Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Herding cats and fighting children

I need to tell you something.

Something you should know. 

To better understand me and my life.


Sometimes raising my five kids is a lot little like raising a big ol' herd of cats. 

Melanie recently emailed me:

How do you handle sibling squabbles? Are you constantly jumping up from something you are doing to intervene during hitting/name-calling/yelling/pushing/not-sharing, etc, or do you just ignore them and make them work it out themselves?

Good questions, huh?

I will start by saying that, overall, my kids get along quite well.  On an average day, we don't have much fighting.  (This of course goes out the window if they're tired, randomly emotional, or if any combination of grandparents is visiting.  But usually they do well.)

But let me explain the cats thing. 

Our family's dynamic, for some reason, is such that my kids play all together, all day long.  In other words, they want to be together.  All.the.time.  All five of 'em.  Which can lead to a herd mentality, and assorted arguments and fights and mischief.  (God's cure for the Tower of Babel?  Brilliant idea.  Brilliant.)

Ironically, the two children who "fight" the most also adore each other the most.  These two spend every waking moment together.  They are the bestest of pals.  But, they fight.  This is because she is four years old and a force to be reckoned with, while he is nearly seven years old with a maturity level closer to her's in many ways.  She initiates pretty much every spat, and he reciprocates.  Their squabbles aren't really a huge deal, mostly arguments where they're pestering each other.  But it drives me crazy!  So I usually just yell say in a firm voice, "Knock it off!  Apologize and get along, or I won't let you play together!"  (I know, such great parenting.  I'm expecting a book deal any day now.)

And while I don't constantly jump up from what I'm doing to handle sibling issues (I'm not much of a helicopter parent), I do correct the kids if they're hurting each other's feelings or being mean.  Because while I want them to work things out themselves, I also realize that they are seven years old and younger--not terribly capable of properly resolving conflicts on their own.  I don't make a huge deal out of minor disagreements (and I HATE tattling), but I do have some hard-and-fast rules.  Like:

no excluding other kids
no name-calling or yelling
no hitting/kicking
no teasing
everyone shares

Ultimately, I expect my children to be kind to one another and find ways to play peaceably.  Toys are to be shared.  The kids are usually fine with this, and anytime one of them is having a hard time sharing, I gently remind him or her that the other kids share with them all the time.  They all agree it's more fun this way.

I am also big on a child having alone time and space if they desire it, especially since there are seven of us living here and the kids share rooms.  If Anna wants to be alone to read?  She can go in her room, or in my room.  (Rarely though do they choose to separate from the group.)

If a spat is bad enough, I have the two arguing children go sit on their respective beds to cool off a bit until we can all talk calmly about it.  I make my children apologize to one another when there's been a problem--and they have to look at the child and say it in a nice voice when they do.  Who knows how much remorse they actually feel, but at this point, I figure it's an incredibly valuable thing to be able to say the words "I'm sorry.  Will you forgive me?"  The more practice, the better.

It's normal for kids living together to fight and shout and experience tension on a regular basis. I think the home is the most challenging--and amazing--training ground for living a virtuous life. Where better to learn charity towards others, or how to pursue peace?

There is no real age segregation in our home--the four bigger kids include their baby sister in most any game she's willing to play (and some that she's not!)  I feel incredibly blessed to have five kids who are best friends.  They laugh and talk and watch movies and splash in the pool together.  They look out for each other and have such open, accepting hearts.

But sometimes they fight.  And sometimes act like a herd of cats.  Of course I'm a mama, so I love them anyway.  And I'm seeing more and more what amazing gifts they are to each other, that the virtues they build and the lifeskills they learn--living as a family and looking to the common good--are more than worth the arguments and tears.

Thanks for asking!


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