There are many places in my life where my patience is tested and I am offered yet another opportunity to stretch towards maturity. This is definitely the case when dealing with the daily tensions between my children. They remind me of playful and rambunctious pups always ready to jump, leap, and attack! Playfulness can turn to frustration quickly and then sometimes within seconds, they get past the screaming-and-shoving match and move on to the next thing, buddy-buddy once again.
Parents can become so involved in the inevitable tensions of their children. Who did what to whom? Who started it? Who threw the first punch? And then a parent might take a stand in judgement or consequence, perhaps saying such things as: You shouldn’t have done that! You were mean to your sister! You never give your brother a chance! Or perhaps: You are grounded! No TV tonight!
Parents can easily exhaust themselves in trying to convince their children to face each other, work together, take ownership, right the wrongs, and come to some agreement.
And of course, each child wants his or her upset recognized, believed and validated, particularly if it seems a parent is favouring one version of the story over another. A child will vie extra hard for the parent to take their side and understand their position, perhaps feeling terribly hurt and resentful if the parent doesn’t. These can be difficult moments inside the individual parent-child relationship when a child walks away (or is sent away) feeling misunderstood and disregarded.
I learned early on that sorting through details, trying to figure out who did what, is simply not the best expenditure of my energy in these moments. This is where I have found my stretch towards maturity to be so necessary: to realize that when faced with sibling tension, my role is to see the struggle of both my children regardless of who did what.
When we strive to recognize the upset of each child, hear each child, validate each child, and seek to come alongside without judgement or criticism, we can let go of the feeling of having to investigate or take a side. Honouring and protecting my attachment to each of my children when they are spitting mad at each other allows me to simply move in, collect them, calm things, and have them orient towards me. These moments become about slowing things down, helping them deal with the heat of their intense frustrations, and giving them space to work-through their upset.
Depending on the level of heat and how triggered they are by each other (and on how triggered I am!), I will provide them space either together or separately. My first priority is simply to move into the situation, collect their attention, and have them disengage with each other. This isn’t always easy. When they were younger, I was most often successful with distraction (Hey guys! Look outside at the sunshine! How about some basketball to change the mood?). Now that they are older I reflect their intensity (Wow you two! Things are loud, words are sharp, and I’m seeing hits. I’m thinking things are too frustrating right now and you both need a break from each other). These actions help to simply diffuse the situation and have them re-orient.
Do I want to discuss and dissect in great detail who started it and who did what to whom at this point? Not unless I want a headache as they attempt to pull me into their separate corners of the boxing ring! It is such a relief to be able to let go of having to sort-out details. Instead I support them both by helping them to slow down and to find their way back to each other eventually, once things are calmer. Certainly I will address things with each child if I see that there is something that needs to be addressed, such as hits and kicks, or hurtful words. But most often I do this later after the storm has passed, in the calmer moments of the one-to-one, and always when I feel I’ve got a child who is soft, receptive, and listening.
I have come to the realization that it is far more meaningful to provide my grounded presence, acceptance, and support on the sidelines. I let go of trying to solve things and trust that the details will take care of themselves as my children grow and mature. For me, it ultimately becomes about ensuring that I seek to understand both the one who threw the first punch as well as the one who threw the second, staying outside of details and instead, staying inside relationships.