Taming the Green-Eyed Monster

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I'm making my way across the muddy playground to pick Talie up from preschool when she and a friend come crashing up. Breathless, her friend asks me, "Is it really true that Talie's sisters are mean?"

This shakes me for a number of reasons. I'm crushed that Talie feels strongly enough about this that she'd tell her 4-year-old pals. Generally, they're much too busy slathering a picnic table with mud or playing kitties for talk of home life.

Then I'm sad for Caitlin and Ellie, my own girls, fingered as big and bad.

Finally, I'm upset with myself. I know my vision of everyone always getting along beautifully in a "Little House on the Prairie" sort of way is unrealistic. But I can't help feeling some guilt that I'm not doing better on this count.

I decide to set aside one-on-one time with each of my kids, but I know family harmony is an ongoing project that can't be solved with a quick fix.

One day I stumble across a picture book that seems to resonate with the girls a bit. SPRING'S SPRUNG, by Lynn Plourde, tells the tale of how Mother Nature's daughters, March, April, and May get distracted from their job of welcoming spring because they're too busy fighting about whom mom loves best. Since this is often the root of our big-sister-versus-little-sister conflict, I bring the book home from the library.

We read it a bunch of times, together and separately. I tell them that just as April's song is "tinkly, sprinkly" and May's is a "soprano trill," they too have their own special qualities. Like Ellie's sensitive nature and love of fun. Caitlin's unique perspectives and boundless Tigger-like energy. And Natalie's perpetually sunny attitude and sense of empathy.

Another night I read Judy Blume's THE PAIN AND THE GREAT ONE, a picture book that vividly depicts how little and big sibs sometimes see each other. This brings several chuckles. It also brings some realizations for the big sisters. Although it seems to them like Talie scores nothing but hugs and ice cream even though she ate but two bites of her marmalade chicken, Talie in fact sees their lives as the good ones, full of sleepovers and staying up late.

The next day, I watch the three of them racing through the backyard collecting baskets of sticks, leaves, and rocks for their fairy village. Learning to get along together will be a recurring theme that plays for years to come, but in this moment at least, a little of Plourde's message has sunk in: "A mother's heart is big enough to grow and grow and stretch and stretch. The truth — I love you ALL the best."

Do your kids drive you nuts with their constant bickering? How do you tackle sibling rivalry? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas. You'll automatically be entered in this week's Comment Mania Contest. We're giving away a $50 prize for the best Dream Team comment — every day this week!

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