Ahhh, summer. No school, the pool, sleeping in and time with friends.
Add to this stellar list quality time with siblings. For the last nine months our family survived the morning routine with minimal fighting between my boys, who are not quite three years apart. Although they fought almost every day, they had several hours of reprieve because they attended separate schools.
So now that the summer has begun, here is a glimpse of the phases of a day in the summer for our family. You might find it to be familiar.
The Honeymoon Phase
The children are so excited to be through with another year of school, they are actually kind to each other. They get along, they share and they don't pick intentional fights with each other. I actually hear them speak kind words to each other, and I feel my heart swell with joy. I look at my children with pride and think, "Maybe they do love each other after all."
The Constantly At Odds Phase
Approximately five minutes after the Honeymoon Phase begins, it ends and this phase starts. Good bye Honeymoon Phase. Those five minutes of peace and love blessed my soul. It might have been the best five minutes of my entire year.
Now we have moved on to being constantly at odds with each other. If Son A wants frosted flakes for breakfast and pours the last of the cereal into his bowl, Son B takes it as a personal attack. If Son B wants to watch “Spongebob,” Son A wants to watch “Sports Center” and there will be NO compromise. If Son A remarks how lovely the blue sky is, Son B demands that the sky is purple, not blue. Really, it makes no difference what Son A or Son B thinks. Their sibling believes the opposite.
As a parent, this is exhausting. As a counselor I do my fair share of mediations, but there are only so many mediations I can do with my children before I am exhausted at the bickering. Fortunately, at about this time, they move on to the next phase.
The I Am Ignoring You Phase
Although my children are somewhat close in age and have very similar interests, my older son rarely plays with my younger son, unless there are other friends over playing, too. My older son ignores my younger son to the point where my younger son is in tears and is frequently having "the worst day of my life." Really all my little guy wants to do is hang out with his big brother, but my younger son is "no fun at all" and sometimes even "embarrassing" to hang out with, according to his big brother.
This is the phase that breaks my heart. I just want my boys to get along. What I have come to realize is this is really just a front. When he thinks no one is watching, my older son does play with my younger son and defends him to others.
The Rocky Balboa Phase
This phase is characterized by my children sparring against each other. This might be a verbal argument, a screaming match, or in some extreme cases, throwing punches, pushes or kicks. About 99 percent of the time, this phase is marked with my younger son crying hysterically because his brother hurt him and is so mean. My younger son is also incredulous, claiming that his brother, "NEVER gets into trouble and I get grounded for a year! OK, a month. Well maybe a week. Or a day."
I send the fighters to their corners to cool off and threaten to call their father to deal with this when he gets home. Usually this helps them chill out a bit.
The I've Had It With You Phase
This phase is primarily led by the parent at our house. When I finally reach MY breaking point, I can be heard (probably in a five-mile radius) yelling, "THAT'S IT! I'VE HAD IT WITH YOU BOYS! I am DONE with the arguing! I am DONE with the name calling! I am DONE with the fist fights! I am DONE DONE DONE!"
At this point, I flop into the floor in a puddle of my own tears. They now know my limits. My mediations have failed. My threats have been too empty. They have beat me.
I send them to their rooms (they don't even have to share a room people!), and I tell them not to come out until they can be kind to each other. I tell them they need to apologize to each other AND to me for their hateful attitudes. I retreat to my room and play my favorite '80s ballads on my iPod and sink into a serious game of Candy Crush Saga.
Usually in 15 to 20 minutes (30 minutes if the fight was bad enough), my children have apologized to each other and sulked into my room to tell me they are sorry and promise to get along. I forgive them and hope they can hold it together, at least until I can be around another adult or two.
The Playing Nice Because We Have To Phase
This phase is marked by forced grins, deep sighs, counting to 10 to cool off and punches in the shoulder when I am not looking. This phase also looks a lot like previous stages with the exception that they fake it when I am watching. And at this point, I will take it. I am a peace-loving kind of girl, and if they are faking it, it works for me.
Eventually, the faking it rubs off and then they start to be nice to each other again. It might be for five minutes or five hours. It usually lasts longer if one of them is on a play date with a friend and not with their brother at all.
Now we are back to the Honeymoon Phase and it has only been two hours since we were in the first Honeymoon Phase. Sigh. I need a nap.
Seriously, though, although my boys have had some fights this summer, they have been good to each other more than any previous summer. I am not sure if it's because they are getting older and more mature, are taking on more responsibility or if they really want something from me. I am trying not to question it.
Whatever the reason, I'll take it. Since I am an only child, it is hard to watch my kids fight. I can remember wishing desperately for a sibling to play with during my childhood. And they have each other, so why can't they just get a long? I think they have some genetic composition that makes them at odds with each other.
So if you see me in public at some point this summer and my eye is twitching, my hair is mussed and I seem frazzled, you will know why. You can pray for me that the Honeymoon Phase is coming shortly and will last a long, long time.
Happy summer and here's hoping for lots of sibling love!
Michelle Sutherlin is a NewsOK contributor and a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. For more articles about parents and middle school, check out her blog.
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