My current dilemma: how to teach four little girls how to be good sisters when I have no idea what I’m doing?
I was an only child growing up, and a tomboy at that. It was a lonely, quiet childhood. I remember wishing for a sister, but knowing that with my single mom, it wasn’t going to happen. So, the sister thing is a big mystery to me. I’ve noticed (admittedly with some envy) adult sisters together and their inside jokes, shared history, and language known only to each other.
I’ve read about sisters in books. The relationships between the four sisters in Little Women are both fascinating and intimidating. The rivalry between Jo and Amy; the tenderness Meg has for her younger sisters; the sweetness between Jo and Beth. I simultaneously want to be one of those sisters and am also glad I’m not their mother.
Now I have two sons and four daughters. My sons seem to know how to be brothers without anyone telling them. They wrestle and burp and play basketball. They annoy each other but quickly recover.
But these girls of mine have a lot of feelings and words—so many words!—and sisterhood seems a bit more complicated. (It involves a lot less burping, that’s for sure.)
But how do I raise good sisters?
I’ve asked a few friends who themselves are sisters and are also raising a few daughters, and they seem confused by the question, like the task was so intuitive it wasn’t even something they thought about.
After a frustrating scene one day when one daughter was complaining that another one was wearing her shirt, I decided to just start winging it right then and there. I made up a rule: “Sisters share clothes.” (I know this because I’ve seen it done in shows, so I’m assuming it’s something sisters do.) It worked. My little girls acted as though this new information was valid, and so they started sharing clothes. Just like that. It seemed way too easy.
I started looking around to see what other rules I could come up with that teach these little girls how to be sisters. “Sisters say kind things to each other” after one child was purposely annoying her sister by calling her “Katie Watie” over and over until she screamed. This is a phrase I do have to repeat a lot, but when I do it tends to help the sister in question change her actions.
A question I ask a lot is, “Are you being a kind sister right now?” I could easily leave out the “sister” part and just ask, “Are you being kind?” but stressing the sister part of the equation is very important.
They play a game where they pretend they are sisters. The 4-year-old says, “Now, let’s pretend that we’re sisters, and Lucy put me in jail, and you come and save me . . .” The oldest sister will be the jailer and lock another sister in the slammer, and the now-incarcerated sister will call out until the Savior Sister comes to the rescue. The fact that they actually are sisters and then play pretend sister games is beyond adorable to me.
Another new rule: Sisters serve each other. My oldest daughter (almost 8) loves making herself tea. I suggested, “See if your sisters want some too.” Of course, they did, and now Sister Tea Time is a near-daily event that involves a lot of sugar and spilled milk, but also sweet memories.
I feel incredibly blessed to be able to watch the sisterhood unfold between my four daughters. I am so grateful they have each other. I know there will be fights and disagreements and their relationship won’t always be rosy.
But when I picture my four daughters as adults, I see four women who are loving and loyal to each other.
I pray they end up something like the March sisters: sacrificing for each other, loving and serving each other, and always forgiving. And I know I’ll be reading Little Women a few more times over the years to get some tips from Marmee.