When siblings are aged 11 and 9… in between angelic offers to help with dishes and intellectual conversations about the motivation of Rolf in the Sound of Music, they, well, argue… and fight… and beat up each other… and yell… and scream… and bicker… and find ways to really, REALLY get on each others’ nerves. And mine.
Traditionally, I try to be patient for a while until they hit my tiger mom maximum level of tolerance and then I roar at them to stop, or else. Lately, we’ve all been debating the idea of or else and what that could be, because really, once they reach an age where they realize, no, we don’t really have that much control over them, it’s all over for the authoritarian parenting style. I could yell at them, but they can yell back. I can punish them, but what punishment is really meaningful if the goal is for changed behaviour from using anger when they are frustrated? I could take away their entertainment, but again, would that change their behaviour, truly? They are at an age where if they wanted to run away, they could. They could really go in a direction that I really wouldn’t want them to go if I’m not careful. They remind me that they watch videos or play games that I really know nothing about. They are coming into their own… as human beings… as autonomous people.
Now that I have to be more careful about my health and stress level, I’m very conscientious about when I start getting agitated. To be fair, they are sensitive to it too. So today, while I was taking them to school and they were bickering in the street car, I shushed them and said, guys, you are being too loud. Other people would like to transit in peace and quiet. They joked that mommy was getting stressed and that I was about to yell at them. As we got off the street car, I turned to them and they braced themselves for my usual admonishment about how they should behave better and how stressed they are making me and how I expect much more from them.
Instead I decided to pilot a new initiative: “I LOVE when the two of you fight.”
Bewildered looks were exchanged. They smiled a little and then furrowed their brows… there was a pause as we walked in silence for a few moments.
Then the older one snickered and sarcastically said “Yeah, sure you do.”
I explained, “I LOVE when the two of you fight because it means that you are both here, I can hear you, you are safe, you are intelligent enough to interact and you have each other. It means that I’m around you and we are still together.”
Now the younger one looked at me, wrinkled his little nose, and added “And you just love it when we scream at each other…” They were no longer arguing with each other, telling on each other, tripping each other. Instead, they were trying to figure me out. Their little brains were like “Huh? Is Mommy being serious or sarcastic? Is she going to get mad at us?”
I nodded earnestly now and continued, “I LOVE when you scream at each other. It means that you have brains to think and have feelings. It means that you have been communicating with each other. It means that you care enough about something to fight about it. I LOVE it when there are toys all over the house because it means that you have a house, toys to play with, and it means that you still live with me in our house. I love knowing that you had a good time with your toys. I REALLY love it when there are a pile of dishes to do, because it means we had dinner together at home and we had a healthy meal in our own home.”
They were both relaxed now and they walked on either side of me, holding my hand, “At least until we move out of the house! You have to put up with a messy house until we move out of the house.”
“Yep. Until you move out of the house. Right now, I get to be with you. I get to love you and I get to know that you are okay. What more could I ask for?”
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too.”