It was supposed to be a trouble-free paradise. My wife, two teen daughters, and I recently splurged on a family vacation. Their majority vote landed us at a swanky resort for a spa weekend. You would think two days of pampering services with names like “Espresso Mud Detox Wrap” would lead to familial bliss. You would be wrong.
By the end of our second day, I could already feel the stress that had been massaged out of me surging back through my body. Why? My daughters could not stop bickering.
For some reason their sibling rivalry was on steroids that weekend. I figured part of the problem was subconscious — i.e. my older daughter is leaving for college soon, and they are going to miss each other (I think). Still, as we spent our last evening on the resort patio, I felt annoyed and disappointed.
Then, a minor miracle.
As our family milled about, a pair of women approached us with big smiles. “Would you like us to take your picture?” they asked.
I wanted to say no, but social graces demanded otherwise. After the photo, they explained how happy they were to be on a “sisters’ spa weekend.” They looked to be in their 40s and were obviously having a great time at the resort. Just before we departed, one of them added with a chuckle: “We didn’t like each other much when we were your daughters’ age.”
Suddenly, my mood lifted. That magical statement from mature, healthy siblings restored my faith in our daughters’ future relationship. Was this long view a divine intervention? Did the spa somehow provide this invaluable service? If so, will it show up on our bill?The whole thing felt like a glorious visit from the Ghost of Sibling Spa Weekends to Come.
As we drove home, I realized I’d been foolish to be so surprised by my daughters’ rivalry, even as teens. It is perfectly normal, as most parents of siblings learn. Heck, to this day I have a scar under my left eyebrow inflicted by an older brother during a childhood hockey fight. We remain close, though no facial has been able to erase that memory.
Family artifact stems off sibling rivalry
Granted, sibling rivalry is unavoidable and in some ways necessary for growth, but it’s important to limit its influence. In addition to not comparing and not labeling siblings, a healthy way to nurture their lifelong bond is to create artifacts of their relationship that will live into the future. For example, one of my favorite “living” memories of growing up with five siblings is a family art project we created many years ago. My parents bought a large poster of the zodiac signs, and each child colored in two of the signs. Whenever I look at that poster today, I remember vividly which sibling colored which signs, and more importantly how we all laughed and enjoyed the experience of creating a piece of art together.
Fast forward to my own daughters. One of our favorite family artifacts is a deck of cards that has a photo on each card of my daughters when they were quite young. In the “evergreen” photo, my youngest is inexplicably holding a tomato (maybe because she’s half-Italian), and my oldest is wearing a camouflage shirt that says “You Can’t See Me.” Those words are especially bittersweet now that she is about to disappear to college. While we didn’t make the deck with our hands, holding those cards while playing poker or blackjack still achieves a kind of time travel through warm family memories. In hindsight, we could have used them at the resort.
So the next time you’re beleaguered by your children’s sibling rivalry, seek comfort in a family artifact that embodies better times. If you don’t yet have one, think about making one together. Consider it an ace up your sleeve for whenever sibling rivalry threatens a family vacation (or body scrub). Short of a visit from your children’s happy, future-sibling selves, a visit from their past may be your best bet.
Photo by Vincent O’Keefe