Navigating sibling squabbles is part of my daily life. Like many siblings, our three and six-year-old daughters are often playing happily and often fighting. And as often happens, the process of parenting our girls through hard moments reveals a lot of what is going on in my own heart as well. Learning what to say and when to say it feels like an unending journey as a mama, with plenty of opportunities to do it right and make mistakes.
The other day, we were in the backyard and our older neighbor came to say hi. This woman is precious and gentle and a bit dignified. As we chatted and caught up, the girls were playing nearby. Suddenly there was some screeching, and my neighbor and I turned to see them pushing each other roughly. “Oh my,” she said. It was not in a judgmental way at all, I think she was just truly surprised to see these precious little angels use physical force with one another. I quickly walked over to pull them apart and correct them, and as I did, I definitely felt self-conscious. After my neighbor left, I turned to give the girls a little talking to. I reminded them that we do not use physical force to hurt one another. And then, I ALMOST added the following: “especially when someone else is watching.” Thankfully, I stopped myself before uttering this and we moved on. But the fact that I was about to say these words really struck me.
“Especially when someone else is watching”?? What on earth! That is the last message I want to send to my kids. And yet, it’s a message that was on the tip of my tongue and meaning it clearly resides in my thinking.
Why did this bother me so much? I think for a few reasons:
I want my kids to be guided by integrity. I want their behavior to be guided by an inner commitment to do what’s right no matter who is around them. I want who they are at home to be the same as who they are in public. And I want all these things for myself.
I want my kids to be free from shame. I absolutely do not want my kids’ actions to be guided by who is watching them and what those people think of them. I want them to choose to love each other and use self-control not because our neighbor is watching, but because it is the right thing to do. And I want that for myself.
I never want my girls to think that hurting or being hurt by someone is ok if no one is looking. I want my girls to know that physically harming someone or being harmed by someone else is never ok and should always be brought to the attention of someone who can help. I want our lives to be lived in the light, not in darkness. And I want that for myself.
I’m glad this situation happened in front of my neighbor. It helped me dig deep, reflect, and put some words to how I want to parent. I know that (hopefully!!!) soon my girls will grow in this area and learn how to figure out their differences more peacefully. But there will always be something that is going on that will be hard and might feel uncomfortable or embarrassing to me, it’s just part of parenting! I want to work those things out with freedom and integrity and instill those values in my kiddos as well.