Work It Out For Yourselves

Siblings fight. It’s the nature of life. My children adore each other most of the time. They spend hours reading, going on imaginary adventures, coloring, “cooking”, playing card games and creating entire worlds for themselves. They are mostly considerate and kind to each other. However, in the midst of all the love, there are times when they go after each other like Ali/Frazier. Is that a good reference? I hope so. It’s pretty much the sum total of my knowledge of boxing. So, really, I have no clue if it even makes sense. But I’m pretty sure those two were fighters, who fought each other at one point, as my kids did today, so I’m going with it.

This morning my sweet girl and energetic boy were playing in their garage fort (made, like all great forts, from a giant box) when I heard yelling and then muffled crying. As I went to investigate, I made the decision that if they started in with stories of he/she did/said/was, I would make them work it out for themselves. Sure enough, there they sat in their parachute tented box, both sobbing. “Mommy, he…” started my daughter. (weeping) “She was…” inserted my son.

I verified nobody was bleeding then told them they needed to figure it out on their own. I wasn’t going to play referee. There’s no way I could figure out who did what first and I didn’t care why it happened. All I wanted in that moment was for my children to recognize their own fault in whatever the situation was, talk it out, and mend things up. They are 5 & 7. High time to take off the interpersonal problem solving skills training wheels. They don’t need a mediator anymore, and honestly…I’m exhausted being one.

I retreated back into the house, sat down on the couch that runs along the garage wall and just waited. The crying intensified in vigor and volume as I let the garage door shut behind me. For several minutes, that’s all I heard. You’d think there was a demonstrative funeral procession going on in there given the way they were wailing. Then suddenly, the hysterics became intermingled with a Charlie Brown phone call. Like this.

(raised voice)
wah-wah-wah-wah wah-wah-wah-wah!!
wah-wah-wah-wah wah-wah-wah-wah wah-wah-wah-wah?

This went on for several minutes with heaving sobs punctuating the muffled conversation. I could  barely distinguish my daughter’s accusing voice from my son’s defensive one. I made out some “how could you”s, and a few “because”s, but mostly it was just garbled gibberish. I’m ok with babble. As long as they were talking it out, I wasn’t moving in.

Then, silence. Still more silence. No talking, scuffling, or crying. Just calm quiet. I decided they’d either worked thru the problem, or they’d killed each other. I ventured into the garage just to verify it wasn’t the latter, and found them tear-stained, but grinning as they lugged bins full of who-knows-what towards their fort. If not for the red rimmed eyes and snotty noses, I’d never have known they were in the throes of battle just moments before.

I took a few seconds to confirm their handling of the argument was honest and (at least somewhat) kind towards each other and then let them continue playing. Which, they happily did the rest of the morning without incident. I don’t know what their fight was about. I don’t want to know. They weren’t doing it to me, so details aren’t really any concern of mine. But I do care that they speak with respect to each other – especially when fighting. My much deeper hope for them is the understanding of how to work it out afterwards. Because fighting doesn’t go away as we get older. It just gets more complicated. One of my biggest (and most challenging) parenting goals is to teach my children how to be kinder, more forgiving adults than their mother. I think maybe a little piece of that puzzle fell into place this morning. Wonders never cease.


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