Though I grew up the youngest of five siblings, from the time I was 5 years old until I moved away, my mother and I lived alone. So I didn’t have to listen to, “I’m telling Mom!” or my personal favorite, “That’s not fair … she got more than I did!”

When I had my darling offspring 22 months apart, then, I really was not prepared for the bickering. The fighting. The yelling. The competition. Constantly.

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A friend of mine once told me that having just one other sibling meant you always knew who the enemy was. I didn’t believe him until I had my son, Ben. His older sister, Anna, was enthralled with his small size and squealed with delight whenever he’d squeeze her finger. I just knew they were going to be best friends.

And then we brought him home from the hospital. On more than one occasion, I’d be feeding Ben when Anna would run out from her room, slap him in the face, then run away.

When Ben asks me, “Why does she get to go to her friend’s house and I have to stay home to do chores?” My answer is, “Because she’s my favorite.”

Eleven years later, not much has really changed.

Sibling rivalry. I try to downplay it at times because I know the fighting is inevitable. But I’ve learned a trick or two about handling this particular form of jealousy.

When Ben asks me, “Why does she get to go to her friend’s house and I have to stay home to do chores?” My answer is, “Because she’s my favorite.”

When Anna asks me, “How come he got more ice cream than I did?” I tell her, “Because he’s my favorite.”

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I’m pretty sure Dr. Spock would frown at some of my parenting techniques. But I think I’ve been able to teach them not to take life, or themselves, too seriously.

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Knowing that one-on-one time is important — especially before they are too old to want to have anything to do with me — I try to arrange for them to have separate and memorable times with either me alone, or with my husband as well. Whenever one child leaves the house for a day or more, the other soaks up the undivided attention, often commenting on how he or she would love to be an only child.

I keep reminding them that they need to be glad they have a sibling — someone who has experienced childhood, parents, and growing up in a very similar way. I also throw in that at least they won’t have the sole responsibility of finding me a good home when I get old.

But during those few precious hours of civility, the only child is an angel. I hear no complaints. I break up no fights. I raise my voice not one note. But as soon as the Prodigal Child returns, the whining and the arguing begin all over again, and the husband and I throw on our referee shirts. Game on.

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I know that my kids will someday become great friends. Anna even admitted to me that she stuck up for Ben at school when other kids were bothering him.

“I can be mean to him, but no one else can,” she said.

Of course, she told me that story about two minutes before I heard the phrase every parent with more than one child hears on a constant basis: “MOM! She’s touching me!”

But I know what to say.

“Quit bothering him. You know he’s my favorite.”