On my blog, I share my experiences as a parent who is trying to honour and nurture her children’s spirits in the ordinary moments of life. I write because it makes me a better parent. I find that I make discoveries as I type, uncovering loving wisdom as I mull things over and try to make enough sense of them to put into words. I share what works for me in my posts, not because I regard myself as an expert but incase other parents might find it helpful in some way.
Today, though, I don’t think I have any tips to offer. I’m writing about an area of parenting in which I feel stuck. I will try not to let it turn into a pointless rant, I’m hoping, at least, that other parents who have the same struggles will feel less alone when they read it. And, if you have any suggestions to help, please share them in the comments!
THE PROBLEM – CAN YOU RELATE?
I want to say from the start that my boys are lovely. They are kind, friendly, helpful and charming much of the time. They adore each other. 3-year-old Thomas will put his arms around his big brother and say, “You’re my best friend Dake (Jake)” and Jake will return the affection. My heart swells to see them play together, happy in their own world for two.
But, next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom. Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.
Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.
Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior. He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration. And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.
Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”
Jake knows how to use his power over Thomas and Thomas can be just plain difficult sometimes.
Most of this squabbling occurs either when we’re in the car and I’m unable to resolve things because I’m driving or when I’m just out of ear shot so don’t know exactly how it got started. And trying to get a straight story from the two of them is pointless. Sometimes, I don’t even try.
Often, usually when I’ve just sat down for a 5-minute coffee, I hear them both declare “I’m telling on you!” followed by two sets of feet racing to get to me first in order to lodge a complaint against the other. I already know the situation is going to be impossible to resolve.
The bickering, fussing, shouting and tears challenges my sanity some days. I’m tired of having to stop in the middle of what I’m doing to try and sort things out. I don’t have energy to expend on what are usually quite petty arguments. For all my efforts, I rarely feel that I’ve sorted things out properly and it all starts up again 5 minutes later anyway. It’s like trying to referee a sports game without knowing the rules. Some days, I end up bickering, fussing, shouting and nearly in tears.
WHAT DO I DO?!
As a soulful parent, I’m trying to teach my boys to show kindness and respect for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they behave. Siblings are the perfect people to practise on and that is part of their purpose in our lives. I still believe in my boys’ natural kindness because I see so much of that too but no amount of appealing to the love they have for each other seems to be making a long-term difference with the squabbling.
I’m also mindful of the fact that it is their relationship to have and it’s not my role to micro-manage it. While I don’t allow them to hurt each other, I don’t often discipline them over the way they treat each other because I don’t see it as a discipline issue, I see it as a relationship issue.
Many days, by the afternoon (or sometimes by breakfast time), I’m fed up, too exasperated to try being wise and reasonable. Sometimes I do what I always said I wouldn’t – ask Jake to back down since he’s the older one, just so we can all have some peace. Other times, I confiscate the toy they’re fighting over or send them to play in different areas of the house or distract them with something else. These things give us all reprieve. But it’s only temporary.
CALL IN THE EXPERTS – SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE SITUATION
As I’ve been pondering all the squabbling and my own feeling of helplessness in order to write this blog post, I’ve remembered a theory I learned when training as a teacher. Psychologist Jean Piaget defined four stages of cognitive development and, according to his theory, both my boys would fit into the Preoperational Stage (approx. 2-7 years). Among other things, at this stage, children tend to be ego-centric and struggle to see things from another person’s point of view. This is reassuring – kind of. It’s not that my boys are especially self-centred – they’re typical of their ages – but what am I to do in the meantime?
One of the most important things we do as parents is to accept our children as they are. So here is another opportunity for me to practise full acceptance. I need to accept the cognitive stage my boys are at. I can keep reminding & encouraging them to be kind & respectful and explicitly appreciating it when they are but I may have to accept that it won’t be immediately effective. Right now, I’m sowing the seed for when their brains are able to think beyond themselves. If I can’t change the situation, for my own sanity, the best I can do is accept it. I find praying helps me to find acceptance when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
IN SUMMARY – THEY’LL SURVIVE EACH OTHER & I’LL SURVIVE THEM
Thanks for listening to my grumblings. Two weeks of school holidays are coming to an end I’m feeling a bit worn out by the bickering. Jake and Thomas are the cause of each other’s highest highs and lowest lows in a day and it’s been a rollercoaster ride for me too. If I can see their squabbling as one of those necessary stages all children pass through – like newborn nightime feeding and the toddler “whys?” – it might help. Getting up multiple times a night and answering a barrage of inane questions made me borderline-wretched too…but I’ve lived to tell the tale.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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