Author Pamela Dugdale once said, “Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way.”
“Quite often the hard way,” is right.
I have two sons who can’t seem to stop fighting. They love each other, sure, but not half as much as they love being right. When they’re not squabbling for sport, they’re looking for new and yet undiscovered ways to irritate each other either because they can, because they can’t stop, or because they simply don’t want to.
And I don’t know, maybe it’s all very normal. Or maybe it’s not, but I’m dunzo being the middle man, the referee, the judge, and the jury in the court of WTF are you guys fighting about now?
Last week I called a major recess. With my husband out of town and my sanity hanging in the balance, I decided that for the next 7 days my kids would have to
fight it out err, work it out on their own.
Without Mom to turn to at the first sign of sibling distress, I hoped my kids would choose their battles more carefully, learn a little something about themselves and each other, or at the very least, gain a little practice in the fine art of conflict resolution.
Take a look at what happened when I stepped out of this brothers’ quarrel:
Day 1: There will be blood
It was only a matter of time until one sustained an injury on account of the other, because brothers. Whether it was the fault of the novice wielding the metal yo-yo, or the fault of the face that got in the way, a bloody lip was had right out of the gate. Despite the crocodile tears, dramatic reenactments, and angry little fingers pointing blame, I managed to keep my mom cool, tending to the wound and offering a simple safety reminder before stepping out. I didn’t wax poetic on the importance of brotherhood or force a single apology or hug, I simply stood by and watched the yo-yo fiasco fizzle out on its own. Huh, and here I thought they needed me for that.
Day 2: Slamming doors
The morning started off really well with giggles and deep conversation involving the new SpongeBob movie, until:
Let me in!
But I just want …
Get out of my room!
Right about now I’d normally howl some ominous warning about the dangers of fingers in doors, but instead I took the deep breath and braced myself.
I’ll make you.
Go right ahead.
Wow, everybody still had their fingers and it was quiet? Score one for Mom! Minutes later doors opened, words were spoken, and Legos were exchanged (perhaps in some sort of peace offering?). All remained calm-ish until someone accidentally/purposefully messed up the other’s thingamawhatsit. Cue accusations, na-ahs, uh-huhs, and a very loud “Moooooooooooooom!” shouted in unison.
“Work it out, you guys!” I roared as I continued folding a bottomless basket of laundry. “Not my circus,” I reminded myself, “at least not this week.”
Day 3: The kids are all right
The day started out better than OK. The boys amicably split the last cinnamon roll and Boy Wonder even poured his brother a glass of milk to go with it. They talked, laughed, made a pillow fort, and discussed their next big Minecraft strategy. After working through a few tactical differences of opinion, they emerged as a unified band of brothers. Had I cracked the brother code? I decided then that I was a parenting genius.
Day 4: Resentment becomes them
Bad morning. Boy Wonder accidentally used BooBoo’s toothbrush and OMGeddon ensued. BooBoo then went and ate the last strawberry yogurt as payback. After school, somebody took somebody’s red pen and somebody else didn’t put the cap back on the glue stick. They fought about setting the table, whose turn it was to dump the trash, and who didn’t flush the toilet last. I wanted to say something at least a dozen times. I wanted to shut it down, make them stop — let out a scream! But I didn’t. I stood by and just let it all happen around me in the name of behavioral science. No one was happy, but no one died.
Day 5: Bros before woes
I had a raging headache all damn day. I think yesterday’s near brain explosion took a toll on me. The kids knew I wasn’t feeling well, so they somehow managed to get along for the day, proving once and for all that they can when they try. They played quietly together and apart. They offered to help me with dinner and worked together to clean up when it was over. There were showers without a fuss and bedtimes without a single complaint. It takes two, baby.
Day 6: All charged up
I was feeling back to my usual self and apparently so were they because they fought over who stole whose Kindle charger before the coffee was even finished brewing.
It was MY charger! Remember, you broke yours?
No, I lost mine on vacation and mom said we had to share so it’s ours!
No, it’s still mine and Mom said you could USE it.
Nope, staying out of it. Not caring about Kindle chargers, I reminded them to work it out and eventually they came to some sort of even/odd day charger custody arrangement. Later that afternoon one bopped the other in the eye with an elbow, but not before one accidentally/on purpose tripped over the other one. “Mooooooooom!” Work. it. out. Their version of “working it out” involved arguing throughout the day, but not before sharing a very tender reading moment together. Confusing.
Day 7: Lessons learned
On this, our last and busiest day, we were too busy having fun for sibling squabbles. We played games, had a nice lunch out, and even caught a movie where the boys were able to share a package of Red Vines even-steven.
I asked the boys to tell me a little bit about what they learned from an entire week working it out on their own:
“I learned that you’re tired of us fighting. But you know, it’s not really fighting. We just bug each other and it’s no big deal. I mean, we’re still brothers and we’re cool. I didn’t really learn anything.” — Boy Wonder, age 12.
“I learned that [Boy Wonder] is mean to me and you just let him be. That’s all.” — BooBoo, age 7
OK, so maybe my kids didn’t get much out of the experiment, but I learned something pretty valuable: my kids are capable of loving and loathing and misunderstanding and forgiving and helping and learning from each other without any “help” from me. I may not always understand the method to their brotherly madness, or why they insist on learning life’s lessons through each other the hard way, but maybe I’m not supposed to.