Quality of Life

You know what, six-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you tell the toddler he’s wrong every time he does or says something, he’s going to be mad. And he’s relatively inarticulate. His defense mechanisms are few. So when he feels bad because you’ve told him he’s not Bob the Builder or he’s not actually a big guy or his truck can’t build a new road, he’s going to hit you. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and I’m working on stopping it. But may I just state for the record that you totally have it coming.

You know what, two-and-three-quarters-year-old? If you walk up and slug your brother because you don’t like what he’s said or where he is or what his plans are for the day, he’s going to get mad. You’re lucky that he now just screams like his head’s been severed and stomps away and says he won’t play with you. For at least two years he’s gotten used to shoving you or hitting you back. That he now withdraws his friendship is well within the bounds of reasonable. And it’s what I taught him to do. (Minus the screaming. Jaysus with the screaming.) Howsabout you do what I’ve taught you, and tell him, “Stop it!” rather than hitting.

You know what, both of you small boys? You’re beating me down. I don’t need much, but I need you to be kind to each other. I’ve done some research. Seven-to-eight sibling fights an hour is normal. You fight less than that. But even one fight a day where one of you hurts the other or one of you says something mean is too much. Knock. It. Off.

Because you’re breaking my spirit. I’m about to be the mom who won’t get out of bed in the morning because whether I do or don’t, you’re screaming and hitting within 5 minutes of waking. Yes, the first four minutes are adorable. You’re quite lovely to each other when you stick to the script. After that, all bets are off. And I talk kindly and explain why you should, too. But I kind of don’t see the point anymore.

Why do you play nicely until I dart down the stairs to go to the bathroom? Or ask you to put on shoes? Or try to cook? Why you gotta be like that? The second my back is turned you’re hurting one another’s souls, guys. Why with the calling names? Our mantra here is “It’s never okay to do something to make someone feel bad.” (Mad props to the friend who taught me that one.) That goes for retaliation hitting and scratching and biting. That goes for namecalling. That goes for demeaning someone or their imaginary world. That goes for excluding. That goes for talking nasty when a gentle explanation will do.

At least once an hour one of you is genuinely kind to your brother. And I tell you how nice that feels or sounds. I tell you to be proud of how you used your words and your kindness to make him happy.

And at least once an hour on or more of you is terrible. Horrid. Criminally nasty. And I tell you that your behavior is unacceptable. That you are a good person practicing being mean, which might make you grow up mean.

Why does this not work? Why are you not fixed? Why can’t you be mostly nice and withdraw when you need time alone? Why can’t you go without hitting or yelling or psychologically punishing each other for just one day?

Don’t give me that “because we’re small children and need your constant guidance, without which we falter and can’t possibly be kind to each other.” Mama has to pee, guys. And read a book, some day.

This steady rhythm of sometimes-nice-but-often-shitty-to-each-other is wearing me down.

And summer is coming. Lots of together time. Lots.

Please. Help a mama out. Stop being nasty to each other.

[To all those out there whose children get along famously, please go give them an extra kiss tonight, because their contributions to family harmony are deeply important. To those who’ve successfully guided asshole children to kinder and gentler ways, please comment below. Ayudame. Por favor.]


34 thoughts on “Quality of Life

  1. Aggggh. One minute I am determined to let them work it out, if only because it doesn’t seem to help one little bit that I get involved, plus: enough already. The next minute I can’t BELIEVE what an awful brother one or the other is being and must intervene for the benefit of humankind. (I also hate to see certain dynamics being established of one always giving in or one learning new cruelties to inflict, plus: enough already.) The next minute they are laughing and playing and hugging and helping each other. Or not. And we are in the middle of those summer vacations you’re foreseeing, with a whole other month to go. Full of gentle wisdom I am not. But hugs to you!

    • Oh, Macondo, it’s always brilliant to hear from you. You’ve just described our every day. And the laughing and playing together is heaven. The playing separately and getting everyone’s needs met is heavenly. And talk about few and far between.

      I have limited success saying, “We’re a family of problem solvers and I’m sure you can find a solution. If you need help, call me.” But it rarely works because…almost-three has picked up some really bad behaviors.Only with his brother. Never with peers.
      Enjoy your summer. Hope you all make it through alive. I’m sending hugs and gummy cherries.

    • Kitch, I hate what it brings out in me. And that being my best does no good. I hate hate hate hate hate hate it.

      Please let’s fly away to a tropical paradise and let them have cage matches on the beach. At least there there’s a sunset.

  2. ((((((hugs))))))

    No bragging. No advice either. Just here to offer you moral support. Mine are almost 5 years apart and still fight like they are Montague and Capulet.

    Then they ask about each other and look forlorn if the other one is away. Ugh

    • I would welcome bragging if you had a secret answer, AofA. (I miss calling you subWOW.)

      Sigh. Four years apart is not good for us. Glad to hear that waiting wouldn’t have helped much, either.

      Pretty funny that they are willing to look past the feuding to actually enjoy each other’s company.

      It’s so wrong how much I want to accelerate through until one of them is in college and we’re a one-kid family again.

      Sad, because the one I’m willing to college is fun to be around. When he’s alone.

  3. I admire that you don’t blow your top and spend most of the day yelling, which is what I so often feel like I resort to. It is tough. Wine helps (for you not them). If wine is a no go, can you lock yourself in the bathroom? Humor is the only thing that seems to get me through, that and kicking the kids outside. Good luck. Let me know if you find the magic answer.

    • Oh, darling, one of my crowning parenting moments was hollering, “you *must* find some kindness for each other” at the top of my unkind lungs.

      Wine makes me impatient, so no luck there.

      I’ll let you know, though, if some solution magically fixes them…

  4. I have absolutely NO ANSWER to these questions. Boys are drawn to each other like magnets. They can not leave each other alone, even–or especially–when one is being horrible. Hard to grasp, as it is the exact opposite of what you and I would do if someone were being horrible to us.

    But ours are 8 and 5 now, and life is, well, better. Not perfect or anything.

  5. The Bucket Filler idea sounds like a great one. Putting attention on what you want them to do. I’d try that one first because it’s easy and because it’s positive reinforcement.
    If that works, wonderful! If not, you may need some additional tools. I have 17 years experience working with parents and would be glad to help you, off the blog would be best.

    • I agree that the positive reinforcement with measurable, team goals is the best idea for starting right now.

      I’ll email you, though, for other ideas. Thank you, sincerely.

  6. Your last paragraph was classic. I have nothing to add to the conversation except to say… eventually, they go to college. And Clairol offers options for the premature grey hair.

    (Wine offers options for everything else.)

    • Ah, college. But then I’m weeping, begging them to come back because I want to actually have a conversation with them that doesn’t involve me trying to modify their behavior.

      I’ll take the grey if Clairol offers something in a sanity/career restorer.

  7. Ugh. I am only dealing with half of this equation because my youngest is still too little to realize her older sister is being mean to her, but I can see this coming in my future. I bought the bucket book! I’ll anxiously await the future blog post where you share the tricks that worked for you. Good luck!

    • We’ll see. The bucket idea worked for a day and now I’m walking around, an empty bucket, with my two bickering, empty buckets.
      Here’s hoping this afternoon is better.

  8. My oh-so-sophisticated 9- and 7-y-o girls think the bucket idea is sappy. Why do schools pay lip service to ideas like this for a few weeks and then turn a blind eye to all kinds of unkind behavior in the school yard/hallways/classrooms for the rest of the year? That’s my pet peeve.
    “But may I just state for the record that you totally have it coming” – hilarious because true – once an hour one of them does something that, really, has natural consequences. What were you expecting??? And do you really want me to pile an artificial consequence on your sister for that? Grandma says, “It all started when he hit me back!”

    • I agree that most schools are really woefully lax about follow through on respect and kindness.

      Natural consequences, indeed. If I had the guts to leave them alone for a couple decades, they’d figure out the benefits of kindness on their own, right? One punch at a time.

  9. This made me smile, but in a sympathetic way. I’m not a mother myself, but I do have vivid memories of my childhood where we would ask our Mum what she wanted for her birthday/Christmas/mothers day present and she would reply ‘I want you to go one day without fighting with each other’. I really do feel for you. Looking back, I have severe guilt about some of the things we said and did to each other or to our parents. We all grew up ok though and are all best friends now… so just take comfort in the fact that yours will too. Oh and by the way, my Mum had 4 kids!! So there was pretty much always a fight at one point or another in each day. :)

    • Thanks for the reassurances. I can’t imagine four children, I really can’t. When you’re single, your overall day’s mood depends pretty much on you and the people at work or school. When you’re partnered, there are two moods affecting each other. And each child in the house means another temperment, set of preferences, and vascillating moods. It’s pretty rare in a family of six for everyone to be in a good mood at the same time.
      Thanks for saying something, though. It’s nice to have another voice reminding me that this isn’t the endpoint, even though it feels that way.

      • I can’t imagine what it’s like and I have a feeling I’m going to get some serious child karma when my husband and I start having kids…. I shudder at the thought. (Not of the kids, of the karma!!) :)

        good luck with it.

  10. I have a long list of things I say in response to the fighting. Depending on my mood these can be kind, gentle words or words that totally include cursing at my small, innocent children. Yes, cursing. I’m working on it.

    One thing I resort to often is the simple truth that they are 3 brothers who will be there for each other through thick and thin. Best friends. Yes, I tell them this and it’s totally cheesy but I’m very very conscious of raising kids who DO feel tied to one another. Who look out for one another. Who walk through this life together. Someday. After they get sick of wedgies and naked boy wrestling and choking and biting and… Yes, I realize wedgies may never get old. I’m ok with that, too.

    • Yes. Cursing. Yes.
      Sometimes it breaks the tension for us and gets their attention. As long as we don’t call names, a rare F-bomb feels pretty fair to me.

      I do often, in calm moments, tell them that kindness to each other is important because they are brothers forever. That you may hate what he’s doing right now, but that he’s going to be here for 20 years and you need to help him feel good so that he can help you feel good. And that calling names and mocking leaves scars that affects him forever.

      Oy. Since I’ve posted we’ve had four bad days bracketed by two good days. I don’t like those odds, but I really, really, really liked the gentle and kind days. Really.

  11. That first paragraph is so my girls right now – except my seven year old is for ever correcting or directing her sister and when that three and a half year old is done, she bites.

    And even after a three hour discussion about the fact that life is just not fair (trying to honor her feelings), she went on and on about how she can’t go to her sister’s friends’ birthday party. And how because of that she doesn’t want her to be her sister any more and that she can’t come to my party… Oh my god.

    It brings out the worst in me, especially when the three year old decides shit needs to roll down hill to her baby sister (nearly one).

    All that to say, I have nothing. I’m trying to find hugs and time alone and noticing that outside is ALWAYS better than inside and toys that start fights go in the trash. Still. They drive me crazy.

    • Outside is soooooo much better.

      Toys that start fights go on top of the fridge for a day here, because we know an awesome 20-something whose toys were often put on the fridge for unseemly behavior and she turned out okay.

      Three? Girls? Oh gawd. The “she’s not invited to my birthday” stuff starts young with girls. We watched that at the preschool in horror. Whispering, cliques…ugh.

      Older one won’t share a single, stinking thing. So ready to take all his possessions and burn them.

      That would totally help.

      • Girls can be so mean! We just had tears about a ‘friend’ excluding her today. Breaks my heart. Thankfully(?), my oldest has fallen on the nice side (aka the whispered about), but we’ll see how the others turn out. I mean, I know they’re nice loving kids, but at school with friends things can be so different.

        I claim to throw out toys, but truly they just hide for a day or longer. I’m so glad you have evidence that that works.

        As for the possessions… We have about three things each that are precious. And I will protect from the others. Anything else you want to keep to yourself? It better be up on your dresser. And if you’e hoarding things there, I clean it off. ;)

  12. My sister and I (I am 3.5 years older) fought like cats and dogs starting around when I went to middle school until I graduated from college. Now we are great buds. But wow–we were not friends at all when we were teenagers and did not miss each other one bit when I left for college. Now we are great buds. Some sibling relationships take time–which is so not helpful to you at all now, I’m sure, but it is the truth. I’ve heard the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” recommended by friends–maybe it has some ideas or strategies that might help. I would also buy more wine. :)

    • Three excellent points. 1. It will get better. 2. We do have Sibling Without Rivalry, but I’m glad you mentioned it. There are, as you say, good ideas therein. 3. Wine.

      You’re a professional therapist, right? ;-)

  13. Nap! Long time, been barely surviving…. Glad to see neither of us are in padded rooms yet…Have I ever told you my theory on world peace since I’ve had 2 kids? I don’t believe in it anymore. After watching two small people being raised in an awesome home want to tear each other to shreds, how is the whole planet ever going to get along? I’ve decided it can’t. It’s hopeless. All my hopes of peace love and happiness the world over have been dashed by a 5 and 7 year old. The only hope might be if we get some woman leaders who have raised some kids and have figured out how to teach everyone to get along and still have energy to unite the world. It’s not me though, I’m with you, worn out.

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