Posts tagged conflict

Alpha Male vs. Housecat

English: Papio hamadryas, alpha male

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If researchers were to place an alpha male wolf and a housecat in the same cage, what do you suppose they would find? Assuming the cat survives the first 24 hours, the researchers would probably find both animals in a severe state of agitation. The notion of placing two such creatures in a shared living environment is ludicrous, of course, which is why I’m scratching my head as to why God chose our family to conduct this little experiment.

 Today as I walked to school I found myself asking God this question. Why on earth would You have chosen to put Teddy and Sammy in the same family? I’m sure those who know our boys will agree that the animal comparisons are surprisingly accurate: our alpha male is the leader of the pack. A very social animal, this lead wolf is anything but a lone wolf. He feels that he bears the responsibility for justice in the family unit, and will enforce it in whatever way he sees fit. He is dedicated, loyal, and ambitious, although often misguided in his efforts to secure justice for all (primarily himself).

 Our housecat is soft and cuddly, often brushing up against us so that we’ll scratch him behind his ears. This is particularly true in the early mornings when he softly slips out of bed and seeks a warm lap to curl up in. When it comes to a sense of duty though, he is no match for the Wolf. He expends as little effort as possible to net the most advantageous result. A solitary animal, he is content to play by himself. He will hide away, occupying himself with paper fish and pouncing on the sneaky kitten that dares to interrupt his play. Luckily for the kitten, the Alpha Male is always on duty, seeking to mete out justice to the oppressed, with predictable results for all concerned. Scratched egos, ear-piercing screams, and teary faces abound.

 It’s been that type of day, I’m afraid. And yet, just when I was starting to despair of parenthood, I was handed some encouragement on a silver platter. First, Teddy’s piano teacher commented that, although he is a challenge to teach in many ways, he is a respectful student. Respect is one thing Daddy and I can do something about, so I will take that as a compliment and pass it on to Daddy when he and I can finally put our feet up tonight.

 Then his school teacher commented that he is very helpful in the classroom; one of the more cooperative children in the group. Although I’m completely perplexed by this elusive “spirit of cooperation,” I am not surprised by his helpfulness. I know my kid to be one to make himself available when he sees a need. Just today he was telling me that he and a friend had given up their recess in order to clean 40 markers. Apparently Teddy has offered his teacher that he will gladly stay inside with her the next time she’s not on yard duty and help her with whatever needs doing inside. That’s saying a lot for a kid whose favourite subject is recess.

 And finally, as we were walking home we passed two older boys: Justin Bieber and his friend, Justin, if I remember correctly. One of the self-assured young men casually tossed his empty pop can into the creek, even as he was standing not 5 feet from a trash can. Teddy looked from the boys to me, almost as if to say, “Alpha female, did you just witness this grave injustice? Because if I saw what I think I saw, integrity compels me to act now.” To my own shame I confess to hesitating. I imagined the conversation with the Justins to go about as well as a confrontation between me and a pair of raccoons: those cantankerous creatures know that there’s no gumption behind that club I’m pointing at their noses, and it’s mostly because I know I’d get in trouble with the Humane Society if I actually used it.

Teddy doesn’t know about ornery raccoons or the Humane Society. All he knows is that his Mama taught him that metal is not compost and someone, somewhere has to clean up this mess, so with all his 7-year-old bravado he stood up and said, “Why’d you do that?” At which point the boys turned around, surprised, and Teddy’s Mama was shocked out of her silence and gave them the what-fer. Kudos to my young alpha male. As difficult as he is to parent, this kid is going to make a great man.

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Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop

Cockfighting dsc01729

Image via Wikipedia

One of the first songs I was introduced to in Mrs. Fairbairn’s music class as an awkward 11-year-old immigrant girl was “Let There Be Peace On Earth (and let it begin with me-e)” Being a sentimental little girl I loved the song, and sang it with all the hypocritical gusto I could muster. The truth was, the only peace in my corner of the earth that I could realistically effect was with my younger brother, and God only knows how often my dear mother bellowed, “TAKE IT OUT BEHIND THE CHICKEN BARN!” when she’d had her fill of our bickering. In keeping with the general temperament of my family of origin, the two of us fought loud and hard, and it drove my mother crazy. (We’re basically pale Italians that eat Borscht instead of Pasta, but otherwise proprietors over the same fiery temperament). Perhaps Mom secretly prayed for her grief to be visited on us when we too became parents.

Or maybe it’s the prayers of Oliver’s mother that have been answered (though, to be sure, that gentle soul would never wish grief on anyone). I am told he and his younger sister had some terrific battles as well, although their style of fighting was different. Apparently only his more vocal sister would scream while Oliver quietly taunted her, causing her to get the short end of the rod of correction more often than he did. That’s how his sister tells it, anyway. Prayers or no prayers, the sins of our youth have been visited upon us in our adulthood and we are now the frazzled parents presiding over two flavours of fighting: Teddy and Sammy fight like my brother and I did – loud and hard, while Sammy and Caleb fight like Oliver and his sister did, with one screaming at the top of his lungs while the other surreptitiously whips up his brother’s ire. The chickens have come home to roost, except we have no chicken barn to which we can drive the three of them when the battle gets too intense.

The experts tell us that sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. One author I read put it this way: if your husband came to you one day and said that he has enjoyed being married to you so much that he would like to take another wife, you wouldn’t be pleased. In the same way the Apple of Your Eye, your First-born, does not appreciate you introducing a sibling into his little world either. Neither will your Second-born appreciate the Third. In fact, it is quite likely that he will say things like, “I love Caleb a little bit, but I love Teddy millions!” or “Caleb can go live with another family now.” He may even talk about your family in terms that completely exclude that nasty youngest child who came to usurp his throne.

I don’t know where to pin the blame, but in the last few months conflict has been at an all-time high among our children. As anyone knows who has had to referee fights on a half-hourly basis (if not every five minutes) this results in a very, very cranky Mommy. A very cranky Mommy results in very cranky kids, who can stand each other even less than they could before, and so the cycle is perpetuated. Separation only works as long as they’re in their separate corners. When time-outs are over and life resumes, so does the fighting.

Short of proposing a child-swap with another family, we really feel like we’re at our whit’s end most of the time. Until this week when Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine arrived in our mailbox, and on the cover the headline, Can your Kids be friends? I tore off the plastic wrap and devoured the article immediately. Out of that article came a brand-new approach that we have tried with our two eldest with some measure of success. Most of my readers are probably already practicing this ingenious method of problem-solving with their children, but here it is anyway:

Step 1: put both parties in a time-out to give them a chance to cool down. Insist that you will not entertain any explanations (translation: tattling) at this time.

Step 2: without listening to either side of the story, sequester them in their room together with strict instructions to use words to express their frustration with their sibling and talk out their problem.

Step 3: if they still cannot solve their problem, get involved by hearing both sides of the story. So far we have not yet reached step 3. Our children have been able to solve their problem peacefully without Mommy or Daddy around. The process is much shorter and the peace longer-lasting than when we attempt to get all the facts and dole out appropriate consequences. I think that basically the kids just want to get back to playing and would both rather save themselves additional penalty minutes.

As for the younger two, I’m still waiting for my epiphany. Given that they’re 4 and 2, the previously outlined approach will not work. Any suggestions?

What I cling to, is that their fighting actually means they care about each other. Although my brother and I fought like cat and dog, somewhere along the line we became best friends and remained very close until we met our respective spouses. Both of our weddings felt a bit like a funeral for the other, who knew only too well that this new spouse was the replacement, the rightful occupant of that place of trust and dependency we had occupied for each other during our growing-up years. Today, after several years of working out the kinks in our overhauled relationship, fused together by new bonds of shared marriage and parenting joys and frustrations, our relationship remains strong and committed. The fights are a thing of the past and our mother can finally relax. Still, 30 years seems like a long time to wait for peace!



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For the Love of Brothers

I have recently asked myself the question, “what must have gone through Eve’s mind when she brought Abel home from the…wherever babies were born at the dawn of time?” As the first sibling in the history of the world, it was anyone’s guess as to how this would play out. Eve probably knelt down, took little Cain in her arms, and said with great feeling, “look honey, it’s a baby brother for you! He’ll be your best friend and you’ll play together all the time and maybe, when you’re older, Daddy will build you bunk beds!”

Not having grown up with any siblings (not having “grown up” at all, I suppose) Adam and Eve must have been left scratching their heads more than once about why on earth their two boys just couldn’t get along. When exactly did it dawn on them that there was a problem between their boys? Was it the first time Cain grabbed baby Abel and dragged him around the house by his head? Perhaps it was when Abel was 3 ½ and Cain was 6, and Abel would argue every single point Cain made, insisting that the blue sky was actually red, and a helium balloon floats down, not up. At least there were no relatives who gave the boys non-identical gifts, otherwise Cain and Abel would have been fighting about who got to play with which jeep too.

Some of my readers will think all this conjecture a stretch, no doubt, but look at how that relationship ended. Don’t tell me those boys didn’t have a history before Cain finally did in his younger brother.

After two weeks of Christmas holidays, Oli and I found ourselves desperately wishing for a four-bedroom house where we could sequester the boys at regular intervals.  Our new parenting motto is “divide and conquer.” I highly recommend this motto to anyone who feels like they’re kept busy just trying to put out fires as they erupt between their children. (It’s also very useful when you’re trying to get two of your children to complete a simple task like putting on their pj’s while you’re putting the baby to sleep. The division will decrease the temptation for the children to run around naked in their bedroom, waving their pajamas like a cowboy lassoing a heffer, and shouting and laughing loudly about jokes involving poo, pee, and farts.) Alas, we remain in our three-bedroom home, which brings with it some unique problems beginning at 7:00am and usually ending 13 hours later.

We have been blessed with a bossy and pious 6-year-old parent and a 3 ½ year-old dissenter with the emotional constitution of a stick of butter. Here is the typical 6:45am interchange for these two who, for better or worse, share a bedroom: One of the boys wakes up and cannot stand being awake alone, so he wakes up the other boy. Since it’s still dark and neither one likes the dark (besides, it’s lights-out until 7:00am) they are completely co-dependant until the lights are on. If Teddy has to go pee and heads out the door too quickly, Sammy panics and begins to cry as he quickly runs after him to the bathroom.

Once in the bathroom they begin to discuss, which is dangerous when one of the boys feels compelled to argue every point that his brother makes, and the other has the patience quotient of a Tazmanian Devil. Teddy, who usually begins any conversation, will make a statement like, “Sammy, when we’re done peeing we have to go back into our beds until the clock says 7:00.” At age 3 ½ (at least I attribute this to his age… it’s my only hope) Sammy will inevitably say, “No we don’t,” in that sing-song way that annoys Teddy more than anything else in the world. Instantly furious, Teddy reiterates the validity of his statement by angrily pointing out that, “yes we do, because Mom said so!” Using the broken-record tactic that drives even the most expert debater to the brink of madness, Sam simply re-uses his initial response: “No she didn’t” (imagine the sing-song voice here). In Teddy’s world it’s two strikes and you’re out, and so he comes out swinging at his annoying younger brother, who immediately bursts into heart-wrenching sobs and comes running out of the bathroom blubbering about how Teddy’s angry and he hit him. Go figure. Repeat this interchange with slight variations throughout the day and take away separate rooms, and you might see why I desire a four-bedroom house.

18 months ago we were also entrusted with a highly intelligent, mischievous little boy whose idea of a good time is incessantly bothering his older brother Sam with things like repeatedly touching his arm while we’re driving (yes, that is a grievous sin), or pressing in really closely next to him to get a look at the book Sam’s looking at. When Sam – who, deep down, is really a peaceful little boy – takes his book and moves away, Caleb will wait for only a second or two before following him to press against his side once again. (It doesn’t help the situation that Caleb is really near-sighted and needs to see things up close.) When Sam says, “No Caleb!” our pre-verbal baby can often be heard responding with “ehh!” which Sam correctly interprets as a “yes,” which results in those two phrases being volleyed back and forth between the two.  As Sammy’s ire rises, so too does Caleb’s enjoyment of the interchange. If Sammy has barricaded himself in his room to get some peace and quiet from the onslaught on two fronts, Caleb sets out to find Teddy. Surprisingly, Teddy has much more patience for him, although even Teddy has his limits. It’s just a plain fact that 18-month-old little boys get in the way of a good game of cars, and cannot be tolerated. Their peaceful play usually ends when I hear, “Caleb, NO! Mom, could you come take Caleb please?” So much for dinner preparations.

It was with much delight and surprise, therefore, that Oli and I commented to each other just a few days ago about how peacefully the boys were playing downstairs. By the sounds of it they were playing with their toy kitchen, and were obviously engrossed in their meal preparations, which allowed me to complete mine. Anybody who’s a parent knows that you do not pick that moment to go check on the kids, because that will automatically break the spell, so we stayed upstairs, enjoying the rare moment of peace. After a while, Teddy invited me downstairs to see what they had been cooking. Expecting dinner at their restaurant, I made my way downstairs to see what they had been up to. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Teddy excitedly proclaimed that they were giants, and that the little Playmobile people in the pots and pans were the people they were eating for breakfast. Too much Jack and the Beanstalk, perhaps? The scenario left me essentially speechless, so I turned around and went back upstairs. Pick your battles, right? That night, dinner on the table won.

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