Those of us with more than one child have the same sweet photos in our cherished collection of newborn baby memories. They show a bright-eyed youngster gazing into the pink, wrinkled face of a swaddled, squirming baby. There is a tangible truth that we all felt when we saw their eyes first fall upon each other. We knew it in an instant. From this day forward they would be each other's best friend.
Seriously? I mean, who were we kidding? Certainly not the children because in that moment when we were moved to tears by their bonding they were both thinking, "It's On". I'm pretty sure that was the instant that they began making a mental list of all the ways they could torture each other in the coming years. Oh, yes, they played us well.
I remember Gabrielle's early days in our home. Two year old Joseph would sit by her pumpkin seat and talk sweetly and softly to her. He would call her "pretty heart" and gently touch her little head, giving her kisses and telling her that he loved her. And then he would walk over and literally beat his head against the wall. Looking back I'm pretty sure he was thinking, "Oh, man. Just give me one minute alone with that little brat and I will teach her who's boss around here!" In truth, the first time we left them alone with Khris' parents Joseph actually bit Belle's chubby little arm, nearly drawing blood. If you didn't know Joseph you might think he was mean spirited. We decided he was simply establishing the pecking order in the Hale home.
I was reminded of sibling squabbles earlier today when a friend of mine called and was telling me that she had to leave work early because her sons had called her in the middle of a 'knock-down, drag-out' fight. She was frustrated, as any mother would be, because this kind of behavior has apparently been going on for quite some time now. She is torn between growing her business and constantly serving as a buffer between her boys.
Knowing there would be no quick fix to her problem, I offered to take one of the boys off of her hands for the evening. We made plans for me to pick him up and then she said to me, "Kristi, how do you do it? Your kids love each other and play so well together. What did you do different than the rest of us?"
I wasn't sure what to say to her. It's true. My children do get along with each other better than most other families that we know. The boys are each other's favorite playmate and the same holds true for the girls. They don't often ask for to have friends over because they would just as soon hang out with each other as entertain friends from the neighborhood or from school. Still, they certainly have their moments. I was actually witnessing one of those moments as she was praising me for being such a good mom.
I went on to tell her that for us there has never really been any secret. First of all, I believe that disagreements are healthy to some degree. It seems to me that arguing one's side and finding a way to work things out (assuming there is minimal violence involved) is something they are going to have to learn how to do anyway. What better place than where they are most loved and supported? I also feel strongly that if mom or dad is always stepping in to solve the problem for them they will come to rely on this same response in their teen years and will be unable to think through situations and make good decisions for themselves.
The second part of my philosophy has come from my strong belief that the whole point of having several children is so that they will always have someone to be with. Certainly they will not always LIKE having this person around, but they will never be lonely. I have often been overheard telling one of the children, "Go play with your brother. That's why we had him." Not entirely true, but you can see my point. Because of this attitude we never went too far out of our way to arrange playdates for them. If they wanted to play there was surely someone here who would be happy to help out.
Still, I have to credit to God's grand plan for our lives. Both the boys and the girls were born 4 1/2 years apart. They are close enough in age to have the same interests, but far enough apart to diffuse any real sense of competition between the same gender. And there's someone of the opposite sex in between to serve as a liason when needed. Perfect. God is good.
Beyond that I didn't really know what to tell her. She encouraged me to sit down and put some thought into exactly what we have done and box it up because she was confident people would buy it. "Parents everywhere want to know how to have peace in their homes," she insisted. Was she seriously talking to me?
As it turned out something of what I said was useful to her. When I picked up her son she said the boys were getting along better and thanked me for my words of wisdom. I was thrilled! Maybe I wasn't so bad at this after all. Was it possible that something I had passed along actually worked? I had to know what she had said to them to make them stop fighting. She winked at me and said, "I told them that if they did not stop fighting immediately and figure out a way to get along then they would be forced to play together all the time just like the Hale kids." Apparently they looked at each other and stopped dead in their tracks. No WAY were they going to end up hanging out together. Unthinkable.