I remember that when my kids were very young, refereeing arguments between them accounted for a decent chunk of my time. Now that they’re maturing, I typically step back and let the minor disputes between them run course until they fizzle and fade quietly away. Most often that sounds a lot like two bedroom doors being abruptly shut as they go their separate ways. Sometimes it’s even more visual. When my six-year-old son has a disagreement with one of his sisters, his aggression is typically played out in post-it notes. He pencils stick-figure drawings of the perceived offense, along with the command to: Stop being mean! Depending upon the severity of the situation, the offender might come to find ten or more post-it notes stuck to her bedroom door.
Such was not the case most recently, though. Most recently, the dispute was between my oldest two. I can’t say for sure what was at the root of the argument. I can only say that I was called in after dinner one night to order the dish washer to rinse the clean dishes and place them on the towel beside the sink so that the dish dryer could proceed with her duty. Neither was willing to compromise on this, the sticking point that prevented them from completing their joint chore of after-dinner cleanup. Because they are eighteen and fifteen, I wasn’t exactly inclined to step in. Instead, I calmly informed them that neither would leave the kitchen until the job was complete. I then took my leave, fingers crossed that they’d figure it out on their own.
From the next room, it didn’t sound promising. Although I couldn’t make out what they were saying, I continued to hear back and forth bickering where the gentle clank of dishes and closing of cupboards should have been. But within five minutes the bickering gave way to lowered voices, though I could still detect a tone of disharmony. Within ten minutes, I heard the distinct pitch of a tearful voice. When twenty minutes had gone by, finally came that gentle clank of dishes and the closing of cupboard doors I had hoped to hear.
The disagreement had delayed them. By the time they were finished with the chore, my bedtime had come and gone. I was reading in bed when my husband slipped in his spot next to me with a report on what he’d witnessed during his bedtime routine of feeding the dog and turning off the last of the lights. Those two sisters, who an hour before were threatening never again to speak to one another, had come together in big sister’s bedroom and were talking in hushed tones. The next morning when I awoke, I noticed that just before little sister had gone to bed the night before, she’d posted something sweet on big sister’s Facebook wall: the modern day greeting card.
As a mom, I’ve learned that there are some things you simply have to teach. And then other things, that you simply can’t—better to let them learn for themselves.