My two oldest kids, age two and four, do what all kids their age do: they bicker. At times they take it a step further by intentionally aggravating and provoking one another – taking pleasure in seeing the other agitated. A case of the sin nature at work in full force, and readily evident to their watching mother.
Every sibling set plays out its own squabbles in its own way; no two households are the same. Most recently in our house, my oldest two wind each other up in one of two scenarios: singing songs or at the table during meal times. Scenario A: my eldest begins singing a song he knows his younger sister dislikes, and the more she protests the more he sings. Then she takes up singing her own song to compete and get back at him. Both end up yelling and fighting. Scenario B: my eldest child starts quietly tapping at the table top or making a silly noise. The act itself is benign but he does it to aggravate his sister. She predictably protests and cries as if being personally assaulted. He persists.
I have navigated these scenarios with them scores of times over the past several months – rebuking one child for stirring up strife on purpose and the other child for protesting over things that are not (in themselves) problematic. Then telling them to stop or how they are permitted to behave. Finally I stumbled upon something that actually solves the problem: I participate in the solution myself.
To deal with scenario A (before my revelation) I would often say – the first child can finish his song; then the second child can sing hers. It rarely worked. Then I started saying; “OK, first let’s sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep;’ then afterwards we’ll sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle.” I’d lead off and suddenly everyone’s falling into line, we’re all joined in a rousing chorus, and everyone’s happy. End of kids’ effort to annoy each other. In scenario B, I found that when I am actually sitting at the table with my kids eating a meal alongside them (or even sitting with them while they eat), they stop needling each other… Or actually, they never start. The dynamic simple changes entirely and the meal is largely peaceable for all of us.
This got me thinking about the difference between dictating and involving myself in a solution. Should we as parents be able to tell children what to do and expect them to obey? Yes, we absolutely should as we are their God-given authority. But there are times when entering into their scenarios ourselves to participate in the solution is helpful and even biblical. After all, didn’t Christ enter into our human fray, where all our sin and misbehavior was so rampant and abounding, to show the way and participate in solutions Himself?
In the two well-worn sibling squabble scenarios described here, the difference made by my personal involvement in my proposed solution has been enormous. But it comes with a sacrifice. I have to engage myself in song-singing much more often – and often at times when I may not feel like singing a song myself at all. With mealtimes it’s all the more challenging… it’s far easier for me to deal with my kids’ food (prep, oversight, clean-up) first and then eat my own lunch afterwards once they’ve gone off to play. It takes more work for me to get everyone’s organized at once. But the sacrifice pays off, and my involvement bears fruit. Once again – isn’t that Jesus’ model? He entered in. And participating in solutions and showing the way cost Him a lot – in fact, everything.
Here’s the kicker though: this method only works when I’m parenting with my A-game and not being distracted with other things. Why? Because participation is one level beyond even paying good attention to my kids; it calls for all of me as a mom. And more, it’s about relationship with them — I will do this WITH you, not just tell you what to do. How convicting…