The hardest years of mothering to me were those when my girls were 8-11–because of the girls constantly fighting.
Sure, other years left me with far less sleep. Other years gave me less time to myself. But the years when I questioned myself as a mom, and wondered whether I was really doing a good job, were the years when my children were constantly bickering. How could the two people in the world that I loved so much be so mean to each other?
I would often say to the girls, “Katie, Rebecca is your best friend. Of everyone in the world, she is the one who will be with you for the vast majority of your life. She will be your closest confidante. So you had better be nice to her now.”
And I would say the same thing to Rebecca. And I would tell them, over and over again, of a scene when I was 16 that is imprinted hard on my brain: My mom on a stretcher as she is being wheeled into surgery for breast cancer, which looked like it was very serious, and both of my aunts flanking her, each one holding a hand. Sisters matter.
Yet the fights continued. Katie desperately loved her big sister, but Rebecca didn’t want to be bothered by such a “little girl”. And the more Rebecca tried to act like the perfectly angelic grown up child, the more Katie turned into a little devil.
Once Katie reached her teenage years all of that changed. It still has been a running joke in our family–how Katie longs to be included and snuggled, and Becca often pulls away:
But they know it’s a joke, and every now and then Rebecca reciprocates.
And she makes Katie very happy in the process.
The girls have come out of the sibling rivalry years relatively unscathed, as did I, despite some sleepless nights and lots of self-deprecating prayers.
One thing I learned, though, is that too often we prevent kids learning lessons from squabbles because we step in and stop sibling fights ourselves.
We make kids go to separate rooms. We figure out what the fighting is about and impose our idea of a “fair” solution. Or we tell the kids to be quiet and stop it.
When we do that, we take away from our kids the opportunity to learn to deal with conflict well, and we short-circuit the reconciliation process that can happen.
I’ve read a ton of parenting literature over my life–and I’ve written some, too (though obviously I focus more on marriage). And I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with a lot of the literature, because it seems to focus on the fact that “kids are bad” and therefore parents need to gain the upper hand and get control, or else kids will rule the roost. It almost seems like adults and kids are on opposing sides. We must not let the kids beat us! Don’t be their friend. Be their parent!
One thing my daughter Rebecca found when she was writing her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, though, (the book is out October 3!), is that you can be both their parent AND their friend. They aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have a great, close relationship with your children where you joke and hug and snort milk out of your nose by accident, and you can still impose limits when need be. And kids actually seem to react far better to a parent who obviously enjoys the kids than a parent who is constantly trying to show the kids, “I am in charge!”
So I was very happy to find Jim and Lynne Jackson from Connected Families.
Finally someone who parented like me! They were interested in forming close relationships with their kids and training their kids to be Christ-like, rather than simply making sure they had control over them.
When it comes to sibling squabbles, they have a unique Peace Process to defeat sibling rivalry that I shared with you last year (that’s a great post if you’re struggling with siblings fighting!). I was reading more about it in their newsletters lately, and a thought occurred to me:
The real problem with many methods of parenting is that we forget that Jesus can be with children, too.
Yes, kids can be hellions. Yes, kids can be Tasmanian devils. Yes, kids can be exhausting.
But you know what? Kids can also be incredibly compassionate, super generous, and very kind. They can crawl up into your lap when you’re sad and give you a huge sloppy kiss. They can offer their lollipop to a child who is crying. They can try to clean up a huge mess to make you happy.
Jesus said that whoever welcomes a little child welcomes Him. He said that we have to become like a little child to enter the kingdom of God. And if Jesus was so excited about children, then perhaps we should stop viewing parenting as a big effort to control our kids, and more as an exciting adventure of seeing Christ work in them.
When my girls were teenagers and I would talk to other parents, I always said that I expected my daughters to make good choices.
The reason? As Rebecca shares in her book, I told them over and over again, “You have the Holy Spirit just as much as I do.”
They accepted Christ when they were young, and so God was busy sanctifying them even when they were 8 and 9. No, they weren’t perfect. But I could expect that they could make good decisions and act in a Christlike way.
And in those years when sibling fighting seemed to be a constant challenge, I would tell them that. I would say, “I know that you are better than this. I know in your heart you love each other.” And I called them to something more.
I guess my main message to you today is this: I know there are seasons when parenting is hard.
But never forget that your job is not to control your children so that they are perfectly well-behaved. It is to guide them and train them so that they can live out the Christian life as the Holy Spirit lives in them. Because God is there, and He is working. Just, please, don’t short-circuit that process by trying to run everything.
They show you not how to control your kids, but how to help them learn to control their emotions and truly show each other love. And it honestly works! You don’t have to live with constant sibling fights. You can find peace in your home.