Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sibling rivalry

Dear Shark, Squirrel and Tiger,

From beyond the grave, where you have now put me, I am sending you this gift of life and experience.

Rules of Argument.

I hope, by these rules, you may conduct yourselves accordingly, and prepare for your futures, alongside all the people you will love, and who will love you.

Then let us pray you pass through this vale of tears without further death or permanent injury.

1. Exercise self control.
A rule sure to be broken, so let's put it as Number 1, where it can set the tone.

You will break this rule because you are, um, human. You are not a robot! Robots deserve a good kicking. (Except the electronic bug your sister owns. Leave that alone.)

When you break this rule, and indeed all others from this point, forgive yourself. Simply hold up your hands (and hopefully not anyone's dismembered limbs) to say, I am human.

2. Why do you want the argument?
You might consider this as you hurtle to mass destruction with the crayon box.

If the theft of a pink crayon is merely a conduit to release pent-up anxieties or minor frustrations, then better retreat now, kick the shit out of Mr Wobbles the fluffy seal in private, and consider what argument you really want to have.

3. How do you want the argument to end?
Consider the options, quickly. What do you want the resolution to look like? Bloodied in A&E? Slumped against the bathroom door, sobbing? With mama fleeing the house and papa threatening to chuck you all out the window?

Imagine! We could end the argument with some shared understanding about crayon frustrations, or mama quickly handing over a few dollars to replace the metallic pink!

4. Be prepared to back down.
Is the crayon worth the emotional damage it's about to do? If you doubt it, then retreat, retire, give up. Take a deep breath and say I don't want to argue.

A moment's reflection like this might help put the crayon into perspective.

If the argument is not really about a pink crayon but is about slights and humiliations from the day before, then clearly you'll have a festering need to erupt in a blazing argument and you'll need the rest of these rules to grab at as best you can.

If you decide the crayon is worth a fight to the death of your mother, then you will need a moment to plan your strategy and organise the funeral.

5. Move to a resolution, as you begin.
Let all your words seek a resolution. If you don't know what you want, nor what the aim of the argument is, neither will anyone else. Try and articulate it as you go.

Start utterances with I want... or, to soften the blow, I would like.

At least, when you begin shouting, you can shout the point you want to make.

6. Focus.
Think about exactly what's upset you, then stay with the crimes. Do not allow your argument to be hijacked by ancient grudges. The fact that your sister used your elbow as a teething ring in 2002 isn't going to get you anywhere.

7. Let it pass.
Ten seconds in, and your sister is being ridiculous! Saying you always take the crayons and you never let her have them! There are so many holes in her argument you could use it as a sieve.

But resist! Do not point out every flaw. Do not poke at every word. Let the illogicality, the inconsistency, the assumption, all pass.

Be calm. If you can achieve this state, you will feel extraordinarily generous while your sibling looks like a snotty whiner. (Better not, at this point, look smug.)

8. Do not blame.
You've gone and done it now.

The moment you blame, you personalise everything! You turn the argument over the sodding crayon into a power challenge when it was merely an issue about resources that could have had a consensus solution!

Now you are one step away from It is ALL YOUR FAULT.

Remember, our litany of sorrows is made more eloquent when we begin, I feel.

9. Listen.
Okay, do us all a favour and try to listen. We can't hear everyone yelling together. Just one at a time, and don't pull any of those yadayadayada faces while someone else is going off on one.

Where's the sodding conch?

10. Empathise with something that's said.
Your sister surely says something about her feelings that you can understand! Put yourself in her shoes!

(Not literally, obviously. That just starts another fight when you knock her to the ground and rip off her flip flops.)

11. Do they have a point?
It is hard to imagine that someone apart from ourselves actually has a valid point to make about a pink crayon, but give your sibling the benefit of the doubt.

(Until they mess it up bigtime by admitting they have stolen all the green ones as well.)

But maybe it is time to pause, and ask yourself, Do they have a point? You do assume control over the pencil box.

12. No mind reading.
Do not tell your sister what she is saying, thinking, or feeling. Clearly she is able to articulate for herself all her thoughts about the ruddy crayons.

You may, however, tell her what she are doing and how it affects you. As in, You are holding me down with a bookshelf. I feel uncomfortable with that.

13. No twisting, distorting, rephrasing another person's words.
I did NOT say she could have all the crayons. If you say I said that again I'm going to PUNCH YOUR LIGHTS OUT.

See how it makes your mother feel? Unjustly misrepresented.

Take my advice if you want to live. Never rephrase someone else's words in your own way, nor start an utterance with 'So what you mean is...' Much better to use, 'I understand what you are saying.'

Even if you don't because by now she is screeching her lungs out and no-one can make sense of anything.

14. Choose your words carefully.
Poopybrain. Conveys poop, brains, scorn.

I feel hurt.
Conveys nuances of emotions, expectations of interactions, complexities of self and society.

Hear the difference? Try and be articulate when you argue! It is more interesting to listen to, as your unhappy audience will testify.

By the way, papa has left the building and slammed the door behind him.

15. Be respectful.
No insulting, no mocking, no sarcasm, no funny looks, no hands on hips, no lip curls, no sneers, no patronising.

Ha! I agree. Virtually impossible. You're all asking for it. Someone switched you lot at birth.

16. Do not joke.
You think this will help diffuse a tense situation, but it will not. The casual, off hand and flippantly delivered wit falls flat. It will seem like you are belittling another's genuine concerns and deliberately employing mockery to take the superior ground.

I have no experience in breaking this rule. Please move on.

17. Put yourself in time out.
If you find yourself picking up the crayons and throwing them furiously at the wall, and if your next impulse is to commence the battering, go and take it out on the bathroom door.

(Not the wardrobe door, please. It has a dodgy hinge.)

18. Do not use physical violence.
No threats. No intimidation. No coercion. These do not make the point you want, they only measure the levels to which you can sink.

Exploring the dynamics of power will be an attractive option, but save this for when you are married.

19. Do not be pushed into defending yourself.
No! Just hold your head high and steal the moral high ground. That'll really piss her off.

Excuse me while I SAY NOTHING but merely pick up the crayons you have thrown, while adopting my saintly face of suffering.

20. Explain how this situation, and not the person, makes you feel.
If you personalise the argument by You stole my crayon, you fat fish face it all quickly descends as you can see. A battle of wills, a conflict of power, and a general fist fighting. The Wars of the Roses without the laughs.

Instead of howling how your sister tried to stab you through the hand with a compass, say how the loss of a pink crayon makes you feel.

21. Acknowledge your own weaknesses, failings, and shortcomings.
Kiddies, take my word for it. Sometimes we might seek to defend an indefensible position just because we won't give in. We go on and on if only to maintain the idea that 'we were right' or 'we were justified'.

If you feel yourself adopting an indefensible position, then acknowledge it. This is not 'giving in'. It is about being in charge of who you are.

The pink crayons belonged to everyone. You can bet I regret that. I should have bought three sets and written individual names on the bastards. But it is not about the sodding crayons is it? You little mobsters.

22. Be trusting.
We all have vanities and aspirations, foolishnesses and weaknesses. We make what we will from those.

But if someone points out a weakness, then be brave. You may as well say, On that one, you're right. Trust that your family will not exploit this vulnerability. We will try to live up to that trust.

23. Imagine the argument will do some good.
Imagine that you are trying to let your sister know how you feel. Say, in this case, about how it will make you feel easier if there were equal rights of access to shared stuff.

In this, dear battered and bruised children, consider how the argument helps. You are helping each other come to a closer understanding of your unique personhood; the people closest to you are helping you discover your needs and wishes and your who-you-are.

24. Work together as a team.
If you can find any common ground at all, work on it. Think, How can we solve this problem of the crayons together?

Can you offer an idea about where to locate them, and how better to access them for next time, while I try and get your sister out the bathroom?

25. Be kind.
Forgive the crime. Forgive the criminal. What does a poxy pink crayon matter?

We all want to be forgiven for something. And, as you broke all the rules along the way, you may as well be kind, and forgive yourself.

Your perfect mother.

P.S. Dear children, if you fail these rules, do not beat up either your sibling, or yourself. Consider how you'll have another opportunity, soon, to break these rules all over again. There are two chocolate cup cakes in the fridge.


sharon said...

Or, better yet:- All arguments, disagreements, grievances etc are to be presented in writing and submitted to an adjudicating parental unit. Written responses to said written complaint to be submitted for consideration. Marks will be awarded, or deducted, for presentation, spelling, grammar and strength of argument or mitigating circumstances. Violence will bring an automatic disqualification from the judicial process until peace has been restored (or the trip to A&E has concluded).

It's grand stuff being a parent ;-)

Kitty said...

And THIS is why you are a brilliant parent. Can I borrow this please - only I will substitute 'crayon' with the 'the best black pen'. Thank you. :) x

Gweipo said...

way too complicated. We never had the sibling stuff before but suddenly it's reared it's ugly head, I hold my hand up and say, "right, which of you goes to the orphanage and which of you goes to boarding school? If you don't like each other and get along let's break this family thing up right here and now."

Seems to shut them up.

If that doesn't work, I revert to "and what is the golden rule?"
and then someone spits out with the necessary venom "treat everyone like you'd like to be treated" and I separate them to consider the matter in private.


My son, very wisely puts himself in time out by locking himself in the bathroom until he's calmed down ...

Is it the age? I'm new to this game.

Potty Mummy said...

Fabulous. Have you ever thought of becoming a marriage guidance counsellor? Because - with the exception of the subject matter being pink crayons - I think a lot of those points are extremely relevant to some marriages. Not mine, obviously.

And I do like the sound of that pink crayon. Got any spares hanging around?

Big mamma frog said...

Sibling arguments? I just put the kids at the end of our rather long garden and go and hide in the loft with a large bar of chocolate.

Isn't that what everyone does?

Nora said...

It's too bad that the triplets come with such a large instruction booklet. I would have them over, but I'm afraid I may not be up to the task. Maybe when they are in their 20's. XOX

RuralDiversity said...

fabulous - I did a masters degree in this stuff and couldn't put it better. I will give it to my children too and see if they can actually do anything at all (like breathing) without blaming each other and try to kill each other.

Grit said...

thank you for your comments, people. i am feeling a lot better now, and even trying to take my own medicine and follow one or two of these rules for myself. it is hard.