Sibling Sister Sass


Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have two teenage girls, 17 and 13, who are as ‘night and day’ as you could imagine. Although their rooms are next to each other and they share a bathroom, they rarely speak or even look at one another. I hung photos of them playing dress up together when they were 7 and 3 and the best of friends to try to remind them of their loving past. I guess they don’t get along because of their very different personalities (one is creative and outgoing, the other an athlete and shy) but as a mother I just don’t know what to do to keep the peace and encourage them to have a good relationship that could be a real gift to them in their adult years. Help!

Sick of Sibling Sister Sass

Dear Sick of Sass,

They’re teenagers.  They have to share a bathroom.  They have very different personalities.  Adulthood – with its chance for a fresh approach to family relationships – is miles away.  Finding some peace at this stage of your parenting is understandably difficult!

A clear division of space and time may help with any bathroom conflicts.  Your daughters may benefit from your help in setting up separate shelves and a schedule for showering.  They can keep most of their own items in their bedrooms to avoid being in the other sister’s way or “accidental” use by the wrong sister.  Do they have responsibility for cleaning the bathroom?  This can also be worked out with your help in defining the tasks and setting the schedule for them to carry out.  Household chores are an important function of household members, to the best of their ability, especially when the two of them are the only ones using that bathroom.   Although they may grumble, one of the benefits of having a sibling is learning to deal with sometimes being inconvenienced by someone else’s needs.  This helps them to be better citizens and future family members.

As we travel through life, there are bound to be twists and turns in how we relate to the people in it.  Ten years ago they needed playmates to pretend with.  Now they need to contrast their emerging awareness of self with the different personalities (especially sister, mother) around them.  In the future, they may use each other as friends – to go out together, to swap clothes with, for career advice or relationship advice, or not, depending on the kind of friend each one needs.   A friend is someone with whom we have common interests, and values, and mutual regard.  Family you’re stuck with, but friends are selected and rejected according to fit.  The fact that they got along well in their younger years holds some promise.

Most adult siblings report enjoying their former rivals in a refreshingly new way once they achieve adult independence.  Getting in each other’s way – and getting on Mom’s nerves in the process – will have lost its purpose.  Siblings share family history, memories of good times and bad, and their connection to you and other family members.  There will be milestone events – weddings, births, and deaths – they will need each other for.  In the meantime, applaud yourself for guiding them to the point where they are each discovering  their own unique strengths  – one creative, the other athletic – as they navigate their way through the often turbulent course of adolescence.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

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