Mothering beTWEEN Sisters

by Shelley Noonan

When I found out my third child would be my second girl, I was thrilled! What fun these less-than-two-year-apart sisters would have growing up together.

They’d giggle and whisper secrets after they’d been tucked into their shared room with matching quilts. They’d pass down clothes and share their toys. It was all going to be so perfect!

Except that it didn’t work out quite that way. Not then and not now, 10 years later. They were born in opposite seasons, so all the sweet clothes from my October-born daughter were sweltering when our second daughter was born in July. The girls did share a room up until recently and I do think it made them dear friends, but they never could agree on the same décor. In fact, their tastes and interests are as far apart as they can be.

My early motherhood naiveté has worn off since then and I’m in the midst of mothering two very different tween daughters—now ages 11 ½ and 10. It’s a challenge to decipher the very different needs of both girls, but I’m learning as I go by God’s grace. Here’s some of the tips I can offer, at least thus far, when the there are two tween girls in your house.

Help Them Find Their Stride

Like a racehorse that pulls ahead of the pack, my eldest daughter started to pull away from her four younger siblings after she turned 11. It wasn’t that she didn’t play with them anymore, but I found her wanting more time alone. She grew more irritated with their childish antics and wanted more time for friendships and phone calls.

I allowed her time to herself, but I also reminded her that it’s not OK to have a double standard. You can’t wander into everyone else’s bedroom and then suddenly expect them to knock when they come to yours. I also tried to help her see how they looked up to her and still needed time with her. Redefining the way she related to them has helped her to still spend time with her siblings and maintain her growing sense of independence.

These changes didn’t go unnoticed by her next-youngest sister. When entrance into sister’s room wasn’t met with hospitality, she was hurt. Many times, however, it steered her to play with her younger brother and sisters. And she soon discovered a new clout as the leader of this younger sibling pack. Family dynamics in a big family are a funny thing, but it’s amazing to watch younger children shift from follower to leader as the usual chief steps out of the scene.

Time with Mom

As a mom of a half dozen children, time is pretty precious and jammed full most days. But I’m finding that I need to nudge out some things to make more room for my tween girls who need more of mom and have deeper issues they need to discuss.

My eldest daughter is a talker who processes life as she shares her thoughts. Many nights when I made my rounds to tuck kids in, she had issues she’d save the whole day long for us to discuss. While it was wonderful to have these talks, it didn’t go unnoticed by her tween sis. She was feeling less loved because mom never spent 30 minutes with her at bedtime, mainly because she wasn’t as ‘needy’ in this way.

I don’t want my girls to feel like they are competing against the other, especially when it comes to their relationship with me. I’m now making a point, especially when I know all eyes are on me, to be more equal with the time I spend one-on-one. I’m hoping to start a little book study with the girls. I realize that I will probably have to do the same book with both girls, just at separate times.

Finding That Special Something

I’d be willing to guess that most moms with at least two children have one their personality just jives with more naturally. It doesn’t mean you love them any more, but some personalities and temperaments just get along more easily. As kids approach these tween years, I think they tune in more with that. And the kid who’s a little more difficult will start to notice and wrongly perceive the other child must be the favorite.

I’m really working on building up the weaker of the two relationships with my oldest girls. I’m intentionally finding things she excels at and complimenting her talents. I’m focusing on the sweet character traits I see in her. We talk about what God has in store for her future. We’ve found some special things that we do together (totally different than I do with her sis) that help her know just how much I cherish her. I’m building our relationship on what God has already created and finding the treasure therein.

Foster the Friendship

I want them to encourage and build each other up. To be happy for each other. In order to do that, I’ve got to remind them how special their friendship is. My girls get along pretty well most of the time, but as changing hormones enter into the scene, I see more sisterly irritation.

Often, I’ll sit down with the girls and we’ll discuss what happened and give each a chance to talk about it, discussing important issues and asking forgiveness, if needed. I hope that by guiding them down the peacemaking path, it will give them skills for life where they keep short accounts with each other and forgive quickly. Sisters can be lifelong friends, and I know my girls will be.

As challenging as it is to enter this new territory with my daughters, I know the Lord is using it to take me to another level of not just my mothering, but also my relationship with him. It’s like being a mom thus far has been a walk through the park, but as we hit the tween years, we’ve arrived at the pier with a rowboat tied to it with just one oar. All the things I thought I knew about being a mom have been left at the park. Now I’m in the boat with one oar which would take me in circles on my own. But Jesus steps in with the other oar. I can’t do anything without him. I’m so thankful that He will give me his strength and guide me as I guide these girls into their years of young womanhood.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Melissa Morgner is a happy wife of 17 years to her college sweetheart and mother to six loud, but lovable children ranging in age from 14 down to three. She steals moments here and there to write on her blog, Half Dozen Mama, about the lessons she’s learning from the Lord in the routine but privileged tasks of mothering and homeschooling.

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