Dear Rachel,

My sisters and I are extremely close. The three of us were each born a year apart from each other, so we were raised almost as triplets. We live within fifteen minutes of each other, and we spend lots of time together, both with our families and just us “girls.”

I always dreamed of this type of relationship for my own children. But, my own two daughters are just not close at all. They are fourteen and sixteen years old, and spend most of their time together fighting. I have tried everything to get them to be closer, from having them share a room, going to the same sleepaway camp, and even sending them to the mall together to go clothes shopping. (And, by the way, I did all the above with my sisters growing up, and I loved it.)

Every time I orchestrate something like this, it always backfires, and they wind up fighting even more. I see them going off to different colleges in a few years, and they probably won’t even care! How can I get them to be closer?

Distraught Mother

Dear Distraught Mother,

It is important to separate your needs and wants from theirsThank you so much for your letter. It is so wonderful that you grew up in such a close-knit family unit. It is obvious that the bond that you have with your sisters is strong and loving. This is a special gift that you have, and it is natural that you want your daughters to have the same thing. That is why family traditions become so sentimental to us, as we hope to create these future memories for the next generation.

So, the fact that your girls are not close would obviously be distressing for you. However, it is important to separate your needs and wants from theirs. Let’s first try to better understand what’s going on for you before we can talk about them.

We all have dreams, hopes and expectations for our children. You found your upbringing to be very satisfying and nurturing. You want your kids to have the same thing, and you probably had dreams of your children being close—from the time that they were little, if not from when you were little! Since this is not the reality at this point, take the time to recognize this as a loss for you, and mourn over it as you feel is needed.

As with all areas in parenting, our children do not always live up to our expectations. Sometimes they exceed them, sometimes they meet them, and sometimes they fall short. However, you should try and recognize that even when they fall short in an area that disappoints you, they may wind up going above and beyond in another area that you never would have dreamed of thinking about! It is written that “you should educate each child according to her way,” and I believe this extends beyond their traditional classroom environment, and into life experiences as well.

Now, we can try and move onto what to do for them. As you have found, you cannot make them be close. In fact, the more you try, the more likely they are going to go in the opposite way (as you are indeed experiencing). So, try and alleviate the pressure on them, in some of the following ways:

Don’t have them spend so much artificial time together. Meaning, while you have the best intentions with your shopping expeditions and sleepaway camp experiences, making them spend this (potentially) enjoyable time together is not actually going to make it an enjoyable time for them. If your housing space constraints make it necessary for them to share a room, then I would not orchestrate too much artificial outside-the-home togetherness. Encourage them to go shopping with their own friends, or even better, arrange for one-on-one time shopping with you! Think about each of their different interests, and look for sleepaway camps and other year-round activities that are tailored to each girl’s individual interests. Encourage them to engage in these activities, so they can develop themselves as individuals. It is important for you (and them) to see them as separate individuals, with their own strengths and talents, rather than two halves of a whole.

There is a very fine line in the human emotional spectrum between love and hateThis is not to say that you should discontinue your extended family gatherings. Not at all! If anything, by having these gatherings, you are showing your children, in the best possible way, how important family is to you. The axiom of “actions speaking louder than words” is all the more true here, as by just watching you spend time with your siblings, your daughters will see your values in action.

It is also important to remember that there is a very fine line in the human emotional spectrum between love and hate. It would be much more distressing if you wrote that they never interacted at all. There has to be some feeling of connection, however tenuous, or else (believe it or not) they wouldn’t even fight!

Even though you need to let go of some of your childhood dreams, you can still give your children positive childhood experiences in other ways. Focus on your greater nuclear family unit, including your husband, and other children (if there are any). Create your own family memories and traditions, like family game night, going on local hikes, or other similar ideas. Use this time to really enjoy this time you have with your girls.

There can be many reasons as to why siblings do not get along. It can come from being too similar, too different, too close in age or too far in age. Many times, it is just the immaturity of childhood, with a touch of not appreciating the people around them. I have met many people who report being very close with their siblings as adults, but who remember having little or no relationship with them as children. This may or may not come to fruition for you. You can only be a warm mother to your girls, set a good example, and hope and pray for the best.