuse my perfectly packed away and labeled by three month size increments clothing for my next child. It was the friendship factor.
Because my sister is my best friend. My go-to, my love, my heart and soul. We have the most fun together and “being together” is plan enough for any evening or day of the week. Through all the storms life has thrown at us, she is my anchor, my person…and my heart worried hard that a brother and sister could not share this connection.
So I soothed my soul by soaking up any example of brother-sister friendships I could find, anywhere I could find them. And now, five years later after all this extensive searching for examples, I’m most stoked to report the coolest find of all–the peace that has come with choosing not to care what paths others have taken. It’s up to me and my family to write our own story.
While I most sincerely hope and pray that my children find the joy of a tight sibling friendship, as it’s been one of the very greatest blessings in my own life, I can’t predict the future. I don’t know if they will be close or not in years to come. I don’t know if any distance will be due to a mixed gender relationship or rather attributed to one of the myriad of other reasons that might tug at a sibling relationship throughout a lifetime. I do know that I can do my best to facilitate their connection with each other now, and you can be darn sure that I’m doing just this.
How do I do this? True story: mostly it’s an instinctively graceful situation in which, upon becoming exasperated with their “energy”, I scream, “Go play with each other! That’s why I had two of you!”, thus forcing them to spend time together.
But “encouraging togetherness” is only the half of the battle. Here are a few other tricks for building mixed gender sibling closeness I have up my sleeve…
- We embrace natural inclinations to gender roles. I know, I know. Scowl at me all you want. Also please trust that my family has delved further into the exploration of gender role formation in our lifetime more than most could imagine. True story, with potential blog post to follow someday. Regardless of details, with this perspective poignant, we allow our daughter to delight ad nauseum in her beloved princesses and gird my son up with his swords and action figures, per their request. Allowing children to pursue their individual interests and differences is a very important component of facilitating their friendship.
- Concurrently, we fully anticipate they will both play with each other and each other’s preferred toys. For example, my children play together every morning before school. Many days my son says, “Let’s play dolls!” while my daughter often requests a lively game of Angry Birds tag (don’t ask me what the rules for this are, I couldn’t even begin to guess) or picks up a paper towel roll to start a sword fighting match. We all play with each other’s toys in this house–and it’s fun 🙂
- I encourage their reliance on and responsibility for each other. When my daughter can’t zip up her doll’s life jacket and requires assistance, I send her to her brother. This isn’t entirely self-serving because I am desperate to finish a blog post and can’t be bothered. Rather, this maneuver is born more of the intense first-hand knowledge that siblings are meant to live together on this earth long after their parents have exited. I put one of them in charge of getting us out the door in the morning–they are responsible not only for getting their own coat on, but making sure the other has their coat and mittens on too. This is very intentional care-taking consciousness-building. I know that someday I will be gone and my children will have only each other. This can be such a beautiful thing.
- We teach them to know each other. It may sound small, but I take pride in the fact that my daughter knows my son’s favorite color is green and always reminds me to save the green bowl for him. Even at ages 4 and 6, we help them budget for and select birthday and Christmas gifts for each other that will genuinely be appreciated. When one of them is having a hard day, we say the words, “Give him/her a hug, say you love them and then give them space.” An essential part of being a good friend is knowing and respecting your friend for who he/she is.
- Time together is something to be celebrated. Sleepovers are a big deal in this household–saved for weekends and special occasions. We make it fun and hype it up. Similarly, early dismissal dates, days off school and family trips are planned and anticipated well in advance and regarded as a treat. Regard time together as a blessing if you want it to be a blessing.
Listen, I very likely am screwing this all up. I really have no clue what I’m doing. The only thing I do know for certain is my goal: to have my kids cherish and love each other, gender identification disregarded. So I make active day-to-day choices that feel conducive to facilitation of this goal. And I hope a lot. And I pray a lot. As parents that’s all we can really do, afterall.
To sibling friendships however they roll out and go down. They are worth the good fight!