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Rebecca Woolf On Letting Them Fight

Once upon a time, we lived a harmonious life of love and light and siblings who cradled each other lovingly beside a crackling fire. And while they certainly adore each other and sporadically show it, fighting has become a sort of second language around these parts.

Which is just the worst.

I’ve been on my own in the mornings, sans nanny/co-parent, for almost four months now and in that time have lost my voice approximately 16,000 times—because someone took someone else’s shoes and everyone needs the toilet at the same time but only one of the toilets will do (the second toilet is THE WORST, MOM!) and everyone is offending everyone else and there’s only one pink spoon and Revi is wearing Fable’s necklace but Bo had it first and, and, and …

Meanwhile, this is me:

“Stop.”

“Stop!”

“You guys, come on …”

“Stop fighting! You love each other!”

“Here are three pink spoons.”

“Stop.”

“STOP”

“Stop, IN THE NAME OF LOVE!!!”

“STAHHHHHHHHHHHHPPPPPP!”

And then, over the summer, the “Terrible Incident of 2014” happened, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that. The kids HAVE NOT stopped talking about it since it happened and someday, at my funeral I am guessing, the kids will gather and be like, “My mom was great and all but sometimes she was the worst.”

This is the time they deal with conflict and resolution, compromise and apology … and lucky for them, they have each other, people who will love them unconditionally while they experiment with being a little bit shitty.

And that incident has to do with me telling my dearly beloved children who I love more than anything in this world to SHUT THE FUCK UP, not once, but like five times, over and over in my car on the way to school, before pulling over, parking the car, getting out of the car and crying on the curb …

… before pulling myself together, getting back in the car (to four silent and stunned children), and driving the rest of the way.

I don’t think Archer has ever been so upset with me as he was that afternoon when I picked him up from camp. I had to issue a formal apology and explain to him that sometimes parents say hurtful things, too, and I’m sorry. Anger does strange and unexpected things to people.

It was then I realized that, in fact, anger DOES do strange and unexpected things to people, even young people, siblings who love each other, and that perhaps all of this sparring and bickering and crying and wanting to sit in the same chair at the same time is an important training period for young humans. This is the time they deal with conflict and resolution, compromise and apology … and lucky for them, they have each other, people who will love them unconditionally while they experiment with being a little bit shitty.

Because so much of being a brother, a sister, a twin is learning how to:

A. Stand up for yourself

B. Pick your battles

C. Let it go

D. Assert yourself

E. Empathize

F. Respect others

G. ... And yourself

H. All of the above

I. This is the longest multiple choice question ever

J. OK, I’m done now

And in a way, this explosion of angst and bickering is like watching four someday-adults warm up.

“You were the same way,” my mom tells me of my brother and me. “You were awful to each other at this age.”

Anyway. After the Infamous “Mom Used the F-word five times in the car” incident earlier this summer, I have made it a point to let them fight … realizing that if you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em beat each other. Not physically, of course, but I have come to recognize that a battle over “who gets to play with which Legos” is not mine to win. Or even participate in, really.

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Because somewhere between getting out of the car to cry and getting back into the car to drive, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the next decade trying to STOP the inevitable.

My kids are older now and with age comes … angst. And anger. And fights. And wanting the same chair at the same time. And being “annoyed” by little sisters and frustrated with big brothers and, and, and …

I can’t stop that. I cannot make them get along all the time. I cannot force them to gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes and hold hands and skip through puddles. Which is what makes it so wonderful when they do these things on their own.

Love and light is great and all, but let’s be real—it’s impossible to maintain one’s laid-back super-parent Zen at all times.

NOTHING gives me more joy than to see my kids love each other. ESPECIALLY now that so much of their time is spent arguing, "gotta put up with the rain to get the rainbow"-style.

And I feel so much better now, you know? Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It’s OK to fight. It’s OK to be angry sometimes. It’s OK for them to fight. It’s OK for them to be angry with each other sometimes. It’s OK if I walk away from the chair and let them sort it out on their own.

And in the moments when I feel like I might crack? Well, that’s OK, too. Because just as important as it is to recognize the power and beauty of gazing lovingly into my children’s eyes, it’s also important to allow myself to have my moments, too. Love and light is great and all, but let’s be real—it’s impossible to maintain one’s laid-back super-parent Zen at all times.

In order to be at my best, I have to:

A. Forgive myself for the days when I’m my worst

B. Forgive them, too

C. Allow them the space to forgive each other

D. … And me

E. … And themselves

F. All of the above

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