Sibling Rivalry

I have complained about how my kids bicker too much. It is so annoying. They can be so mean to one another and to me. And I know deep down we all love one another.

The other day H. and I were bickering at the bookstore. He needs his summer reading books, 1984 and the God of Small Things. I said the version didn’t matter, he said he must have the exact, specified version. I had a get-it-done attitude; he had a wait-and-see attitude.

I was embarrassed when another mom friend, L., interrupted our disagreement just to say hello.

“Oh, sorry, we were just fighting,” I explained. “We fight a lot.”

“Fighting’s good,” she said. L’s a teacher and I believe her. Respectful disagreement is healthy.

One of my favorite phrases in an argument, and one that I always hope is a closer, is, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

I realized that my desire for my kids to never fight, bicker, or disagree puts undue pressure on them. Maybe even my attempts to squash their sibling rivalry somehow escalates their fighting. As if they unconsciously realize, “Great, now Mom’s in the fight, too. Let’s fully commit to this argument.” And then the yelling escalates.

At times, I do flip out. “Don’t you realize your arguing creates an impact! We are kind, loving parents. You are not being kind and loving!” The kids are too competitive. Or maybe they simply can’t help being mean, like when they point out one another’s pimples. I can’t figure it out.

I show exasperation.

And sometimes having a human and impatient response pays off. Recently after my kids were in a yelling match, my son went to play ball. On his way home, he phoned me. “Mom, I’m passing the grocery store. Do we need anything?”

I was shocked. “Yes, we need juice and milk.” I was totally pleased. And yesterday, the kids did pitch in and tidy up the apartment, even as they fought about how little the other person was doing, and how much they were doing. (See what I mean? Competitive!)

I had set the timer for 10 minutes. I said, “That’s all you have to do! Ten minutes.” But  an hour later, H. was still working, hammering loose cords into the molding.

Small victories. But I’ll take them. And I’ll take the fighting because I have no choice. I do have a choice in my response to their sibling rivalry. I will not let it get to me.

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Powering Down

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I can’t get my kids to unhook both of their ear buds. When I come home from work and they’re lounging on the couch, I ask them about their day and they unhook one bud. They’re, literally, half listening and half answering.

If I reach over and pull out the other ear bud, they scream, “You’re abusing me. I’m calling Child Services.” (They love to joke like that.)

I feel like putting in my own ear buds. In my ear, I will arrange for a preteen to whisper, “You’re such a good mother. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for working every day. Thank you for your kindnesses and humor. Now, mother, I will go make dinner for the family. And I will set the table.” Sure, it sounds robotic and saccharine. So? What’s wrong with that?

I like having and giving my full attention. I like giving and receiving household help.

I ask for help getting dinner. No one answers. They are bopping their heads to invisible music or smiling as they look at the small screen in their hands.

At least, when family dinner is on the table and we are seated together about to say grace, they are fully present. No, wait, why is my son smiling at his lap and why is his lap buzzing and glowing? That little brat! Give me that! (I take his iPhone.)

I am writing this on our vacay on the West Coast of Florida by the pool. At this moment, I don’t really care that no one listens to me. I’m not listening either. I hear only the gentle splashing sound of the fake waterfall by secluded swimming pool. Life is good. Tune out. Power down.

Criticize or praise?

I am a huge fan of praise. I love telling my colleagues, my kids, my friends, “Hey, great job.”

Last night at an opening night party (yes, I’m cool like that) for a new play, Unnatural Acts, at the Classic Stage Company, I saw Annika Boras, the actress who played Lady MacBeth there. I gushed, “You were so good.” And besides being brilliant — she’s beautiful and nice too! (It’s so great when that all comes together.)

I said, “Wow, great job. Love your work,” to Senator Chuck Schumer a month ago when I saw him at Jones Beach walking the boardwalk. http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/why-was-our-senator-at-the-beach-today/

Just because I love giving praise, doesn’t mean everyone does. Or that everyone should.

I probably don’t receive as much praise as I give to the people in my life, like my spouse — people with Parkinson’s Disease are not known for being effusive. I do praise myself and give myself some positive self-talk. “Wow! MB! You were incredibly productive and creative today!” Yes, I have been known to kiss the mirror. (“You look good, MB!”)

I wonder if I need need more than most in the affirmation department. I may just be cut from a cloth that likes to give and receive kind words, being one of five kids from a slightly (?) dysfunctional family.

You may say, “It’s fine to praise yourself, crazy lady, just don’t over-praise your kids. The way everyone receives a medal, even if they came in last or simply existed.” To you, I say, “What?! What am I supposed to do? Tell them ‘Win next time.’ I love my kids unconditionally. I do try and praise effort most of all, being a fan of hard work. But I tell them all the time that I love them and that they are awesome. So sue me! I overpraise!”

My kids are more brilliant, beautiful, and sweet, even than Lady MacBeth. Not that I’m comparing. (That’s the kiss of death — compare and despair!)

Several business articles lately have backed me up on my penchant for praise. Praise is important in the workplace, actually, more important than criticism.

http://www.inc.com/articles/201106/how-to-fast-forward-your-goals_pagen_3.html  I like the way this article acknowledges that we don’t achieve anything alone; all achievements are the result of collaboration. And we ought to acknowledge our collaborators.

How much praise do we need to hear? And why are we so good at correcting one another rather than praising them? The Harvard Business Review offers some insights: http://blogs.hbr.org/hill-lineback/2011/04/why-does-criticism-seem-more-e.html?cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-management_tip-_-tip062311&referral=00203

This is also what all the strengths-based learning is about. Lead with your strengths. Do what you’re good at it. To find what you’re good at, praise yourself. If that’s too weird, start by praising someone else and work your way back home.