Parent Moments: Over-Mothering
My daughter and son bicker. They bicker so much we call them the Bickering Bickersons. They resemble nothing more than an old married couple, familiar enough with each other's foibles and soft spots that they can land amazingly efficient body blows without even pausing between spoonfuls of cereal at breakfast.
Consider this typical morning exchange:
Enter Jamie, 11 years old, bursting into the kitchen at top speed and volume: "Good morning to you, and you, and you," he sings, imitating Hans in the goodnight song from The Sound of Music. "Good morning to everyone. Good morning to the dog. Good morning to the world. It is a good morning."
Mumbles his sister Faith, 8 years old: "Be quiet, Jamie. Not everyone is happy it is the morning." Sticking her thumb in her mouth -- a forbidden pleasure everywhere but at home -- she finishes, "No one cares."
Jamie fires back, indignantly, "Just because you aren't a 'morning person' doesn't mean I can't be cheerful. Be cheerful, Faith."
Refusing any mention of it, Faith segues, "So...Toby says next year they're going to make cars that fly."
Jamie rambles, panicking, in reply. "Toby is wrong. Cars won't fly. Think about what would have to happen. That's impossible. That's silly," he chuckles, getting increasingly wrought. "That can't happen. Pick up your head, Faith, and talk about this."
And so it goes. Jamie's cheerful nature -- which, it must be said, is difficult to endure without first ingesting a cup of coffee -- is plumbed. Faith, not a morning person, succeeds in really getting Jamie's goat and both of them disintegrate into a fretful, pointless argument.
As per usual, I interject, pointing out that it is a good thing to be cheerful in the morning, but perhaps doing so in a less intrusive way might give room for other people, who need more time to wake up, to enter into their day. I also point out the joys of imagination, that indeed some brilliant person might design cars that fly and that we should all maintain an open mind about the vast and compelling array of possibility in this world.
But, suddenly, after one particularly strenuous refereeing session, the thought occurs to me: What if I didn't step in?
What if I just let them play it out? What if, instead of considering my role as moderator and modifier and mollifer, I just let the Darwinism of sibling bickering run its course? What if I didn't over-mother?
What did we gain from it, anyway? In my house, I have come to believe that my involvement in their bickering does only one thing: encourages more bickering.
So I have, quite consciously, spent the last few days in silence. I don't distract, I don't correct or chastise, I don't take sides. I try not to listen.
Of course, sometimes the volume gets so loud, I can't resist. Last night, Faith and Jamie were engaged in a heated conversation in Jamie's room. I heard Faith shrieking and couldn't help but yell up the stairs, "Is Faith OK up there?"
Faith burst out of Jamie's room, laughing her head off.
"We're fine, Mommy. Jamie is just making me laugh so hard I can't help but scream."