Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Children are at War

Armed to the teeth. In a summer Bible camp tee shirt, no less.
My children are at war.

It's an unfortunate reality. But that is what it most certainly is: real. I'll bet your children are too. It seems to be a common affliction in families with more than one child.

Yesterday we were listening to an audio book in the car in which the little sister gets in trouble for hitting her big brother on the head with a shovel. He and his twin had been provoking her mercilessly. They had wrestled her to the ground and her glasses broke and they wouldn't leave her alone. So she whacked a brother with the nearest thing she had at hand- a shovel. He drops to the ground, his twin runs screaming to mom, who comes out and takes in one fact: her daughter hit her son over the head with a shovel. Mom is white with fury and refuses to listen to anything her daughter says but sends her to her room to deal with later. Little sister sees a smile of victory flicker across her brother's face, which immediately turns into a pained expression of misery as soon as mom turns back to him.

What family hasn't experienced this scenario? We wish our children would love each other, have fun together, protect one another. Instead, they are engaged in a fierce, ongoing daily battle (with constantly shifting alliances and the occasional truce), and the parents are usually just unwitting pawns in the game.

Big brother vs. little sister: bet you can't guess which side is which.

This morning, with each of my children separately, I decided to explore this “war” analogy with them. First we made a chart. Sibling One: Level 11. Sibling Two: Level 8. Sibling 3: Level 4 (based on their ages). Then I presented my analogy: "Let's say that you three are at war with each other. Tell me about the person on each side." I didn't have to explain any further than that before they began nodding enthusiastically and talking excitedly. They proceeded to list out the advantages, weaknesses, and offensive/defensive tactics of each “player” in the family war game. It was amazing. They were brutally honest, not just about their siblings, but about themselves. In fact, they were positively proud to tell me about all sorts of things that they do to get a one-up on their siblings, things I can tell you they never, ever admit to when confronted in the heat of battle. Punching, hitting, slapping, scratching, tickling, taking items as “hostage,” sneak attacks, screaming, whining, tattling... I'm not sure, but they got so carried away describing their feats of glory that they may have forgotten that it was their mother interviewing them.

We have some pretty clear roles going on. Oldest brother is top dog. He has the strength to hold people down while being tickled, the height to wave toys over littler heads, and a room with a door that locks. Middle sister is small, feisty, and fast. Stealth and speed are her trademarks. She's not afraid to do whatever it takes to defend herself, whether it be with fists or hitting a vocal pitch that bursts all the ear drums in the vicinity. Littlest brother doesn't have much power, but he does whatever he can to hold his own- flying leaps from the couch onto a sibling, throwing legos, or recruiting big brother to his defense if the enemy combatant is his sister.

And then there are the spoils of war: we talked about what they get out of victory in battle, or at least hope to get: peace from being bothered, revenge, control/power/gloating rights, tribute in the form of money and candy, and last but not least: parental vindication of their status as oppressed victims. Also, they admitted, sometimes it's just a way to have a little fun and excitement when things are too quiet and boring.

When I turned on my phone today, I had to laugh at the daily Bible verse that popped up: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” -James 3:16

I know I am dang tired of my house being a war zone. I know it's not what Jesus wants for our family or any family. I have hope because He came to heal and restore and redeem and intervene in human cycles of destructive behavior- I've already witnessed that power at work many, many times in my life. And I am thankful for what He gave me today: truth glasses to see things how they really are. These are the kids I have. I love them abundantly. And He has given them to me and Craig* to raise. I have to trust that He is showing us the way things are for a purpose, to bring hope and change to how we respond to one another.

Despite all that I have just written, I don't want you to think that it's always dog-eat-dog around here. Sometimes I am stunned by the love my kids show each other, the little things they do because they know a sibling will like it. They do have the ability to have fun together. But inevitably it happens: a conflict, and they are back to battle stations, and the tensions in the house are at code red.

I invite you to join me as I undertake a blogging journey. In the coming weeks and months, I will be seriously praying and investigating ideas on how to change the battle mentality plaguing my kids. I know what I want to see: 
  • Tight, loyal, and loving relationships between my kids that will last a lifetime. 
  • Love for Jesus to replace selfish ambition, jealousy, desire for power, and revenge. How can we effectively communicate to them that He is the only one that can change them from inside out, and give them the ability to respond to conflict differently?
  •  I want to know what I, the parent, can do to effectively protect the more powerless siblings from larger, stronger siblings, and not feed the power struggle. How do I respond to their conflicts in ways that acknowledge their grievances, empower them, and not create more resentment?

Stay tuned!

*We aren't using our real names on this blog, remember? So all the people can calm down that read this and wondered who the heck Craig is. I'm still happily married to the same man I've been married to for almost fifteen years, who most definitely is the father of all these fine children. :)

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