June 30, 2014

Sibling Squabbles vs. Scorched Earth Parenting Policy

“I’m going to throw this crayon right through your skull,” thought Elena as she released it and watched its sizzling trajectory and impact on Marina’s forehead. Mission accomplished: squeal of surprise, visible pain, and sobs. Did I see a satisfied smirk on the perp’s face? Oh yessir, I sure did.
I witnessed this Nolan Ryanesque feat of velocity and accuracy, and had to deal the aftermath: wailing younger daughter with welt on forehead, distraught/concerned wife, and my own worries of what would be next in the saga of sibling rivalry we are facing lately.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Teasing, sparring, taunts and myriad mind games—if you have more than one kid in your house, chances are they fight using these tactics. We have seen a rising tempo of sister-fights that spiral out of control. These tend to be tiffs over who has the biggest piece of cake, who got more watermelon, who stuck out her tongue first, or who gets the preferred futon, ad nauseam. This leads to faces made, punches thrown, and parents going nuts due to relentless mental siege.
Are these brawls a sign of competing for parental attention?
Is there resentment due to different ages/different abilities?
Are the girls simply bored?
Are we parents inconsistent in how we are raising them?

To be honest, I don’t give a damn about the causes, because the cacophony of kid conflict is driving us loony and too often my temper is like magma about to erupt.
Some other examples that demonstrate we are not a perfect family:
- One daughter tossed a tea bottle at the other over the choice of TV program. This was akin to the USS Maddox firing at North Vietnamese torpedo boats during the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The action provoked a type of mental guerrilla warfare between Marina and Elena for an entire weekend (thus ruining ours).

- Just last week I nearly crammed a boiled egg into the head of my eldest rising daughter, both of our faces contorted by rage, after she threw it to the ground. She did this to emphasize her protest over a breakfast flap with her sister. The Egg Incident was the tipping point for me after several months of strained sibling relationships, constant bitching and moaning about perceived slights or infractions, and ceaseless quarreling.

- Inevitable punches and screaming in the back seat any time we spend more than 2.5 minutes in the car. I have timed it.

The mental toll has been hard. As parents, we know that as the girls get older and start to form their own distinct personalities and opinions, there will be conflict. Managing the conflict is our job. I guess we are, ahem, “not succeeding.”
Hence a change in parental policy from “three strikes” to “scorched earth.” I have gone from “I’m OK, You’re Not So O.K.” tolerance to Gen. Patton-style discipline, viz.:
Problem: Signs of hostile intent at breakfast.
Action: Zero tolerance—move one to another table. Outcome is usually blessed silence.

Problem: Back seat squabbles inside car that become louder than Marilyn Manson concerts and ruin day trips.
Action: Erect quasi Berlin Wall to keep belligerents apart.
(By the way, my informal experiments really work.)
So, when I hear unspoken words flying between my daughters like “Take my puzzle and I’ll cut you, bitch,”  I take solace that at least we are taking action against our warring youngsters and leading them to a brighter future where peace shall reign o’er the Earth…and between them.

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