I think it was around August 1st when the official mood in our house took a hard left turn. The newness of summer had worn off, vacations had been taken, the middle school camper had returned, and school was still waaaaaaay off in the distance (three weeks is a lifetime when you’re waiting for solid routine, y’all).
If there was something—anything—for my children to bicker over, it was hung out on the washline each morning, noon, and night. Someone is chewing their food too loudly, Netflix isn’t working because you messed up the password, Dad told YOU to put the pool towels away, you always get to have sleepovers, that’s MY mommy, and on and on it went. It’s like logically my mind knew the madness would end once school started, but my blood pressure hadn’t gotten the memo. What do you do when you just want your kids to stop fighting for the love of all that is holy? And how do you feel good about your parenting when you’re just breaking up fights between the savage beasts who actually happen to be semi-sweet children when they’re away from the pack?
If you’re surviving through a similar sibling saga (I’m told age doesn’t really matter here) and need a few tips, I speak from experience but not perfection:
Create separate spaces for siblings to go for at least one hour a day. My children share rooms, so I can’t exactly tell them to head there for their personal time (and also bedrooms can feel punitive but that’s another post), so we got creative this summer and switched it up a bit. Sometimes, Harper’s hour would be spent in my room reading, and other times she’d go out to the front stoop. Often Maddox would do art in the kitchen, but I’d also find her sitting in the driveway. Sometimes, Henry would fit into a little man cave in his closet, and sometimes the backyard was the perfect spot for him. *Winnie was always napping during this time.* The key is to set the expectations for the amount of separated time and reinforce that it happens daily and that it’s not a punishment, just a chance for everyone—including mom—to reset.
Give them the gift of individual time with you. This certainly isn’t possible every day or even every week, but Graham and I try to have an individual date with our kids at least once a month. I’ll take Maddox to thrift shops, Graham treats Henry to ice cream after a flag football practice, Winnie goes with me to a playground, Harper loves the library. You can find out more on our philosophy of our individual dates with our kids here.
Don’t force friendship. Just don’t. Do you get annoyed by the people you spend the most time with (aka co-workers, spouse, best friends)? Then, you must understand that they do, too. Pray for their future friendships. Correct them when they’re unkind in the now. But don’t force a friendship between children who need their autonomy.
Don’t let the baby run the show. She wants to because it’s in her little dictating nature (and probably has something to do with her birth order too), but when the bigs see the baby running the show, they are filled with maddening jealousy that blinds them to the fact that they did the same thing once. Maybe mention that to them once or twice, but don’t expect understanding. And don’t let the baby of the family rule to roost. He can take his turn. He can wait for the milk after big brother is served. He doesn’t have to sit on your lap while you’re reading a book to his sister.
Affirm your children behind closed doors and in front of their siblings. Not every positive affirmation I have for my children gets spoken out loud in front of their siblings. Some things are just for their ears alone. But other times, I speak things that are true of each of them in the presence of their brother and sisters because I want it to be heard. When Harper gives away her allowance money to a special cause, I affirm her kind heart. When Henry plays make believe with Winnie without being asked, I want everyone to hear how he helps me by entertaining his little sister. Affirming your children in private and in public increases the likelihood that they’ll a) believe what you say about them to be true and b) begin saying affirmations over themselves one day.