My boys fight nonstop. Nonstop. If you were taking a flight, nonstop would be a good thing, but when they are constantly bickering, teasing each other, wrestling and deliberately getting under one another's skin, nonstop takes on a negative connotation.
"Stop fighting!" I'll tell them. But after saying it for the millionth time, it comes out more like begging or whimpering on my part. It hurts my ears. Sometimes it even hurts my heart.
But they can't stop. Won't stop. The truth is, they like it.
Part of me wonders if this is what normal brothers do. They are six and seven years old, just 15 months apart. There are so many things over which they can fight -- video games, toys, the rules of baseball, even socks.
My brothers are four years apart and I remember they fought constantly when we were kids. They used to chase each other around the house, screaming and shouting and wrestling as they went. I used to leap out of my room and intervene on behalf of my youngest brother, whom I assumed was the underdog. It only seemed fair to defend the little guy.
After intervening one too many times, I realized the truth: they both enjoyed the process.
"Leave him alone!" I'd scream at the older of the two. The older brother would stalk off and slam the door to his room, and the younger would stand there and smirk. One day, after intervening one too many times, I realized the truth: they both enjoyed the process.
Fighting may actually be a good thing. Studies have shown that siblings who roughhouse are benefiting. Rough play helps stimulate the brain and enables siblings to develop both cognitive and emotional intelligence. After all, when one pins the other to the ground, they are learning to read facial expressions and interpret body language. They are also learning about fairness and developing fledgling conflict resolution skills.
I can't help but surmise that all their roughhousing and bickering also promotes bonding. By being physical, they are increasing their affection for one another and are even learning to empathize with the other -- perverse as that may sound when you're the parent listening to it all.
Instead of being annoyed or trying to break it up like I did with my brothers, should I be proud of how well and often they fight? They know precisely what to say or do to bug the other and they can each elicit a strong reaction from the other within seconds. Maybe I should be timing their fights and cheering on their success. Maybe I should join in and become part of the fun.
Maybe this means they will be best friends for life. As a parent, isn't that all you can hope for?
Maybe instead of feeling like a failure or being embarrassed when they end up wrestling in shoe stores and grocery aisles, I should reflect on how we got here in the first place. Could their close bonding be a result of all the cuddling we do, all the trips we've taken, all the time we've spent together?
Perhaps this has enabled them to become such a unit that they know one another to their very core. Perhaps I should stop blaming WWE and start thanking these professional entertainers for giving my kids the inspiration and wrestling moves they need to continue to bond.
Hmmm... if you think about it like that, maybe I've done a good thing, facilitating a relationship strong and healthy enough to withstand nonstop bickering. Maybe this means they will be best friends for life. As a parent, isn't that all you can hope for? Deep down, I do, even if the bonding process is a little hard to hear.
I've read that roughhousing peaks around age four and lasts until about age 10. I've also heard that siblings can bicker for an average of 10 minutes per hour. In my house, this means I've only got to endure 10 minutes of bickering an hour multiplied by, say, 12 hours in a day, times 365 days in a year, times another four or so more years. Can I do it? I might not have another choice. Maybe it's better that way.
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