What do we parents seek as we try to stimulate healthy relationships between our children? Sometimes détente. Sometimes tolerance. But hopefully, a depth of friendship that endures. It IS possible. As Christine Many writes:
I’m five years old, and my mother is on her hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I’m telling her about a new girl in school, and she suddenly looks up at me and says, “Who are your two best friends?”
I’m not sure what to say. I’ve been friends with Jill since I was three or so, and I really like Jaime, a friend in kindergarten.
“Jill and Jaime.”
My mother stops scrubbing the floor and starts to take off her yellow rubber gloves. “Well, what about Karen and Cindy?”
My sisters? “I don’t know who their best friends are,” I say.
“No,” she says. “I’m saying, why aren’t they your best friends?”
She seems upset, like I hurt her feelings. “But they’re my sisters.”
“Yes, but they can still be your best friends. Friends may come and go, but your sisters will always be there for you.”
At the time, the idea of my two sisters being my closest friends seemed strange to me. We fought all the time over toys, food, attention, what to watch on television – you name it, we bickered about it at some point. How could my sisters be my best friends? They weren’t the same age as I. We all had our own friends in school.
But my mother never let the three of us forget it: Sisters are lifelong friends. Her wish–like most parents’–was to give us something that she never had. Growing up an only child, she longed for siblings. When she gave birth to three daughters –separated by only four years–the fufillment of her dream had only just begun. She had given us each a gift–our sisters–and she wanted to make sure we did not take that gift for granted. She would frequently tell us how lucky we were. But there were other, more subtle ways that she encouraged us to grow closer. She never showed favoritism to one daughter over the other, as not to cause jealousy or bitterness between sisters. She constantly took us places together–skating, shopping, swimming–so we developed common interests. And when we were teenagers, Mom always punished us equally, giving us yet another bonding experience.
We didn’t always get along beautifully and fought just like any other siblings. But somewhere in between Mom’s lectures, the family vacations and the shared memories, we realized that our mother was right. Today I share things with my sisters that I do with no one else. My sister Cindy and I ran the New York City Marathon together, side-by-side, even holding hands when we crossed the finish line. When my sister Karen got married, I was her maid of honor. Cindy and I traveled through Europe together and even shared an apartment for two years. The three of us trust each other with our greatest secrets.
It was twenty-three years ago that my mother first asked me who my two best friends were. Today she doesn’t have to. She already knows.