Let’s face it. Sibling relationships are complicated. Two (or more) little imperfect humans are placed into one family, each with his or her own blend of personality, habits, desires, frustrations, jealousies, and quirks. So it’s no surprise that kids spend a crazy amount of time arguing, yelling, hitting, name-calling, and tattling. Everyone knows that some sibling rivalry is to be expected in families with multiple kids. When iron sharpens iron, sparks fly. But I’ve come to realize that brothers and sisters can actually be friends. That’s right, friends. With each other.
When my youngest was a baby, I put my other two kids (who were 5 and 3) into one room simply out of necessity. The baby needed naps during the day and still woke up several times a night, so for the sake of everyone’s sleep she needed to be in a room by herself. So we doubtfully put her big sister and brother together, wondering how long this arrangement would last. They had always had their fair share of sibling rivalry. One was loud and the other liked peace and quiet. One liked to spread out Legos EVERYWHERE while the other needed space for dolls and reading and creative pursuits. One was an early riser and the other a night owl. Were we crazy to put them together?
Initially things were a bit rough. But soon they surprised us by starting to get along better. They came up with games and activities that were fun for both of them. They shared their toys more freely. Every night they listened to audio books together. They started to actually enjoy being together.
There were still plenty of disagreements and frustrations, but they had learned to work most things out. To consider each other’s feelings and preferences instead of just thinking of their own wishes. To take turns choosing what to play or what book to listen to at bedtime. To be quiet when the other was asleep. They were learning to live together in (relative) harmony because they had to. When we took a two-month trip to see my husband’s family, they were inseparable. They wanted to sit together on every plane, bus, and train. They told us they were travel buddies and couldn’t be separated. They treated each other like friends.
As I marveled at their newfound friendship, I thought back to my own childhood. I was the oldest of four and we lived in a 3-bedroom house the whole time I was growing up, so my sister and I shared a room until I got married and moved out (a bit extreme, I know). I often resented having to share with her, but there were so many nights we stayed up talking and laughing and connecting. We would have missed out on all of those conversations if we were in separate rooms. We both learned to live with each other’s quirks, habits, messes…things we would eventually have to learn when we got married. Today my sister is one of my absolute favorite people in the world. As much as I wanted my own room back then, I’m so thankful that I never got it because I would have missed out on so many blessings if I had.
So when we moved to a new house this summer, it seemed like it was time for our youngest to have the blessing of sharing a room with someone. We gave our oldest daughter, who is now 10, her own room for the first time in years, and put the other two, who are 7 and 4, in a room together. Several family members and friends were skeptical of this decision, and a couple of them genuinely tried to talk me out of it because my two youngest have always been at odds. They are both strong-willed, emotional, dramatic, and really good at pushing each other’s buttons. But we decided to give it a try anyway. And I’m so glad we did!
They still fight like all brothers and sisters. We still have days that make me want to separate them so I don’t have to listen to any more arguing. But in the few weeks we’ve lived in the new house, my 7-year-old son has let his sister choose the audio book almost every night. For him this is huge. He has kept his Lego mess confined to one rug. He brings her water at night when her cup is empty. And she serves her brother in so many small ways. She puts away his laundry so he won’t have to. She surprises him by making his bed. She encourages him when he gets frustrated or disappointed.
I know being room-mates won’t make them into selfless angels, but my hope is that it will start a bond between them that will last into adulthood. Learning to live together in harmony is such a valuable gift I can give them, even though they may not see it that way right now. When the time comes for them to have their own rooms, I hope they will go looking for each other because they want to be together.