Those times of sibling friendship: the holy grail of parenting

Tonight my children are the best of friends. Being the best of friends currently involves running round the house at top speed, pretending to be robbers in the Arctic fleeing from the police; it’s noisy on the scale that the pre-parent me would have found intolerable but that the parent me barely even notices, and couldn’t care less about. At some point it will probably involve them ‘stealing’ an avalanche of items from upstairs and relocating it downstairs into a heap. Or throwing every single cushion from the two sofas onto the floor for some kind of makeshift jail cell. Or getting every duvet in the house to make a robber hideout. I don’t care about any of this either. Because as any parent of more than one child will tell you, your children playing together without any kind of adult intervention or killing each other is the holy grail of parenting, and, unless they’re doing something really terrible, must never be questioned.
The problem with siblings playing together well is that there are so many obstacles to be negotiated first. First of all, they need to be in a phase where they don’t find each other so irritating that violence ensues just by their being in the same room. Then the game must be agreed upon. This is fraught with complications. Doubtless it’s easier if you have a younger child who is willing, on the basis of age, to cede superiority to the older. This has never, ever happened in our house. It’s safe to say that, when playing with her brother, Child 2 knows her own mind. (I actually don’t recognise my own child at parents’ evenings with school and, previously, her nursery; apparently she loves other children and plays beautifully with them, always willing to amend her play to suit them when necessary. I have no idea where she’s honed this skill; it certainly isn’t at home) Therefore the game they play is not decided by Child 1; instead it is a matter of negotiation that makes Lord Sugar look amateurish. There is much analysis of what was played last time, of who gets to be who, of if they are playing Beast Quest instead of Tinkerbell who will get the best sword, and other matters which can only be resolved if both are in the best possible humour. It’s at this stage where negotiations most often break down, and when one or the other come screeching to me about just how unfair and unreasonable the other one is being. Child 2 uses tears ruthlessly (to no effect; child 1 couldn’t care less) and child 1 simply flatly refuses to play any more and employs the tactic of calling child 2 a baby (‘because only babies cry’) thus inciting rage the like of which it would be difficult to imagine unless you’re on close terms with a four year old.
The next obstacle, should one finally manage to give in to the other, are the rules during play. My children are all about role play and ‘let’s pretend.’ I find this sweet, of course, and it ticks all my guilty-about-screen-time good mother boxes for good, healthy, developing play. I just wish it didn’t have quite so much potential for fighting. It doesn’t matter what the game, child 1 wants to be in charge. (I imagine this is a rather common problem, but given that he doesn’t even remember a time when his sister didn’t exist, it’s a little galling) This is fine when he’s dishing out the Lego roles (police, robber, arctic explorer, which are all much of a muchness in terms of superiority) but not when they’re re-enacting Disney films and he requires his sister to act only in a certain way at a certain time and when he decrees it. During these times, I’ve actually feared for his life.
The final negotiation is about where to play. His room/ her room/ upstairs/ downstairs. She usually wins, on the basis that her bed has a slide. To be honest, there aren’t many battles over space when you’re four that can’t be won by the playing the slide card. It makes a handy rocket, car, sleigh, spaceship, arctic expedition vehicle – really, whatever you like, and child 2 is usually willing to concede on this front. Especially as his entire bedroom floor is usually covered with Lego City.
Once these negotiations are complete, the can proceed, but rarely without incident. I spend most of the life of the game waiting for the dreaded phrase ‘I’m going to tell Mummy.’ Whatever the tale, they are always despatched with, ‘I don’t like tale telling’ which enrages them both beyond all reason: ‘I’m not telling a tale! He really did it!’ However, on the occasions where the negotiations have proceeded without a hitch, they will disappear for hours at a time, requiring nothing at all from me except the odd drink or snack. This is why it’s the holy grail of parenting. Such as tonight.
And so tonight I have got myself another cup of tea, done some internet shopping, made a couple of phone calls, and read some of my book, all to the soundtrack of happy pretending, and considered myself especially fortunate. Because for a parent of two children, nothing makes your heart swell so much as when your children get on. And not just because of the peace you get.

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