Daughters’ rivalry riles dad

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 16, 2014

Daughters’ clashes defy efforts to make peace

The definition of the word “rivalry” is “the act of competing as for profit or a prize.”

That would explain my confusion, then, with this situation of being a parent to more than one child. I always thought of sibling rivalry as brothers and sisters trying to one-up each other in their grades or extracurricular sports or for their parents’ attention and affection.

The rivalry between my daughters involves prolonged battles of control over the remote, in who touched whom first, and who is most annoying or most difficult. There is no profit. There is no prize.

A new bar has been set for competition around here, and it’s different from the clashes between famous siblings such as Venus and Serena Williams or Peyton and Eli Manning. Those kids, I’m sure, can each afford to buy their very own remote controls.

Mixing my 7- and 11-year-old girls is a volatile chemical combination with a potentially explosive radius that measures from the living room to my office. They rival each other for most sarcastic and loudest, most victimized and angriest.

I’m not sure what the recipe is for peace, either. We’ve tried timeouts and taking things away. We’ve promised rewards and promised full-scale punishment the likes of which they’ve never seen. There are times when their mother and I rival them for loudest and angriest.

Still they argue their points: “It’s not my fault It wasn’t me It was her Make her stop ”

I asked my sisters, who are also four years apart, if they had this intense of a rivalry as children. They both admit they did. They shared a room growing up as my daughters do, and many of their disputes, they say, were territorial.

Land control has long been at the root of disagreements. There were no mineral rights to battle over, though. No oil beneath their high-pile carpet. But there was the ever-present danger of one’s Cabbage Patch Kid being left on the other’s bed, or the breaching of borders with a Barbie Dream House. These were tiny molded-plastic acts of war.

Back in my daughters’ room, someone touched something or moved something or just won’t stop listening to Taylor Swift so loud (I picked sides on that one, I’ll admit).

The thing is, my sisters are the best of friends now. I tell my daughters that someday they will be too, and point to their aunts as examples. They can’t see it, though, not through the slammed doors and tears. Peace is something that comes with time, I suppose, and with age.

It also comes with distance. My sisters live exactly 979 miles apart now — Elizabeth is in Memphis, and Katherine is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They finally have their own rooms, and those rooms are in different time zones.

So I’ll continue assuring my girls that their bitterness won’t last, that their petty differences will seem silly to them as adults. But perhaps I should also buy them a map and have them choose their respective cities. I’ll give them that map, close the door softly, and leave them to argue over who gets to look at it first.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal