Sibling Misery and Bedtime Woe

Let me start by saying the girls both had a wonderful day back at school. Delphine loves her teacher and her classroom, Cordelia loves her teacher ("she didn't frown all day!") and daycare. Everyone was all smiles at lunchtime and after school when I picked them up.

The rot started to set in when we were walking home. When Cordelia said she did something cool in class, Delphine said, "That's stupid." Cordelia yanked on Delphine's backpack and pulled her off-balance. When Cordelia said she did something for the first time, Delphine said, "Anyone can do that." Cordelia pulled on Delphine's backpack, Cordelia tried to get between Delphine and Blake... Just, on and on and on.

Finally, at the end of dinner, Cordelia talked about how she learned recorder in daycare, and Delphine said she was jealous and she wanted to be in daycare because she never learns anything good. Then there was something about Cordelia getting more jello, and someone said "meh meh meeeh". (That was Delphine.)

And I said, "I'm sick of both of you. Go. Go to bed."

There were shocked looks, and looks of disbelief, and crying and supplication. Cordelia said, "I don't know how to put myself to bed!" Blake said, "I can tell you: go upstairs, put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, read yourself a book, and tuck yourself in." "But I don't know how to read!" "Then you're going to have to find someone who can read to you."

Delphine got herself together pretty quickly – she loves having to step up and be responsible. If we made her move out next week she'd probably make out just fine.

Cordelia is more persistent and more invested in getting us to do things for her – she is not embracing independence. She cried for someone to read her a book for ages, to no avail: it was just like sleep training all over again. After a while Blake went upstairs and pointed out to her that Delphine could read her a book. Cordelia asked her to, and Delphine said okay, so Cordelia reported to Blake: "She said she would read to me, but I don't want her to!" So of course Delphine decided not to read her a book, and Cordelia cried some more.

Blake came downstairs and I said it's funny how quickly things turn around – for a minute she had someone to read her a book but she managed to fuck it up in a second by being snotty. That's a good lesson.

I knew as soon as I sent them to bed that this was not good, democratic parenting. There is no way that having to put yourself to bed is a reasonable consequence of being nasty to your sibling.

But I honestly was sick of them and I honestly was happy not to put them to bed. I suppose I could have called the whole thing to a halt and explained that I made a mistake, but Cordelia would have interpreted that as a response to her crying and carrying on. I had to be more stubborn than she was.

Anyway, eventually Cordelia gave up crying, and put herself to bed. Both of us went to chat with the girls, and Cordelia said to Blake, "Will you teach me how to be a polite girl?"

Which is what we want to do, but of course sending them to bed without a book is not the way to do it. That's either punishment or pettiness, and either way will do nothing to help the girls get along with each other. Although I do think it sent a message about how much it bothers me when they pick at each other, for what that's worth.

So I suppose it's back to Siblings Without Rivalry, and maybe it's time for me to take a look at how I treat the girls. Most of the fighting is instigated by Delphine – Cordelia will overtly (usually physically) try and horn in when Delphine is getting attention, but it's mainly Delphine who is scornful and spiteful.

It's hard to treat two such different people equally, and I think I might be warmer and friendlier with Cordelia because she's such a fun and bubbly person. And because Delphine is older (and thus we expect more of her) and also tends to be absent-minded, I think we correct and criticise her more. My hypothesis is that Delphine picks at Cordelia because she wants to show us that she's good too. It's time to ramp up the affection and patience with Delphine, and ease up on the criticism and correction. And also pay more attention to their fights to try and sort out what's going on.