Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Raising a Nark

A friend and I were talking the other day about adult siblings who don't get along.  We were discussing how we want our kids to be friends with each other as they grow older.  My sister and I rarely ever fought and still don't-- we both figured we would live longer if we were on the same team (only partially a joke).  We could not be more different in personality but we look nearly the same, except that I look like a version of her that has "let herself go".  We talk everyday and go to art fairs together and laugh about our family.

My husband's family has 4 boys in 5 years (could you imagine that house?!)  They wrestle and tease, but they are all good friends (they claim that they fought until they realized that girls existed and then all of their energy shifted focus).  They golf together, have roomed together, make pasta on holidays, plan to watch games together, and without faking it, they've stood up proudly in each others weddings.  

My own son and daughter get along really well, for the most part.  They have their moments*, like yesterday with summer closing-out and they were purposefully annoying the heck out of each other at every turn while at the Art Institute, but usually, they are pretty good friends.  I'm sure karma will get me for this and my kids who normally hold hands when they cross streets will start kicking each other.  I'm not raising our children the exact same way as my mom or mother in law (no offense, I'm sure you guys would even change some things :0) - but here is one thing that both the moms did and that I continue to do...

Hangs on the door of our playroom*
There is very little tattling.  If someone tattles, EVERYONE gets in trouble.  I've done this since they were young.  There are always two or three or four sides to every story and I am highly doubting that out of the blue, with absolutely no prior provoking, your brother marched up, grabbed Beary, and threw him across the room.  I rarely, if ever, listen to the story and try to figure out who was "wronger" (a word my Dear Daughter has used for years and I love-- it is great on so many levels).  I don't want to hear the full, blow by blow and then in the end decide what the punishment should be.  There is no judge.  Someone could have chosen to stop the altercation at any moment, but chose not to.

If my kids don't get along and don't work things out quietly on their own, there are "grave" consequences... Yes, I am that mean mom... I pull the "no electronics" card often (fill in your own "currency").  I've pulled it for 40 days and it had nothing to do with Lent.  Electronics are a privilege, not a right (my Dad used to say that all the time to me about  the car -- drove me nuts then but I find myself using it all the time now).  I don't relish my role as the common enemy but it is for their own greater good, and I want them to learn to deal with disagreement, together.  After I pull the electronics card, I smile to myself and turn around.  If I ask them what they are doing in a corner, my son will say, "No worries Mom... just a little family meeting." as they discuss how they can make better choices, together.

It is hard to do this.  It is hard to step back and let your kids figure out their own grievances, especially when they are not equally matched in size, age, aggressiveness, or mentality but I feel like it is one of the most important things that can be done for kids.  Not only does it help them grow closer as siblings, it teaches them how to effectively deal with conflict in the real world (where not everyone will be of the same size, age, aggressiveness, or mentality).

My DD is a pleaser. She always has been; she just wants to make other people happy.  That sounds very sweet but often it is at the expense of her own happiness, she doesn't use good judgement, and she turns into a doormat (at school and home).  The way our house is layed-out, I can hear everything that happens in the playroom (don't tell my kids or their friends).  I listen as our Dear Son tries to manipulate his own way.  I often want to intervene, to go down there and tell him to stop being so bossy, but over the years, something amazing has happened.  My DD stands up for herself.  As important as it is for my DS to learn that he shouldn't be bossy and manipulative or people will not want to be with him, it is just as important for my DD to learn to exert her own independence; and they are learning this in the safe environment of our playroom.

There is, of course, personality.  Sometimes, no amount of what one does at home will change who they are, and that frankly, they just don't like each other.  Now I'm rarely so naive as to think that there is one key, but I know that tattling is a primary one.  I know many adults who were torn apart as kids through tattling and the saddest aspect is that many of those "kids" even have a rift with their own parents for feeling like their sibling, "the tattle-tale / nark / rat / informer" was often sided with.

Only time will tell if this is only a theory.  I know it is the American Dream, but I was disappointed when we had a boy and a girl because I felt like they had no hope of having that friendship that both my DH and I have with our siblings.  They will never share a room or clothes or that special bond but to my surprise, as they are growing older (9 & 11) - they seem to be growing closer and closer.  I can see my DS come home from being with other people's sisters and "nearly" embrace his own sister.  I watch them take care of each other and try to make each other happy.  They have inside jokes where with one look they will both uncontrollable laugh (I'm sure often at my expense)-- and after 4 weeks within arms reach of each other, the very day we got home from the trip, they asked if they could have a sleep-over (our DD on our DS's top bunk)... they wanted to be in the same room.


Sometimes, as a parent, it is really hard to determine when to intervene and when not to.  I found the little chart up-top on a website, there was no name associated with it, so I can't give credit, but it is brilliant and always helps me (and the kids) decide what is tattling and what is appropriate (and necessary). It is a bit of an art because there are many times that is important to intervene, just not for every little altercation.  It is also important to teach them how to effectively communicate and problem solve, but I've found that most of that is taught by example, not by engaging tattling.

I don't tolerate bullying.  If someone is having a rough time and actually being mean, I do intervene, especially when there is physical violence, which is unacceptable in our house.  When the set jaw, "angry face" comes out, it is time for separate corners / alone time.  For a long time.  I usually send my DD reading to refocus and I send my DS on a run or to kick a soccer ball into a net to refocus.  Sometimes we all do some yoga in the living room.

Some grown siblings will claim that they fought all the time as kids but are great friends as adults... this may be true but usually, in those cases, fighting is different than tattling.  Many siblings are annoyed by habits (not my siblings, I'm sure they all think my DH and I are flawless), or they may have yelled or wrestled or stole clothes but at their core they are still not torn apart, there are just annoyances and baggage.  Some families are just more dynamic than others and the relationships were louder, all that said, I will still stand pretty firm that tattling is not just aggravating for the parents, it is a debilitating habit for kids... who will someday be adults... it is never to late to start ending the tattling cycle... and as a side benefit, at this point in the summer, as a parent, you don't need to listen to the really annoying narking* of your children...

*If you ask them if they get along, they will both sort of shrug, they are still siblings but they are good to each other.  I remember when my DD was barely 3, we were visiting an assisted living facility.  She was proudly stomping through the halls in her brand new pink cowboy boots.  As always in these sorts of places, groups of people were sort of pushed haphazardly into a circle; a sweet hunched woman in a wheelchair asked if she wanted to be a cowgirl when she grew up.  My DD confidently answered, "No, I want to be a police officer!"  The woman was surprised and asked her why, to which she quickly and loudly responded, "So I can arrest my brother!"  I'm pretty sure quite a few of those old, lonely, and hurting people laughed for hours.


  1. And teachers will thank you for ending the tattling cycle! Great blog. I think I may share this with the parents of my students.

    1. Thanks! I thought it might be a nice public service-- feel free to pass it on... especially at this time in the summer; I look around the pool and see the exhaustion on these poor parent's faces, over something that shouldn't even need to be an issue. Of all of the hats that parent's need to wear, they can take a deep breath and cross "referee/judge" off the list; makes parenting less exasperating and is good for the kids too.

  2. I enjoy your writting and look forward to your book

  3. I enjoy your writing and look forward to your book!!

    1. Why thank you Ms Boyle. And I especially appreciate the added enthusiasm of the second post ;0) -- gesh I would love to write a book. I'm hoping that blogging will spring-board my creativity. Right now I'm mulling over a plot where a really pathetic protagonist falls in love with a vampire but a werewolf also loves her. It will be complicated but I think the general public will eat it up.