"This is the worst day of my life!" she seethed and flopped like a sack of potatoes on my lap. I looked up at the clock. It was barely 8:30 a.m.
"Wow, Babe," I teased. "This day hasn't even begun and it's most notably the worst of all your eight years?"
"It's just that SHE did that thing to me again!" She draped herself upside down over the back of the couch.
"What thing would that be?" I asked, pulling her back down to face me.
"You know, Mommy, I've told you before... you know when she touches me with the hairbrush when I'm trying to brush my teeth! I can't stand it! She knows I hate it and I even said, STOP! She didn't listen and then I had to poke her with my toothbrush. Now she's crying in her bedroom when she's the one who started it. She's so mean!"
Now, some good mommas out there might gently take their girl by the hand and walk her to her sister's bedroom to have a sensible discussion about the matter. I, however, was not about to begin my day with such obnoxious drama. So I did what came to my mind immediately and I grounded both of them with a one-liner and that was the end of it. Not one of my finer parenting moments.
Although all children argue and it's normal for disagreements to arise between siblings, one child generally feels powerful in the fight, and the other, bullied. Although they think it's their right to harshly voice opinions in anger, they're most often left feeling despondent and having damaged their sibling. Since the Bible says, "Do everything without complaining and arguing," (Philippians 2:14) we need to take fighting seriously. And because Proverbs 18:17 says, "In a lawsuit (or tattling of a sibling) the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines," we need to be careful how we judge matters with our kids. And because Hebrews 12:11 says, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on , however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it," we need to protect brothers and sisters by terminating unkindness.
I'd like to write about how beautifully amicable it is around here all the time, however, I would be doing myself and you a great disservice. How else do we learn about dealing with the issues of life without dialoguing with one another and being honest? If I let you believe it was gloriously tolerant in our home every moment, you might pull your kids out of school and start home educating, deciding that it must be the great cure for what ails your family. Or, worse, you might never attempt homeschooling, believing you could never be as perfect as the families you read about. I'm here to tell you, our family is normal (sometimes :) and children argue and boy, is it over nothing most days. When you're home all the time, you see your family's sin up close and personal. Other people take their sin to work or school with them and have a break from their family's for a time. But home, yep, that's where we all get to be our ugliest selves.
So, what do you do when you have multiple children who are related and who share space for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? By now, if you've been reading my homeschooling posts, you'll know that I rely on prayer a lot. I'm whispering to God all day long because I know He's a capable problem solver. When I'm willing to listen (and not just jabber on to Him), He gives me wisdom in dealing with the kids. Usually, if I sense that their arguing is a momentary dialogue that seems like it will quickly end with a solution, I allow it--as long as it doesn't escalate into meanness. Our home must be a safe place for hashing things out--in a productive manner. Sometimes things can get heated, but harmful is not allowed. God also places great mentors in my life to aid me in parenting through rivalry. Besides some wonderful people in my close circles, I've been inspired by families such as the Duggars, who have influenced two areas I'm working on. First, these parents try to praise ten times more than they correct and second, they foster a team spirit with their children. When you're a team, everyone wins when someone is choosing good and everyone suffers when someone is doing wrong. So then, that child must be encouraged by the others to do what is right. If you ask my children about the family as a team they'll be able to tell you it is our goal. Like the very human Duggars though, we don't always adhere to it at every turn. However, setting the standard of being a cohesive team and prayer are great first steps.
An example of how teamwork training has played out in our home: a sibling dawdled at getting her boots on and Sister stooped to help and bolstered the motivation of the younger one. Another example that happened recently: I left the schoolroom, started for the stairs and I overheard one child whisper, "Be quiet and do your work so she can see we're doing a good job when she gets back!" I paused on the step and praised God because I see glimpses of this training paying off. It's wonderful when you observe your children getting it. (I can't imagine how God feels when I finally learn something He's been trying to teach me!) I'll be honest, I've been downright embarrassed when my children have displayed behaviour that looked very little like the goals we've set. But, I love how Michelle Duggar has responded when TLC captured her kids fighting and then tried to "trap" her into unease. She sweetly laughed and said that her children were still in training and that they were behaving like adults might like to but have the maturity not to. Oh, the grace!
Besides being naturally inclined to sin, one contribution to sibling rivalry is the exposure to it on television and in movies. Lately, for our weekly family night, we've played movies where siblings exhibited less than loving behavior and words to one another. Much to our kids' dismay, we've turned the videos off and explained that if we don't condone those actions at home, why would we fill our heads with others demonstrating them? Our goal is to encourage and help each other with kind words but it's amazing how quickly those influences seep in and then I'm hearing the same phrases and name-calling in their disagreements. Another contribution is watching their mother. How many times have I heart my impatient, angry tone spew out of a small person's lips to their younger sibling? Too many to count! Modeling gentleness and a soft answer to their father, to the telemarketer on the phone and to them, is more persuasive than all other of their examples.
As a result of homeschooling, I believe, our family has come to love and respect each other more than if we were apart. I mentioned in an earlier post that my children call out that they love each other as they fall asleep in their beds. They stick up for one another (most of the time) when they witness one being bullied in a group and they don't like watching each other receive discipline. I remind them always that they truly are each other's best friends since they see each other the most. When everyone else is busy or gone, they will still have each other. Training children to serve one another in love takes prayer, teamwork, time and mentorship. I'm so thankful that I'm able to utilize these days at home to instill this in my kids as the Lord teaches me.