She looked startled for a fraction of a second then burst into tears.
I had just screamed at Lilly.
It may not have been the best parenting tactic but I was at my wit’s end. The girls’ communication with each other has been degrading for the last few weeks. They’ve typically gotten along remarkably well…particularly for their age difference. There have been the normal sibling arguments and fights but overall they play very well together.
Trinity is reaching an age where her little sister is feeling like more of a nuisance to her than a playmate or a blessing. We knew this transition would eventually come but I was not prepared for the rapid onset we have experienced.
As Trinity wants more time to herself she has started A) ignoring Lilly to do her own thing B) speaking to Lilly in derogatory, impatient tones C) insisting on having her way on something totally inconsequential because she knows it upsets her sister.
Do any of you who know Lilly want to venture a guess as to her reaction to such treatment? Yes. Volume goes UP. My already not-so-subtle-in-the-communication department youngest has taken to screaming at Trinity in frustration and anger whenever Trinity does not do whatever it is Lilly wants her to do.
It’s constant lately. They are just at each other all the time. Perhaps it’s worse because they have been sick and cooped up but something’s got to give.
We’ve talked about problems, solutions and strategies. There have been countless deep breaths and prayers. We’ve looked for root causes to address. We’ve talked and talked and talked about all aspects of these issues with both girls.
When talking hasn’t worked, we have resorted to just sending each one to their rooms. It may have provided some quiet and respite for Andy and I from the bickering but avoiding the problems by shutting them away for an hour doesn’t solve anything either. Plus…Trin LOVES having time to herself in her room, so it’s hardly a consequence and more of a reward for her.
Dealing with this day in and day out has left my patience worn down and my own frustrations rising to the surface – raw and feeling my “patient-mommy-teachable-moment” voice becoming a distant memory. I’m tired. I’m cranky. And I’m snapping.
The other day Lilly said to me out of the blue, “When I’m a mommy, I don’t want to yell at my kids.” My heart sank. I knew being worn down was placing a strain on my parenting but it must be worse than I thought. I resolved to do better.
Last night, inspired by something I saw on pinterest, I gave each member of our family a pretty paper heart. Then we all crumpled our hearts up into tiny balls of paper. Last, we all tried to flatten our hearts back out as flat as we could. But the damage was too much to be able to go back to the way they started. When we use hurtful words or tone of voice we hurt each other’s hearts and it’s very difficult to fix the damage. Part of our job as a family is to build each other up and protect each other’s hearts, not to hurt one another. They really seemed to get it.
Until this morning.
Would you like to know what they deemed worthy of picking a large fight over this morning? Lilly wanted them to sing along to a real song and Trinity wanted to make up her own. Enter derogatory tones and screaming.
I called Lilly downstairs to deal with the screaming first and planned on talking to Trin after. My INTENTION was to have (yet another) calm and rational talk about the strategies we had previously discussed. No sooner had I started talking than Lilly interrupted. And that’s when I screamed.
I mean, I SCREAMED.
“THIS IS HOW YOU TALK TO TRINITY EVERY DAY AND IT’S NOT OKAY!!!!!”
So much for doing better. I screamed this in exact imitation of the tone and volume she screams at Trinity multiple times every day. My throat still hurts. I don’t know how she does it on a regular basis.
After her startled look transitioned to tears, she wailed at me indignant and with obvious disbelief that I would speak to her that way, “You SCREAMED at me!!!!!”
“Yes, I did. Just like you scream at Trinity every day. How did that make you feel? How do you think Trinity feels when that’s how you speak to her all the time?”
We were able to have a really good conversation and I thought she finally understood, a little better, how destructive the screaming is.
Until she was upset ten minutes later. And I heard her volume start to rise. I wanted to curl up in a ball in a cry. I’m SO tired of dealing with this and nothing seems to be getting through.
I put the girls to work on a joint project together and told them they weren’t allowed to speak at all until they told each other five things they love or appreciate about the other. It wasn’t long before they were arguing over whose turn it was to say something nice.
I managed to get them back on track, giving compliments and working together. It’s been fairly productive for an hour now….mostly. But I don’t hold out hope that things are solved for the long-term. And I don’t feel particularly up to handling the continuing onslaught of bickering in a pinterest-worthy way.
I suppose I share this story because I was talking with a friend recently about how media allows us to share happy, perfect, images with the world – making our lives seem artificially sterilized of conflict, or struggles of any sort. But that image – put out by anyone – is a lie. We have lots of great moments as a family but we have plenty of moments that leave me thinking, “Those perfect pinterest moms would SO be judging me right now.” I’m certain those moms have plenty of imperfect moments as well. They just choose not to share them. So this is me…sharing some of our imperfect moments. And if, in the process of sharing this, anyone reads this and has strategies to share that worked well in your own imperfect families, I’d love to hear them. Both because my resources are running low and because it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my imperfect life. 🙂
Sooooooooooooooooooooo happening to us too. 😓
There are two things I do (sometimes instead of yelling, which is a huge win; sometimes it’s just after):
1. Push-ups. Each child has their own vice (M- trying to “parent” everyone and doing that tween aloof thing; Z- lying [far less common now than a couple years ago], or screaming; C-playing too rough/physical harm) so sometimes I just give them a number to do – 5 or 10, typically. But a couple times, after big blowups, Matt and I have both just told them to start going and they all do push-up until their arms fail and they’re crying. But then they’re also tired and band together against their torturers. It may sound a little harsh, but I figured it does them no harm, and actually helps them build strength and work out some extra energy that may be leading to the fractious attitudes.
2. “You are my only sister, and I LOVE YOU, and today I’m going to be nice to you.” Repeat until there’s enthusiasm, and while they’re hugging or sitting knee to knee, just for good measure.
Thanks Jenny! I’m totally going to use those.
Love the heart idea but love how you revealed your own so candidly even more. The truth is, hearing our kids bickering at one another breaks a mama’s heart more than anyone’s. When you’re homeschooling and everyone’s together 24/, these issues can be a huge challenge. Sometimes I just have to separate everyone for a whole day. No one plays with anyone else. That usually gets them back to appreciating having built in playmates around all the time. Outside friends can also be a huge leverage. “If you can’t even be nice to your own brother there’s NO way I’m sending you out to play with friends!” Great post on a topic we are all at our wit’s end with!
A whole day! That just might make them appreciate each other a little more. The outside friends is a big deal for Trin right now so that one will definitely work!
Looks like Pinterest esque like baby steps that will reap huge benefits at sometime either sooner or later. Hang in there. You are doing it all right!! With love
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Thank you!! We’re hanging in there. I came down really sick this weekend and they suddenly turned SO sweet and helpful and played perfectly. It was no fun being sick but the sibling bliss was a nice reprieve!
This is such a beautiful post! I think we all have moments where, as mums, we react in the same way as our children with the hope of helping them see how ineffective it is. I have 2 kidlets, my son who is 12 and my daughter, who is 11 and shopping with them used to be my worst nightmare. Between the arguing and fighting, constantly asking for stuff and general whinging, there was the blessed tantrums. One particular day, about 3 years ago, I had my own little tantrum, sat on the floor in Woolworths and refused to move. Not my finest moment, but I am thankful to say that there have been no more tantrums in the shopping centre. The rest of the behaviour still happens, but no more tantrums!
My kids still tell me regularly that they were so embarrassed!
Thank you for sharing!