I consider myself to be a fairly tolerant parent. I let my kids wear whatever clothes they want. I don’t mind my son’s long hair (though he’s often told to get a haircut). And I don’t limit their television viewing all that much.
There are handful of things, however, that can tip me over the edge into that dangerous place of rage, sadness, and self-doubt. Not listening is a big one. Whining is another. But nothing frustrates me more than when my kids fight with each other.
Some days the fighting is as prevalent as the LEGOs littering the living room floor. They fight over whose turn it is with the iPad, who has more time with the iPad, who is better at whatever game they are currently playing on the iPad. They fight over who got the bigger piece of cake, more frosting, the better plate. They climb over each other in the car, with little kicks and jabs. They call each other names and dole out insults like “you’re a butt” and “no YOU’RE a butt.”
Sometimes the fighting makes me want to scream or cry, or both. I worry that they will also bicker and disagree. I wonder what I’m doing wrong as a parent. And I lament the fact that two of the people I love the most don’t even seem to like each sometimes. There are days when they it seems like the vast majority of their interactions with each other are acrimonious, hostile, and exasperating. There are days when it seems like their sole purpose in life is to drive each other complete mad. There are times when it actually seems like they might hate each other.
When I drop my younger son off for afternoon kindergarten, his older brother — who is outside at lunch recess at the time — leaves his friends to say “hi” to his little brother, sometimes with a high five or an awkward and brief side hug. I see the way my younger son pretends to be all nonchalant about it, but inside I can tell that he is beaming. Absolutely beaming.
They chatter late into the night when they should be sleeping, and snuggle up in the morning. One night last year, when his little brother was sad, my older son climbed into bed with him, snuggling real close.
“Did you know that sometimes when I wake up really early in the morning, I climb down from my bed and crawl over you really quiet without touching you and then I climb under the covers next to you and cuddle up to you like this?” he asked. “And then I just lay here next to you until it’s time to get up.”
And then there are the secrets. The secret questions they ask each other in whispers when they think I’m not listening in the room next door. The secrets they tell each other about friends and girls and what happened on the playground. And the secrets about how they really feel about each other.
A few weeks ago, my younger son said to his brother, “I have to tell you a secret.”
“Mom, don’t listen.”
“Okay,” I said. (Of course, I listened anyway.)
“You’re my favorite person,” he whispered to his older brother.
“Thanks,” the older one whispered back. “You’re my favorite too.”
And isn’t that the best that we as parents can hope for?
That our children will fight and forgive. That they will practice what it means to be a human with each other. That they will learn when to stand their ground and when to let something go. That they will learn to be siblings, maybe even favorites.
I have a younger brother and sister myself, and I can vividly remember my own fierce fights of childhood. In fact, some of our sibling fights were legendary. As kids, we fought over toys and which cartoon to watch. As teens, my sister and I scratched and clawed each other over “borrowed” clothes. In one particularly bitter fight, I actually tried to jump out of a moving car.
And yet, as fierce as those fights were as children, the bond between us today is even fiercer. Stronger. Deeper. We still have the occasional squabble over where to go on a combined family vacation or miscommunications and inadvertent hurt feelings, but there is something under it all that buoys the relationship. Something enduring despite the fights of our past – or maybe it is enduring because of the fights of our past. Because in those fights, we also learned how to forgive.
While the fights over who got the bigger cookie and whose turn it is to pick out the bedtime story are frustrating and maddening for us as parents, maybe we needn’t fear them so much. Maybe it’s okay that they sometimes seem willing to fight to the death over who has the bigger Minecraft house. Because through it all, they are still each other’s favorite.More On