I often talk about how much my two youngest sons fight, and I know that most people just think “Oh, my boys (or girls) fight too—it’s just normal behavior.”
And then they see it in action.
They usually don’t feel the same way after they see it. The intensity may be similar to most typical fighting sibling situations, but the sheer quantity of the fighting/arguing is really staggering. It’s relentless, perpetual, and loud. When you hear it as much as I do (especially in the summer…will this summer never end?), it has a tendency to fray the nerves a bit.
This weekend I had to attend an event with my wife and we had no choice but to leave them home alone. We’ve done it before without a problem, but after this summer’s fighting, I was a little leery. I made a big point of saying that my 17-year-old son Tommy was in charge.
“Tommy, if the fighting gets to you, you have full authority to take punitive action,” I said.
For the first time ever, Tommy did. Our internet connection was on the fritz, so Tommy was paying attention to his brothers more than usual. This is how he described the situation to me when we got home…
“They started playing on the Wii right after you left. I was out of the room for about twenty seconds. When I came back, Johnny was sitting on Sean’s head. Just like that. So, I made them turn off the Wii, and told them I was going to report this to you guys. They knew that the Wii would be taken away forever by you, so they started begging me for another chance.”
“I said, ‘Sorry, not this time. You’ve gone too far.’ That’s when Johnny fell to his knees and Sean started sobbing. Sean chased me up the stairs throwing a $20 bill at me, begging me not to tell. I told them, ‘Forget it. You’ve brought this on yourselves. You really deserve to lose the Wii’”
“At that point, Sean started loading the dishwasher in a desperate attempt to get earn some brownie points from you guys. As Sean started the dishwasher, I had a chat with Johnny. I said, ‘Listen, you two are brothers. I know you don’t hate him as much as you claim. Tell me three things you like about Sean.’ Johnny admitted that Sean was friendly, that he was fun to play with sometimes, and that he wasn’t as annoying as he used to be. Then I went to Sean and made him tell me three things he liked about Johnny. He said he couldn’t think of any.”
“Sounds about right,” I interjected.
“That wasn’t helpful,” Tommy admitted, “But I could understand why Sean feels that way. After all, Johnny is reeeeeeally mean to Sean, but Sean can’t stop taunting or annoying, even when we’re trying to come up with a compromise. It’s both of their faults.”
“Did you come up with a compromise?” I asked.
“Yup. Just minutes before you pulled up the driveway.”
“And what was that?” I asked.
“The compromise is that I would tell you what happened, but also ask you not to take away the Wii in exchange for them working way harder on stopping the fighting. If you see them fight or argue when you’re at home, or I see them fight when you’re not, the Wii is gone forever. Period.”
“Do you think that will work?” I asked.
“No,” he admitted, “but I couldn’t think of anything else. I wouldn’t want your job. They really are impossible.”
“Thanks,” I said. Somehow hearing that from Tommy made me feel better. What he said next made me realize why .
“Maybe knowing that even someone around their own age couldn’t stand the fighting anymore, maybe that will get their attention,” Tommy opined. “How many 17 year olds would give up a Wii voluntarily just to make their brothers stop fighting?”
If the message isn’t working, might as well change the messenger.
It’s worth a shot.