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Conventional wisdom would have us believe that two kids aren't that much more trouble than one. I wonder who came up with that idea? No single child can run you constantly ragged (after all, he has to sleep sometime!) but two children can — and often do. A lot of parents say that the worst part of having two kids is the sheer amount of noise they make. Not the loud voices, wild games, or blaring toys, but the particular, maddening sound of children squabbling. If they're playing together, something is soon loudly unfair. If they're playing apart, one wants to join in and the other doesn't — and they're both more than willing to communicate this at top volume.
Even when they're both with you — at home, in the car, at the store — there's an undertone of point scoring and complaint that keeps you on edge, just waiting for an outburst. Guilt adds to the stress: After all, aren't children in "good" families friends and companions? And shouldn't you do something more, or differently, to keep the peace?
Actually, you may have more peace if you do less. Playing judge and jury in children's squabbles is a no-win situation: Even if you witness an act of aggression or hear an insult, you can never know what subtle sibling injustice provoked it. Being "fair" doesn't always help, either. The more you ration out the berries in each child's bowl, carefully divvy up the number of gifts they get, and tabulate the frequency and fulsomeness of the praise you pepper them with, the more you'll encourage your kids to measure your performance on a balance sheet — and to find errors.
The fact is that you'll have times when you must weigh each child's needs differently. When one child is ill or has a birthday, giving him the extra attention that's due him shouldn't leave his sibling feeling deprived. You can't control the green-eyed monster (who lives in every family) by carefully rationing your attention. All you can do is try to give your children the sense that no rationing is needed because there's more than enough unconditional love for everyone.
As much as you want your children to love each other, you can't mandate it. Their feelings are their business — the only thing you can try to exert some control over is their behavior. Start by making it clear to them that no matter how they feel about each other, they must tolerate and treat each other decently. Bullying, cruel teasing, and tattling are not allowed — no matter who started it or what the other child was doing.
Don't just forbid the negative behaviors, though. Offer them some positive alternatives: ways to solve problems. If they both want the same toy, don't tell them what to do — ask them. Eventually they'll hopefully come up with the idea of taking turns.
Though they're very close in age, try not to force your kids into each other's company. If you let them pursue their own interests, and allow them to have separate friends at home and school, they may well grow into a mutual solidarity that will amaze you.
Above all, respect each child's dignity. Loving each as an individual means that you should never make either one look or feel small — to himself, to his sibling, or to outsiders. And, of course, never, ever compare them, much less hold one up as an example to the other. You may wish that this orange were sweeter, but you'd never wish it were more like an apple, would you?