I have two daughters, aged 17 and 16. Lately they appear not to like each other. The 17-year-old doesn't like her sister's friends and lets it be known and not very nicely. The 16-year-old takes it very personally and fires back in a nasty tone. This is getting worse and now they don't seem to like anything about each other. The younger says she needs to move away for a time to get away from her sister because she "can't take it anymore." I think they should work things out but have run out of ideas. Neither has a nice word to say to the other and life here has gotten miserable for everyone. Moving out is not an option as there is no place to go. Please give me some suggestions before we all lose our minds. I suggested family counseling but the 17-year-old says she won't go and if forced she won't talk. Help!
- Mom who's tried most everything
Sibling conflicts are as old as time. Same gender siblings who are so close in age sometimes fall into one of two common patterns. They may become close, loving friends, or they may become rivals who vie to establish their own style or - even more hair-raising for you - vie for their parents' attention.
If they don't naturally fall into the first category, try to gently guide them at least to a neutral place. Don't expect or aim for full blown mutual love at this time. The message you want to get through to them is that they don't have to be the same, but the fact that they are different doesn't mean that they have to despise each other. (By the way, you say "lately." Did they used to like each other? Has something happened recently in the family life that could have exacerbated the situation?)
You don't mention whether or not they share a room. If they do, and there is any way possible to separate them, I would urge you to do so. If each of them has her own space to decorate, where she can listen to the music of her choice and hang out with her friends, that may help to alleviate matters, Even if it means redecorating the basement, an attic or doing some rearranging of inside space, it is worth it. This will not provide a total solution to the problem but it is a good first step.
If they are already in separate rooms and are getting on each other's nerves anyway, let's cut to the chase. If your description is accurate, your older daughter is being judgmental of the younger one (which is normal for a first born, especially a girl). She probably considers herself almost an assistant mother. While they were growing up, did she help you care for her younger sister, look after her when they went out to play, remind her to take her lunch and a jacket to school? Older sisters often feel they are Vice Presidents to Mother and therefore have a special status.
And, just to complicate the situation, your older daughter may be right! Are her younger sister's friends the kind who you want her spending time with? Are you also criticizing your younger daughter about her friends/habits while you criticize your older daughter for criticizing her? Could you be sending mixed messages that confuse both girls?
This is the additional factor that you should examine - the role that you are playing in this family drama. Are you a busy, working mom? Are you very involved in their lives (whether you are working outside the home or not)? Is it possible they are, albeit subconsciously, enjoying having you on the sidelines, refereeing and giving them both lots of attention? Do you think they'd act out as vociferously if you were not there, an eager audience, ready to jump in and intervene?
I would offer both girls an incentive for attending family counseling. Even if the older one agrees to go (under duress) but refuses to talk, she will hear some comments from the therapist that may give her a different spin on things. In any case, I think it will be difficult for her to act with as much hostility if you are all seeing a therapist on a regular basis. The responsibility she might be feeling because she is the older sister may also kick in on the therapist front; she may not want to appear less cooperative than her younger sister. Even if that leads her to be cooperative for the wrong reasons at first, it could lead, gradually, to a rapprochement. Patience is the key word here!
The director of our Parent Center, Ruth Mason, adds, "Think of having a house rule that there is no fighting or raising of voices in common areas. Let them have it out in private. That way they can do what they need to do and it won't bother others."
Lastly, and most importantly, give both of them as much positive feedback as possible in those areas in which they deserve it. They may be having their own issues to deal with at school or with peers that you are not even aware of. Try to remain a safe and supportive haven throughout it all for each of them.