What is my motherhood bliss? Peace in my household between my daughters. When I catch them playing nicely together, sharing and caring for each other simply because their hearts feel warmth, love, and compassion towards one another. On the flip side, nothing rides my nerves quite like loud, short-sighted, selfish quarrels. Especially when we’re trapped in the car and I can’t send them in opposite directions to cool off and come to their senses. Some may think sibling rivalry and bickering just comes with the territory of having brothers and sisters. Perhaps. But what if there IS something we can do about it as parents? While we’re never going to completely banish all bickering from between our children, I do believe we have strategies and resources at our fingertips that can drastically reduce the fighting and make way for healthy, loving relationships that will last our sons and daughters a lifetime.
- Model it. As with most things between you and your child, monkey see – monkey do. If we make a habit of not getting along with the people around us, having tension in relationships will likely be our kids’ normal. If having the last word and “winning” arguments is more important to us than keeping peace with others, that is a value we pass along to our children. When we are easily offended, make people jump through hoops for forgiveness, and hold a grudge like being resentful is actually productive, our children just may follow suit. If they observe us being sweet and sugary to someone’s face only to turn around and criticize them to someone else, we teach them that relationships are a game – or worse…an asset to be leveraged when necessary for personal gain. Let’s make it a point to allow our kids to observe us truly valuing the people we have in our lives – spouses, siblings, friends, other family, neighbors – and nurturing those relationships as the indispensable beings they are.
- Live at peace. This is a catch phrase we use around our house when tempers start flaring. It’s part of a Bible verse that we’ve all memorized as a family. The truth is, fights are going to happen. Competition is something we gravitate toward naturally. In our house, we insist that arguments be settled quickly and completely. Yeah right, you say. Good luck enforcing that. Listen, siblings will pick fights with each other because their feelings are strong and real. There are grumpy days, lonely and sad days, anxious days, days where something bad happened at school – all of these things impact our emotions and can lead to blow-ups. The goal is never to rid our children of their feelings, even when those feelings are negative. Our emotions are a big part of who we are; we need feelings to help us empathize, make considerate decisions, and be compassionate. However, it’s our job to help our sons and daughters learn how to handle their big, bubbling-under-the-surface emotions and how to be in control of their reactions when they feel like lashing out and bubbling over. Take time to explain how one child’s actions or words affected their sibling. Yes, it’s exhausting. The nit-picking happens with such frequency that it sometimes feels like you’ll never get to take your referee whistle off. Hang in there. Keep blowing the whistle. They will figure out the rules if we commit to enforcing the punishment for needless bickering.
- We’re on the same team. To my children I say over and over, “The Moss Family is a team. We are in this together. We celebrate all the victories together and we hurt for each other through each failure. No matter what, we stand together as one family.” Let’s face it. One of our children will be recognized for academic achievement and the other will not. One will earn that coveted spot on the team while the other gets picked over. Life is not fair and herein is where competition is birthed. So the family must be a safe haven from this three ring circus of Who’s The Best. I catch myself all the time pitting my kids against each other (“Who can put their shoes on the fastest?” “Who can eat the most bites of chicken?” “Who can clean up the most toys?”). A little friendly competition can really get the job done, but I try to make sure I’m not the one casting their sibling as a rival instead of an ally. It is one of our family virtues to cheer each other on in our successes, even if that means we give up some of the limelight so we can share it with our sibling. Not to mention, if someone in our family is hurting, the rest of us are too. No one is alone. We’re on the same team. Of course, I have to remind them (and me, for that matter!) of this almost daily, because it’s usually not our natural instinct to celebrate the success of others, especially if it means that our failure is highlighted by someone else’s success.
- Create shared memories. Building team spirit can be done rather organically by simply creating shared memories. Be together and share life. Around the dinner table, supporting each other at extra-curriculars, taking trips to the beach or just trips to the park. When our children are grown and look back on their lives, they will see their brother and sister standing next to them in every frame – a shared history is a powerful thing. My grandfather passed away last week. My three siblings, along with our five cousins, gathered together in small-town Iowa to celebrate his life and legacy. I can say with certainty that I have never felt so close to my cousins. We sat together and talked about Grandpa and his beloved farm, our memories of making homemade ice cream, chasing barn cats, taking turns driving the tractor. We had so much common ground because of shared time and memories. We are all better for it.
When it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle and your kids will never get along, take heart. You are doing a good job. It’s hard to see progress in the moment and some days feel like the whole gig is backsliding. Your hard work will pay off eventually…
At least that’s what my mother promised me!