It was a Sunday evening. I was emotionally and physically done for the day and looking forward to a quiet house. Suddenly I overheard squabbling about who was the rightful owner of a large stuffed panda bear.
My engagement with sibling conflict has often aggravated my son’s anger: he feels criticized by my effort to protect his younger sister. I should have known better than to get involved in this panda bear affair, especially when I was already a little bit cranky! But I was tired and I just wanted them to go to bed so I could have a little peace and quiet to start my week.
Off I went to daughter’s room where my son was laying on the panda and convincing her why it was his (even though it had been given to her as a Christmas present).
What I wish I had done was say, “Hey, do you need help working this out so you can get to bed, or do you have it covered?”
What I did was stand over them with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face.
When my daughter said to my son, “It’s mine! You can buy one with your own money!” my mind quickly flashed to all the times their fights had escalated and my son had been physically aggressive when angry. Rather than envisioning him using the self-control he’s worked so hard to learn, I envisioned my son kicking my daughter and causing real damage, and I launched into preventive mode. Mean Mama Bear came out and in a low growl said, “Get off her bed and get to your room,” while I physically shoved his feet from her bed and onto the floor. His “fight mode” defense is so strong that it kicked right into gear: he picked up a child-sized chair to throw at me which I grabbed before forcing him to his room. In his room he screamed all his anger out at me.
I went to be with my daughter who was crying and shaken up by the encounter. While holding her, I calmed my heart and prayed for wisdom. I knew I wanted to build understanding and connection rather than resentment and walls. The four Connected Families messages guided me through a thorough, constructive reconciliation. Here’s how I regrouped:
I finally went to my son’s room and calmly listened to, “Get out of my room! You’re the worst mom ever! I hate living here!” I’ve always been sensitive about this since our kids joined our family through adoption, but because I had prayed and had calmed my heart, I was able to respond calmly: “I’m so thankful you feel comfortable enough with me to share your anger. Thank you. I just want to apologize for how I treated you. That wasn’t fair. Will you forgive me?” (Message communicated: “You are SAFE with me.”)
His response? His brain was still agitated and reactive: “No! I won’t forgive you! Get out of my room!” And so I left, saying, “When you are ready to forgive me, let me know so we can talk about it and cuddle.”
Minutes went by before he called me in to read to him, which I gladly did. (This connective activity communicated, “You are LOVED no matter what.”) After reading, we calmly talked about the situation, and I was able to sincerely affirm my son while still holding him accountable for his treatment of his sister. It went something like this: “When I saw how angry you were getting, I worried you might hurt her because you have before. So I protected her and was unkind to you. I’m so sorry. You’ve come such a long way with learning how to control your anger. I am so proud of how hard you’ve been working at that. (Message communicated: “You are CAPABLE.”) You do know that when you tease your sister, it causes icky feelings between the two of you. Tomorrow morning you’ll need to find a way to make things right.” (Message communicated: “You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions.”)
My attempt at preventing an argument and getting the kids to bed early was a huge FAIL. The WIN was using a messy situation (especially one where I contributed to the mess!) to connect even more deeply with my children and model for them what to do when you blow it.
Perhaps my painfully humble modeling when I mess up is part of the reason my son has now become passionate about making things right after he blows it… Which is what happened in this case, as he reconciled with both me and his sister with thoroughness and sincerity.
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