a story of mud-slinging siblings
“Mom, I just can’t stand to be in the same room with them anymore,” she said, with tears welling up in her eyes. “No one understands how bad they make me feel.”
I felt the puddles well up in mine too. The constant banter of put-downs slung between siblings over the long holiday was taking its toll. My daughter was playing the victim in this case, but I knew it wasn’t a one-way street: I’d witnessed plenty of antagonizing behavior from all three corners of this tumultuous triangle.
I know sibling rivalry is a natural thing, and I do believe people can’t live together without some frustrations and annoyances. With two middle schoolers clamoring for status, and a third grader trying to keep up, sarcasm and insults have invaded our home. They’re tough pests to eradicate. I want my kids to develop lasting relationships that will carry into adulthood, so I try to help them work out their differences with respect.
Lately, though, I had fallen into the easier habit of scolding the offender when I caught wind of it: “We don’t talk to each other that way in this family,” or “If I hear one more put down, you’re losing a privilege.” The problem was, one child tended to be the target of the scolding. Although he was typically saying the most outrageous things, I wasn’t catching the stealthy jabs of one or the incessant attention-seeking of the other. The oft-scolded child was feeling resentful, the youngest was encouraged to tattle, and it simply wasn’t getting any better.
It was time for an intervention.
I called them together and asked her to tell her brother what she shared with me. As she began, the defenses shot up: “That’s not what I said! She constantly accuses me . . . ” So I had him explain his point of view, and his sister eventually admitted her role in the battle. I asked them how they really felt when they picked on each other like this. “It’s not getting us anywhere,” one finally said.
To shift direction, I asked them to write down ten things they appreciated about one another. “Real things about the person,” I urged, “not ‘I like your shirt’ or something shallow.” Typically, my kids sulk away with such an assignment but come up with pretty good comments when they’re left alone to write.
To my surprise, middle son started talking aloud. “I really like playing games with you when we’re not angry,” he said. “I kind of like it when you act crazy,” she responded. “I like seeing you laugh,” he added, “and I like it when you make me laugh.” They went on for awhile, fondly remembering the fun they enjoy together. My favorite comments: “I like it when you come in my room when I cry”; “Sharing thoughts with you,” and on both of their lists: “I really like playing with the rats with you.” Who knew those Christmas rodents would create harmony in our house?
When big brother walked into the room, he slung an insult out of habit. The other two stopped him cold. “Looks like you need to write down ten things you appreciate about us,” his siblings ordered. He sputtered and squawked for awhile, but they held him to it. He came up with a pretty good list, actually. Number six: “I enjoy playing with the rats together.”
Maybe there’s hope for this trio of siblings after all. I know the harmony won’t last long, but I’ve got some lists to remind them (and me) of those happier times together.
And when all else fails, just let out the rats.