Sibling rivalry

It’s exhausting: this unrelenting conflict between brother and sister. Since the clocks have changed, I started work early, logging on before seven to plough through the emails accumulated during three days off work. A productive hour, before the kids came down. And then: Boom!

The fights, the arguments, the insults… He winds her up. She says, “Are you mentally ill?” He asks her, “Are you autistic?” She launches a flying kick. He pushes back. She says, “Seriously, you’re ill!” He throws the kitchen roll at her. She spits at him.

From the back room, I beg them to stop, but they just carry on, each of them convinced that they’re right, and the other one to blame. Momentarily, I tune out from this simmering conflict, my attention absorbed in a problem. “Go and put your shoes on,” I bark as they come to gaze at my screen.

“You’re not even working,” says our lad, peering at my Teams chat, “You’re just engaged in banter!”

“Shoes on,” I insist, “Get going.”

Instead they start a two-man riot in the living room, rushing about, pushing each other, spitting and yelling. And so I’m shouting too, demanding that they stop, but they just carry on regardless. As I push my feet into my own shoes, they’re still bickering outside, stomping up the garden path.

They’re even intent on continuing in the car. I put on my misery songs to pacify them. Tracy Chapman’s Remember the Tin Man. It seems to help. There’s peace at last, all the way until I drop them off. “Don’t fight,” I tell them as they clamber out of the car, a scowl on their faces, and there I leave them, breathing a sigh of relief. Peace for a few hours until they return home.

It’s true, this is probably payback, for my sister and I were always arguing in our youth too. And my older brothers were always fighting, exploding in the middle of tea time each evening to go charging off around the house to scrap upstairs, leaving my mother at her wit’s end. It’s no surprise my father took to coming home late from work to avoid the unceasing fights and arguments.

I don’t know if our children are especially bad because they’re so close in age, or if this is just normal for all siblings. Certainly it’s perturbing, because they didn’t learn this conflict from their parents. Ours was always an abode of peace. When they were younger, they played together so nicely, cooperating kindly — it was pure joy. Now everyday is a challenge.

Sometimes it gets too much. Perhaps it’s partly why I’ve taken to going on long walks at the weekend with a friend, just to get away from it. Perhaps it gets to me more because I’m always here, working from home; others escape to the office for momentary reprieve. I just have headphones.

For now, I just tell myself, “Sabret! Have patience.” They will soon grow out of this, I tell myself. Perhaps in another five years. Less, if we’re lucky. My own sibling conflict lasted a bit longer because, just when most families begin to harmonise, I became Muslim, which brought with it a whole new set of challenges for family of a priests and preachers.

I suppose every parent goes through these tests. The question is, how will we respond? Perhaps one day I will get it right, resisting the urge to explode myself. Perhaps one day the calm man will return, letting none of this bother him at all. One day, we hope, we will hear just that word… peace… a word from a Most Merciful Lord. Salamun qawlam mir Rabbir Raheem!

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