It happened again last night – someone asked me how it is that my kids get along so well. This time, the compliment-question came from our neighbors, folks who’ve known us for twenty years.
“In all the years we’ve watched your kids playing outside,” said the husband, “I’ve never seen them scream at each other. Never once.” he said.
A couple weeks ago, on a run with a girlfriend, she came right out and asked, “Ok – I want to know, how did you do it?”
Please know that I hesitate to take credit for any of my children’s wonderful-ness. I know that psychology says that they are about half what they are born to be and about half what we’ve taught and molded; half nature, half nurture.
So who knows how much I did, really.
That said, my husband and I were very,very intentional about the way we tried to build our kids into a team over the years.
We rejected outright the idea that “siblings will fight”. Rejected that norm completely. Our norm, the standard we accepted and worked toward, is: “Siblings get along. Siblings love each other and protect each other and have fun together and have each other’s back”.
There was so much we did, very purposefully, to build that value system in our home.
We never acted as referee between them, never the arbiter of righteousness. If one of them came to us, whining some equivalent of “Billy’s being mean to me!”. We would say something like, “Well, as Billy is your brother, you guys are going to have a relationship for the rest of your lives. It is up to you whether that relationship is going to be good, or bad. Now, go work it out with Billy. If you need my help, I’m here, but I want to see the two of you try to work it out first. (We did this from when they were very, very little. Seven and three years old.) I’ll come to you in five minutes to hear your your solution”. Then, when they would come to me, I would carefully listen to each side of the story, and carefully listen to their proposed solutions. I would congratulate them on their wisdom (if AT ALL possible) and tell them what a great job they did working it out.
If they were carping at each other over a toy, I would say, “You two need to work this out, or the toy goes away”. They got that warning ONCE, and then if they carped again, I whisked the toy away to be hidden in a closet for WEEKS. There were times it was a very full closet, and that’s okay. They got the message.
It didn’t matter to me who was right or wrong about the toys. What mattered to me was that they understood that the way the treated each other was the highest value in our home.
If one would get bossy over the other and start issuing orders, “Suzy, put your dishes in the sink!”, I would say, “Hey, Broski, be the brother, I’ve got the parent thing covered. I will make sure she gets her chores done, you just get to have fun together.”
My husband and I referred to them as a unit. When it came time to leave a park or a party, we’d call out, “Hey! (Insert last name here) kids! Time to head home!”
We never, ever compared them, never said, “You need to be more like your brother”. We didn’t want them to see each other as in competition for attention or accolades.
Our goal was to get them to see each other as a team.
Am I the reason that my kids get along? I sure hope that some of my efforts were part of it. I think they’re just good eggs though, too.
Anyway. Try it, Mamma. After twenty years of parenting, that my kids DO see themselves as a team, that they get along well enough that neighbors comment and guys in convenience stores stop my husband and I to say, “Hey, Parents, nice family.” … that is the greatest achievement of my life.
And a gift to all of us.
Give it a try, Mamma. And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible.