A few weeks ago I watched my favorite current television family dance on screen and cried. The Bravermans of Parenthood fame play out their plots of conflict, love, loyalty and generations with honesty and humor. It’s known at our house as “Mommy’s show”. My tears came during the final scene where Julia’s three adult siblings independently show up at her house on a Saturday night to cheer her up. Why? Because they know it will be a difficult one for her, the first weekend with an empty house since her husband moved out. Overwhelmed with the thoughtful offerings of take out and wine and presence of showing up, Julia cries tears of gratitude and grief all at once. And I cried right along with her.
I grew up an only child, my half siblings lived with their mothers on the other side of the world, so the unique thing called siblinghood, that mix of shared history, genetics (often), memories, parents (at least one anyway) is something I witness but don’t live. And here I am an only child trying to raise four sisters that I hope will one day show up on each other’s doorsteps in moments of heartache and celebration. I don’t really know what I’m doing so I observe the real life Bravermans around me and think a lot about how I create something more than friendship among my girls, a loyalty that will carry through every phase of life.
Here are a few practices I incorporate into our daily life to create a culture of devotion among my girls:
We celebrate each other
As the mom I can do the masterminding of birthdays, Christmas presents, special dinners, including taking care of all of the details myself. Or I can create the framework for those moments and help my girls fill in the details so they are actively participating in celebrating each other. If I want them to encourage and celebrate each other when they are older, I must guide the practice now.
And we celebrate each other uniquely
With four girls whose ages span nine years we can be celebrating spelling tests and poop in the potty on the same day. We celebrate what a person’s milestone is today, even if her sister is running circles around her in a given area. And we recognize that one person’s milestone at a given age will not look the same for another’s. So we celebrate what each person is uniquely overcoming and accomplishing.
But we are not all about celebrations
Most of our life is regular. You know the normal stuff that happens on a daily basis that is not momentous or noteworthy. This is where everyday family life plays out. And we need to be kind and interested in the mundane too. The tell me about your days and I love yous and let’s go plays that affirm that we like doing life together.
And we do anti-celebrations too
That is when it’s time to be sad, to be disappointed or even angry we do it in the context of our family. This group of people where we learn how to say what we wanted instead of biting, where we say our first I’m sorries and I forgive yous, and where we can be spitting mad (literally and figuratively) but we get up the next day and try again because that’s what we do as a family.
Julia Braverman was worried that her parents were disappointed in her, but her younger brother and sister reminded her of their laundry list of major life mess-ups. Though I don’t dream for my girls to someday have a “I messed up more than you did” one up contest, I know they will all make decisions that disappoint me. That there will be hurt, real hurt, in my children’s lives ahead. I can’t control their sibling relationships as they grow and become independent adults, but I can set a standard of how our family treats each other. In great times, devastating times and all of the time in between.
As a mom to four girls, ages 11, 8, 4 and 2, Alexandra Kuykendall is offered daily doses of the ludicrous and sublime. She is the author of this year’s MOPS International theme book, The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir and is the Mom and Leader Content Editor for the organization. This means she reads a lot and writes when she can. But don’t be fooled by long and fancy titles, most of Alex’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. You can connect with her at AlexandraKuykendall.com.