Dear Gefilte: How Can I Stop My Daughters from Hating Each Other? – Kveller
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dear gefilte

Dear Gefilte: How Can I Stop My Daughters from Hating Each Other?

Dear Gefilte, 

I’ve got two wonderful daughters who have, until recently, gotten along swimmingly. As they have started going through their late tweens and early teens, friction is starting. Bickering, verbal jabs, one-upmanship. I’ve braced myself that my older daughter’s job is to become independent and push me away, but it breaks my heart to see the distance happening to her younger sister.

I’m trying to keep my emotions in check since I’m a younger sister and we were about this age when our relationship started (and continues) to drown. I know that it’s easier to side with my younger daughter since I myself was younger but I’m lost at sea and need a lifeguard.


Treading Water

READ: Is It Wrong to Laugh at One Kid’s Jokes More Than the Others?

Dear Treading,

Here are a few random sets of siblings I’d like you to think about:

1. Elsa and Anna (from the phenomenon known as “Frozen”):

Sweet icicles on a stick, these girls have some serious baggage to sort through. Elsa shuts out her sister (and the world) because she’s so terrified of her emotional storm clouds. Then mom and dad drown. Anna is friendless but plucky, throwing herself at the first man who gallops her way because she’s never known intimacy.

Ninety minutes and 9,000 snowflakes later, the sisters realize the only way to melt the frozen earth (besides aerosol hairspray) is to be vulnerable and loving to each other.

3. Jacob and Esau (from the Book of Genesis):

Esau is super hairy and ravenous. He comes in hungry after a day in the fields and his sly twin Jacob tricks him out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. It will take many years, tears, and trials to bring these two back together. Jacob even has to go through a wrestling match with an Angel of God before he is ready to go to Esau and ask for forgiveness.

No matter what you think about the historical accuracy of the Bible, this story is incredible to dissect for messages about identity and heredity. How are we reflections of our siblings? And even if we try to run away from them, how do they force us to evolve?

READ: Why Can’t You Be More Like Your Brother?

3. The Sweeney Sisters (from Saturday Night Live):

Nora Dunn. Jan Hooks. Sheer brilliance.

Their Casio medleys are hilarious because they thinly mask some serious angst. They have no one but each other.

4. The Jackson Five (from Gary, Indiana): 

Honestly, I don’t know that much about their family dynamics, but I needed you to just listen to this and take a deep breath.

5. Gefilte, Gefiltalina, and Knish:

Yep, that’s my siblings and me. Oy. We are a very swampy crew. Lots of barnacles from holding grudges and stealing the last tator tot. We have different versions of every story from our childhood, especially the ugly ones. Dad died young; we all swam to different harbors; and my mom made sure she kept us up to date on each other. Until she started getting bruises and fevers and her doctor took us kids into a windowless room to say could one of us get her to sign a Do Not Resuscitate waiver?

Cut to the three of us cleaning everything out of our childhood home. The drawer full of our baby teeth. The book reports, recital programs, postcards from camp. A frozen take-out container labeled “Schmaltz, 1989.”

It was not a pretty time, Treading. We had no idea how to communicate without our motherly mediator. There were vicious fights about who promised what and why some people were cleaning while other people were drinking (ahem). We rented a dumpster the size of a doublewide and stomped on our shared history while a steamy August rain came down.

READ: How I Prepared My Son for His Little Sister

And then? We took a long break from each other. A very long break. In fact, just a few weeks ago marked the first time in nine years that I was with both my siblings at the same time. None of us could look at the moment or each other too closely. We were at a big family reunion, so it was easy enough to defer to, “My, how you’ve grown!” or, “Did you try the hummus?”

I really hope my parents saw us trying, though.

Treading, I hope this isn’t too rude, but do you see where the dots connect? The medleys and reconciliations only happened when the parents died out or at least got the f out of the way. Your daughters are not you and your sister. And you are not they.

This is a good thing. It is truly impossible for history to repeat itself.

There are aerosol cans and evolution and dwarf planets that won’t get visitors for another two billion algae years. There is a present and a future so you don’t have to keep treading water in the past.

So please, treat your darling daughters as new, intelligent young ladies. It’s not up to you to bring them together. Most likely, it will happen when you stop looking.

With love and schmaltz,


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