One Monday morning, early in the school year, my pre-teen girls engaged in "Stereo Wars" - you know, when both kids turn on their favorite "get motivated" music while getting ready for school. (My roommates and I called it our "getting ready to go out music" back in the day, and we always took turns choosing the CDs. But we favored Madonna, Warrant, and LL Cool J - music that I'm not QUITE ready to introduce to my 8 and 10 year old daughters just yet. "Cherry Pie" may be a classic, but it's not age-appropriate. Also, we tended to drink while blasting the stereo. And while there are days I'd LIKE to drink while getting my kids ready for school, it's probably not a good idea... probably.) The middle schooler was blasting "Call Me Maybe," as if we didn't have enough Carly Rae all summer long, while the younger one went with Adele.
Of course, within moments, complete chaos ensued. Each one yelled at the other, "Turn it down!" and then, "No, turn YOURS down!" and "I can't HEAR my MUSIC!" And then, the one thing guaranteed to bring the early-morning, pre-coffee wrath of Slacker Mom raining down on their unbrushed heads, "MMMOOOOOMMM! She's being MEEEEEAAAAAN!"
For smart girls, sometimes they are pretty clueless. Neither one seemed to realize that if they BOTH turned up their stereos to maximum volume, NEITHER of them would be able to hear anything. Neither one seemed to realize that they could have just taken turns, or agreed to listen to their mutual favorite, Taylor Swift, or - gasp! - simply turned downed the volume.
Lucky for them, they have me.
Marching up the stairs, coffee cup in hand, I yanked the plug on first one, then the other. "No more music!" I sang cheerfully. "You've lost your stereos for the day. You won't get them back until you figure out a way to work this out on your own. And if it happens again, you'll lose them for a week." (I find that cheerful singing while handing out a punishment REALLY annoys them - but it keeps me from yelling, so there you have it.)
That was three months ago. It hasn't happened again. Maybe it's because my kids are such good listeners. Maybe it's my incredibly advanced parenting skills. (Is there a sarcasm font I could use here?) Maybe it's that they figured out a mutually-agreed upon way to decide who gets to choose the morning music: One was born on an odd day, one on an even - so they let the calendar decide whose turn it is. (And sure, maybe it's also because these kids know that I mean what I say.) Who knows; who cares? All I know is that Slacker Dad and I haven't had to listen to competing stereos again. All is well in Slackerville.
And then I made the mistake of sharing this story with a neighbor - a neighbor who told me that I'm "way too hard" on my kids, that all siblings fight (duh), that I should just buy them each their own iPods with headphones because it would make my life "easier" if I "just kept them separate" rather than handing out consequences for fighting.
Now, usually I'm all about making my life easier. And I totally agree that all siblings fight and that, for the most part, parents should let kids work it out on their own. After all, I grew up wedged between two brothers, three kids in three years with a fourth arriving six years later, and we fought all the time. Alliances changed like phases of the moon; it was two against one, and then a different two against the other one, with the baby left out of everything. My mom's way of dealing with the bickering was to send us all to our rooms. Left in solitary confinement, without anyone to play with (or electronic devices - it was the 70s), we figured out fast how to get along, or at least how to keep our arguments quiet enough to avoid parental intervention and subsequent separation as punishment.
However, I also think that it's impossible to "avoid" sibling fighting, and that parents have a duty to teach their kids how to get along, how to work out their problems, and how to do so peacefully and without causing their parents headaches at 6:30 in the morning before they've even had their coffee. (Read the room, kids!) I want my kids to learn that they are a team, that they need to work together, now and for the rest of their lives. They are sisters; there are only the two of them, when all is said and done, and I want them to learn to disagree respectfully and calmly, and to work out any issues they have. Some day, Slacker Dad and I will be dead and gone, but they will ALWAYS have each other. I want these girls to love each other and be there for each other, and yes, it does start with figuring out how to decide which one chooses the music on any given day. When we give them the chance to work together to solve a problem, they learn that they CAN. Anything they face in life, ANYTHING, they can face together, they can solve together. They are sisters.
And, equally important, I want my kids to learn that there are very real consequences for their actions - you fight over the music, you lose the music. You don't study, you get a bad grade. You speed, you get a ticket. You break the law, you go to jail. Children first learn to follow the rules of the home, then the school, then their community. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Long-term parenting is harder than short-term parenting, but it pays off in the end. Doing what's right is rarely what's easiest, but there you have it. "Right" trumps "easy", even for Slacker Mom.
As for the "just buy them their own iPods so they won't fight" comment? Absurd. That's like saying, "Well, the kids didn't check in on time, and I couldn't find them. I didn't know where they were all afternoon, so I think I'll buy them their own cell phones so that I can call them when they don't come home on time." What? Are you kidding me? Sure, let's reward our kids for ignoring the rules. Let's teach avoidance rather than problem-solving. If my kids don't check in on time, they lose the right to leave the house without me. They don't get a cell phone for disobeying me. End of story.
So I told my neighbor that I didn't think the answer was to give in to their fighting, but to teach them how to solve their problems. Taking away their stereos taught them that they'd need to stop and think about how to work things out without simply trying to drown each other out - a lesson that many adults still need to learn. The whole even and odd day thing? They came up with that one on their own. Problem solved - by the kids, with no parental intervention. To me, that's a win-win situation.
Slacker Mom Says... raising kids is hard work. Raising siblings to become lifelong friends and partners is harder. But teaching them to work together, to figure out how to get along without constant parental intervention, will pay off in the end. I want my girls to have an "us against the world" attitude, to fully believe there's nothing they can't tackle together, to always be there for each other. I figure if we lay the groundwork now, it WILL get easier as they get older. I may be fooling myself, but there is it: I'll put in the hard work now, and then, when I'm old and infirm and incapable of taking care of myself, they'll already have figured out whose turn it is to take care of me. One gets odd days; the other gets evens.