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You know that saying that goes “I can beat up my sister all I want, but you’d better not mess with her or I’ll beat you up too”? Ok, loose paraphrase – maybe it’s not even a saying. Maybe it’s just a thought.
However, it is a very loud and unspoken thought in this family.
Last week Jim and I were out of town and the kids were left to hold down the fort. I never worry about this because they are big enough now to take care of everything from homework to trash pick up to meals, jobs, and housework. They’re 16, 18 and 21, so they pretty much have the pattern down.
What I didn’t count on was a sleepover every other night at their big sister’s house.
I don’t have a problem with this, they took care of their duties and checked on the grandparents before traveling across town for the night. But if you only knew a little of the things that took place among them in early years, you would marvel along with me.
There was a lot of biting early on. I remember coming after a child in the back seat when she chomped down on her sister’s tasty finger. I learned later that she was provoked. There was a reason she was sitting in her car seat with her blankie over her head – that was her way of saying, “give me some space”. The instigator decided that poking fingers underneath the blanket was the way to go.
I also later learned that this sweet little instigator with the chubby cheeks was also the one who regularly got her older brother in trouble and came out smelling like a rose, as proven from a hilarious pool video. Big bro kept getting jumped on all because chubby cheeks kept concocting plans, spurring him to douse dad in various ways.
Little wonder she was the middle child.
Big sister was good at verbally messing with everyone so that they did whatever she wanted and rarely tattled. She didn’t really like anyone except her friends at school. If she had to resort to interacting with lowly siblings, everybody did what she said if they knew what was good for them.
I recall a story about roller skates in the basement and everyone bowing down to the princess as she sailed by. You can never lose by being the oldest.
You can imagine lots of hair pulling among 3 sisters. Screaming, kicking. Brother was also a middle child. He retaliated by tying big sister to telephone poles, teasing mercilessly, and bullying the younger ones into playing ball with him. He tried really hard to make them into athletes. Unfortunately for him, one was athletically challenged, but he did a pretty good job with the other. To this day he calls her “my boy”. It’s as close to a blood brother as he’ll ever get.
Do you know that my oldest now considers her siblings her best friends? I mean she openly admits it – she’s not ashamed of it. Daily texts are the norm, she constantly begs them to come over, asks every Friday night about the family plans. Her husband, who is sibling-less, loves them as if they were his own as well. The kids regularly ask when she and hubby are coming over, they rarely go more than a few days without seeing each other.
I know what you’re thinking, you mothers of young ones who just wish they would cease badgering for 5 minutes. How did we come up with this result, and what is the magic potion?
I don’t have all the answers. Kids don’t come with a manual, I’ve been feeling (and praying) my way along for years. I still don’t know what I’m doing (don’t tell them that)!
I will tell you what we did do.
1. Family comes first.
Jim always tried to instill this in the kids from a very young age. Friends did not come first, separation time for family nights were a weekly thing. Sometimes this meant saying no to a birthday party or (gasp) a sleepover. It paid off, believe me.
2. Play with your kids.
In order to make kids know they’re worthwhile, spending time with them whether it be a game of tag or building with lego blocks, reading or just taking a walk, they need to be the priority. Plain and simple. If they know they’re of worth, they’ll begin to treat each other with respect.
3. No tattling, unless somebody is bleeding.
This was a golden nugget offered to me years ago by another young mother in the church nursery. I implemented it immediately. If there were screams coming from upstairs, I waited. Usually it was forgotten within 5 minutes. “Work it out yourselves!” Was usually my answer when my name was called. You know what? They did. I rarely intervened in a fight unless somebody’s finger had almost been bitten off (as previously mentioned). I’m not fooling myself, I know my kids have occasional spats even now. But they don’t usually tell me about it, and on the rare occasion that they do, I keep it to myself. I never get involved unless I feel it is a matter of principal. Tattling breeds resentment and divided loyalties. Don’t go there.
4. Worship with your family
Ever heard “The family that prays together stays together”? It’s true. My family has been involved in church ever since the kids were born. We go every week, the kids are involved in their own ministries there, and the icing on the cake is, they minister alongside me in the church band. We are a team. GO, GRAY TEAM!!! We try to live our faith, not just at church, but in our home as well.
5. Laugh, laugh, LAUGH!!!
Don’t take life so seriously, learn to find the humor in situations. Your kids are watching you, make the most of that flat tire or the spilled milk at dinner. And if you can’t laugh at that moment, at least laugh later. We have laughed later a LOT. Our family laughs almost constantly, everyone has a great sense of humor, it’s fun! Life is hard enough without adding a somber note. Enjoy this free gift together!
This is a little longer post than I like to share, but I know you’re out there, you mamas with babies, middle schoolers, teenagers. Take heart, stay on your knees, and enjoy your family. They won’t be with you forever!