I have two daughters. Olivia is six and Bella is nine. I love both our girls more than words can express and they bring a smile to my face every day. I embrace their unique personalities and have (and will always) love them both equally. I tell them all the time that I love them and that I’m proud of who they are. I show them my love by spending quality time with them, talking with them about their thoughts and feelings, making them healthy meals, reading and singing to them nightly, taking them to their extracurricular activities, helping them with homework, and all the other things us parents do. What if that’s not enough? When kids have different temperaments and personalities, they sometimes need different things from us, or maybe they need things explained differently.
One week after Olivia was born, our pediatrician said, “You’re daughters have extreme opposite temperaments.” How could he have know that when Olivia was just one week old? Turns out, he was right on. Bella is very analytical, artistic, structured, and reserved. She is quiet and introverted, and doesn’t like to obviously attract attention verbally (although she loves to perform on stage via dance and piano). She is an old soul–she thinks and talks about deep thoughts and asks serious adult questions. I love that. As a toddler, she already wanted to talk philosophy. “Tell me about Gandhi, mom.” She had claimed to see his spirit in our backyard and wanted to know who he was. When she talks, she has something important to say or ask. The only thing is that it’s hard to get her to start talking in the first place because she tends to internalize her thoughts and feelings.
Olivia is freewheeling, unstructured, outgoing, extremely talkative, moves nonstop, and says whatever she is feeling whenever she feels like it, which is pretty much constantly. She is very charismatic and physically seeks out attention and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to get it. It’s actually really hard to get her to stop talking sometimes. As a toddler, she (completely on her own and out of the blue) ripped up paper towels into little tiny pieces, threw them in the air like confetti, and screamed “PARTY-woohoo!” over and over. Who are these little angels? Where did they come from? Of course, they are both more than the few descriptive words I used above and they both want our attention and love, but what happens when one child doesn’t feel as loved?
The last few weeks my nine year old has been, well, let’s just say—challenging. She has behaved differently and I was getting concerned. She wasn’t being as nice to Olivia as usual and she was obviously angry with me. She’s been more sassy and defiant. What’s going on? I tried talking with her many times, but that got us nowhere. I asked people for advice and everyone was saying that it’s early hormonal changes, her age, normal sibling rivalry, or a phase. I knew deep down, that it was something more, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Last weekend it all came to a head while my husband was out of town. Bella was over the top angry and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that her sassy talk and defiant actions were not acceptable—not for one more minute. She could go to her room, write Olivia and I each an apology, and come out when she was ready to really discuss what’s going on—really talk—not, “yeah, whatever, I don’t know”. She cried and cried and cried in her room. She was screaming that I was mean and unfair. I still didn’t get what was going on.
Then she came into Olivia’s room and asked if she could please speak with me alone, in a tone that I had never heard from her before. I had a feeling that what she was about to say would be big. Honestly, I was a little nervous, but also excited that she was ready to talk. We sat on the floor in her room and she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I just really feel like you love Olivia more than me.” Tears streamed down my face and hers. My heart broke, and I felt horrible. She meant it. This was not an act or ploy to get her way. She was hurting.
I picked her up and she let me cradle her in my arms like a newborn. I told her the truth: That I love both her and her sister equally. I told her that I could imagine how she felt because Olivia is younger and requires more help doing certain things. Olivia also has a severe food allergy, so she has special needs and we have to be extra cautious around food. I told her that because Olivia has a different personality, she actively seeks attention. I told Bella all the ways I could think of, that I love her and that she is wonderful, fantastic, and special just the way she is. I knew I must tread carefully to fix this. I was so afraid to screw this moment up. We talked and held each other for a long while. Thankfully and surprisingly, Olivia knew not to interrupt this closed-door discussion. After we were done talking, I tucked her into bed, sang them their favorite songs, and cried myself to sleep. I really didn’t feel like talking with anyone.
I was so afraid for the morning. What would she be like? Would she be hurt and angry still? Did I get through to her? Does she believe me? Have we done permanent damage? I was so relieved when she crawled in bed with me the next morning, snuggled up to me, and told me that she felt so much better. Oh, the relief! The last week has been amazingly better. I feel such a deeper connection with her. I reached through to her and made a difference. I am so thankful!
I came to realize that although I love both my girls equally I do need to change a few things. One, I need to spend more alone time with each child. Two, I need to better encourage and help Bella to express her needs and feeling more easily. Three, I need to be more mindful to how I respond to the girls, who both want attention, but have different ways of expressing themselves. Four, I need to not beat myself up over this because I really am doing the best I know how. We all try so hard to love our kids the best we can and to keep them safe from harm, but sometimes loving is not enough. Sometimes we need to do more than tell them and show them that we love them. I know many adults who sometimes still have the lingering feelings that their sibling is the favorite. We need to tell our children that we love them equally—have that conversation. What is so obvious to us parents, sometimes takes a little explaining to our children. It is so worth it!
Did you feel your sibling was/is favored? How did that make you feel? Did it affect your relationship with your sibling long-term? Did you talk to your parents about it? Did they help?