So... my kids don't fight anymore.
Well.. maybe it's more accurate to say that my kids don't fight nearly as much.
Okay... maybe I mean to say that I no longer want to throw myself from the top of the nearest mountain due to the constant torture, torment, and anxiety of sisters actually looking for things to fight about.
And... perhaps most profoundly, for the evolution of the kid species and certainly for my level of pride and happiness, when they do fight
THEY WORK IT OUT.
ON THEIR OWN.
IN A HEALTHY MANNER.
For those of you that have read this bog over the years know that %50 of my posts detail my children's arguments. You know that the pink chair has been hotly contested for years. You know they have come to serious blows over the blue yoga ball. You know that in the midst of one very dark year, after six months of near constant fighting about the most basic of things (who gets which bar stool, who sits on the right-side of the car, who carries the goggles to the swimming pool, who carries the goggles back from the swimming pool, who walks next to me, who blocks the other kid from walking next to me, who gets to hold the door open) we even had an elaborate Forgiveness Ceremony, because I was so desperate to shift the dynamic.
I've given this a lot of thought. Certainly, at the peak of the worst fighting I thought about it constantly. I dissected possible reasons for fighting because I just. wanted. it. to. stop. Here are my ideas in no particular order:
1. Age difference. Supposedly, if you have a second child before the first child turns five the emotional effect is akin to one's husband coming home and saying "Honey, I love you soooo much I decided to get another wife. She's wonderful and great and I think you'll love her too. I'll bring her home and you can share everything! Me, the house, your favorite objects, all of it will now be for both of you.
But, if you wait for the larger age gap, the older child's brain has developed enough for them to see the new baby as a project that they share with mom and dad. The baby is not considered such a grave threat and the sibling rivalry is considerably lower.
We didn't do that. In fact when Echo was born, she was, after all, my first personally delivered baby and I was completely consumed with that monumental task. I joined Nathan in parenting his girls when Xi was an infant, so I had experience, but I wasn't hormonal or in charge and there really is a difference. To make matters worse Echo had colic and in order to keep my sanity, and keep my crying baby as happy as I could, I gave every other responsibility in my life to Nathan, including the extreme doting on Bella and Xi that I had been carrying out previously.
So there is that.
2. Circumstantial differences. Xi has two houses. Echo does not. Until this year, Echo was homeschooling, Xi was not. For a middle child like Xi, one very concerned about equality and fairness, things didn't always appear to stack up in a fair way. She resented the fact that Echo never had to be away from her mom. She resented the fact that Echo got to be home doing, (what Xi imagined), super fun things all day long without a moment of un-fun. I think she imagined all sorts of discrepancies beyond these basic ones and that cast a resentful pall over the whole scene.
3. Personalities. Echo is younger, Xi is older, but damn-it-all if Echo didn't constantly buck the constraints of the birth order. Would she let older sister help her do a single thing? No siree-Bob. Would she look to big sister as a source of information? No-way-Jose. In fact, instead of receiving information and advice from big sister Xi, Echo was constantly offering information and advice, and most galling-ly she was often correct. Crap.
4. They're flipping kids! Kids fight.
You'd think that, given the last several hundred words on this page, I would have been intensely sensitive to the current lack of fighting. You'd think I was monitoring it all and rejoicing every step of the way. The truth is that I am human and like all humans I suffer from a myopic view and often lack the daily awareness of the big picture. It only occurred to me last week that I heard my kids fighting in the other room and it was the first fight of the day, not the 500th. I also suddenly noticed that I wasn't running to sort it out, for the 500th time of the day. I also noticed and enjoyed that that familiar level of anxiety, high and constant, was not present in my body. I hadn't experienced that in a long long time.
What the fuck?
I mean, YIPPPPPEEEEEEEEE!
1. Age difference. Kids of differing ages are like fish in a fish tank. They occupy different biological niches. You've got the the ones near the bottom sucking up gravel and spitting it out. You've got the middle dwellers doing zoned-out horizontal laps. You've got the top dwellers rising to the surface and blissfully pip, pip, pipping air bubbles. Each in their latitude, doing their thing.
Where once my kids both shared the same latitude, where they viciously fought for resources (the blue ball, me, toys), now they don't. Echo still works the bottom zone. The floor is her domain. Today she has eight blue glass pieces, a squad of plastic native americans, and a storm trooper. She is happily narrating an elaborate, personal, storyline. Xi, now eleven, has grown long legs and hair and different interests. She now occupies the furniture latitudes. She can be found on the couch, at the kitchen counter. Her resources are the laptop, her book. Throughout the day the girls cruise their aquarium segments, only crossing paths and sharing worlds when they invite one another across.
2. Circumstantial differences. Now that both Echo and Xi homeschool, Xi sees with her own two eyes that daily life is daily life and Echo is not experiencing some grand party time while Xi is away. They share the same life experience and Xi is no longer jealous, or feeling leftout, or suspicious.
3. Who knows. Kids are mysterious beings.
Last night the girls were brushing teeth and our parental radar was picking up some strife. We heard things deteriorating and I did my last kitchen moves before heading up to see if I could help or at the very least get them closer to bed. When I got there Echo had climbed in bed, scowly-faced, and Xi was sort of standing around, sad-faced. I gave Xi a long hug like we always do before bed and she immediately started sobbing. I held her and waited. For all I knew this burst of emotion could be completely unrelated to the bathroom scene, since as all parents know, bedtime seems to be the go-to moment for unleashing all the random emotional baggage of the day.
Eventually she raised her head and sobbed:
"Echo it felt really bad the way you were acting toward me!'
I kept hugging.
Echo, seven, her naked shoulders barely poking out from the covers, said:
"I know. I'm sorry Xi. I was just so frustrated and tired! I know you were just trying to help. You were just giving me empathy."
Then the two girls, wiping tears, made their way and clamped their arms around each other, holding tight for a long time. Some deep sighs, some giggles, and then they were off. Off to happy, content dreamland.
My children are emotionally sound.
I stood there for a moment - reaching for the life lesson, my mind racing to boil it all down. Here is what I came up with:
- My kids fight.
- They used to fight A LOT for all kinds of reasons and for no reason at all.
- We spent a huge amount of time walking them through emotionally healthy responses to upset. (empathy, information, physical contact, and careful modeling)
- I struggled. They struggled.
- They needed help. Kids need a lot of help. And each time we helped it layed down or strengthened important neural pathways.
- Now they fight less, for certain reasons and for no reasons at all.
- When they do fight they resolve it and repair their relationship quickly. (With empathy, information, physical contact and careful modeling)
- Now they have well-wried emotionally sound minds and the ability to use those healthy brains without parental aid.
Which is to say: IT WAS ALL WORTH IT