M is playing with a truck. R strides confidently over and, without force, simply takes over. M immediately backs off. He sucks his fingers for a few moments, then starts playing with a new toy.
Or, finds something he knows to be R’s special favorite thing of the moment and waits to be noticed. The second R sees him and runs over to retrieve his item, M is off like a flash to the original toy.
Or, screams for mommy.
In two out of these three scenarios, all of which happen dozens of times a day, peace reigns. My 16-month-old fraternal twin boys work out some kind of system by which they know who has rights to what, who can take over and when. One will often decide on a game, like driving trucks on a ramp, and bring a truck over to brother. Rarely is the invitation refused, but it’s never an issue if it is. They rove from activity to activity, together or separate, like cars on a freeway – coming close but not colliding (usually).
If I’m in the room, I can sense a subtle but palpable bid for my attention. There is whining, territorial behavior, and glances in my direction during conflict that I know they routinely solve on their own.
I recently observed to my mom that R is very dominant and I am concerned that he sometimes takes advantage of M (who, ironically, is bigger). She laughed and said, “M knows it.” Wha…? My sweet innocent baby, whom my heart keens to protect? Later she pointed out that R plays contentedly until I walk into the room, at which point he starts desperately whining and asking for things and clawing at my leg. And here I was so sure that he just missed his beloved mommy!
The fact is, I’m so IN this thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom, with my kids literally 24/7 (the occasional hour away to grocery shop is, sadly, bliss), and therefore I have no perspective on our triad relationship. However, all at once, as it often happens, it’s dawned on me that I’m truly living with two toddlers and that they are playing me like a fiddle.
So I’ve started stepping back. They don’t need me to solve their conflicts for them. In fact, I make it worse (reading RachelG’s review of Siblings Without Rivalry was a nudge in the right direction). Not only do I take away an opportunity for independence, I also unwittingly break the unspoken rules they’ve carefully constructed. The best move I can make is just staying out of it.
Truth be told, I’ve often scoffed at the “twin thing.” They’re just two kids of the same age that are related and live together, right? Maybe. As my boys’ relationship gets deeper and more complex, and more independent of me, there is a lot going on between them that I simply don’t understand. I just get to see my errors in the glances they are already exchanging.
I really thought I needed to teach my kids how to be nice to each other, how to negotiate and compromise, even how to share and take turns. Now I’m not so sure. Twins have the supreme gift of spending time around someone with whom they are evenly matched. As long as I curb truly harmful behaviors like biting and hitting, they will sort out the details. And actually, they are more generous and thoughtful when I don’t prompt them. Not only do my boys know each other on a pretty deep level, they love each other. I see evidence of that every day. I need to support the mutual trust already in place between my sons, and have some trust of my own.
And they have gotten savvy. Gone are the days of the accidental horse-collar during an exploratory crawl. (For the record, M was laughing while R tackled him. So maybe it’s always been this way.)
What’s your experience with sibling conflict and mommy intervention?