Softball season is upon us and my daughters made their school teams. Of course the inevitable happened, both girls had games scheduled at the same time in different boroughs. When I told my 14-year-old I wasn’t going to Staten Island to see her play because it was too much travel and I hate the heavy, unpredictable traffic over there, she hit me with an emotional sledgehammer.
“But you went to my sister’s game in Staten Island!”
BAM! There it was, the guilt for the sin of treating my children differently.
I try hard to avoid doing this since I know my girls are keeping score, looking to see if their suspicions and fears that I love one of them more than the other are true. They keep track of important milestones — when did the oldest one get her first cellphone (and how expensive it was), when did her allowance go up (and by how much), when did her curfew change (and how late could she stay out), and record every gift received, each event I’ve attended or missed, and who got every extra cupcake or the larger scoops of ice cream.
Perhaps sibling rivalry is about competing for your parents’ love and affection rather than achieving more than your brother or sister. And it’s a big deal. I know my mother, in her eighties, still stings from perceived slights in her childhood, that her now-dead sisters somehow waylaid some of their mother’s attention —and jewelry — unfairly.
The truth is, I do treat my daughters differently. I do different things with them when we’re alone. The older one likes to talk politics, the younger one science. The older one likes to play with me in a pool or at the beach when we get a chance. The younger one likes to ride a bike or take a hike with me.
And I can admit to playing favorites at times. I’m really interested in my 17-year-old’s college quest right now and let this topic dominate family time. But when she was in 9th grade and we could barely speak to each other without exploding into an argument, I was happy to ignore her in favor of helping her younger sister with science projects or watching Disney shows.
They are different people, different ages, with different interests so it’s no wonder I have unique relationships with each of them. But does that mean I love one more than the other?
It is appealing to look for ways to count feelings, but I think they know that love isn’t measured in games attended, or pancakes cooked, or how long I clapped at one performance or another. Love is about accepting them for who they are and enjoying them in their unique ways. Just as they have a special relationship with each other, separate from me, my relationships with them are individual.
I didn’t go to Staten Island for that game even though I felt guilty about it and I was sorry to miss her victory. But when I told my youngest that I didn’t make it to her sister’s game either, I asked if that made her feel better.
“Yeah, a little,” she said, with a mischievous smile.