Striving siblings

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Monday morning and from the kitchen I hear Number 2 and Number 3 beginning to argue. I am practising non-involvement. They aren’t though.

Number 3 walks to the kitchen with her face contorted in frustration and indignation, on the edge of tears. I am not to be spared.

‘I can’t spell carbon dioxide,’ she wails.

I don’t see this as particularly problematic at the age of 6. Her older brother apparently does. Since her mission in life is to please and be admired by her older brother, we have a crisis on our hands.

‘He keeps shouting at me to just think, and I can’t,’ she wails.

Not sure how to mediate this terrible problem, I bide my time: ‘Well, how are you spelling it?’

She’s spelling all of it right, except that she’s putting an ‘e’ in carbon where the ‘o’ should be.

I want to jump on the perimeter wall and shout ‘Hail ye, hail ye: my 6 year old daughter can almost spell carbon dioxide! I have spawned a mini-genius!’ But this won’t be helpful and we still have ponytails to make anyway.

Like most mediation situations, I bumble through, trying to give each child a fair share of ‘where you’re wrong here, and where you’re right.’ Never an easy task, always beset with worry about sounding like I’m taking sides.

The developmental milestones at this age don’t seem to incorporate a natural understanding that 6-year olds cannot do what 9-year olds can. I think they should. I’d like a meeting with the manufacturer.

No matter how much I beg his understanding of her lack of years and education in many matters, or how I beseech her to measure herself against her own benchmarks, they look at me like I’m barmy. Both he and she would prefer it if she was a fully-developed 9-year old too.

I tell my brother - younger than I by 6 years - this. He is unsympathetic.

‘Well, she should be really grateful. Because of you, I read The Fountainhead when I was not yet thirteen. Those are the sort of books you had in your room and I read all your books. And look at how brilliantly I turned out. Tell her to be very grateful for her brother’s tutelage.’

I didn’t. Not then, and not later that day when he was trying to explain to her that the rough hand-off he gave her in their backyard rugby game was fair practise, and that it was frowned upon for players who have been handed-off roughly to run whining to their mothers.

Somewhere along the line I hope she works out that she’s richer for his input, before they both crush her spirit with their high demands on her.

Does having older siblings build or break a child’s spirit?

Read more by Karin Schimke
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