Last night there was a war in my house…
Well, perhaps it was more of a single battle, as it didn’t last long. It escalated quickly, and one of the sides hastened a tearful retreat.
I tucked the emotionally wounded party into bed, and waited in neutral territory for her adversary to exhaust herself and raise the white flag. Which she did, in her own time.
Let me back up.
My children (ages eight and eleven) love each other. They play for hours together harmoniously, scarcely aware of my presence in the house.
Sometimes, there are battles. Screaming, kicking, door slamming battles. Battles in which words are weapons that cut deeply.
Anger…mean, angry words, in particular…make me shut down and close off. This has never been an emotion with which I have felt comfortable – whether coming from me or towards me, it is of equal discomfort.
Getting angry in response to anger isn’t the answer, anyway. Anyone who has ever heard themselves yelling, “STOP YELLING!” (guilty here) knows how ineffectual (and ridiculous) it is.
Sometimes I intervene (with the intention of staying calm) and I separate them. This depends on the day, the hour, and on the nature and intensity of the battle.
However, I’ve also been working on getting comfortable letting the wars rage, to an extent. I realized that instead of always trying to keep the peace (futile endeavor that it is), maybe it is important that they learn how to express their feelings (even the ugly ones) in a safe environment.
I have found that after the dust has settled, and the gravity of those flying spear-like words has settled in, my children feel remorse without my assistance.
It is important for them to recognize when they’ve gone too far (on their own, even if it’s after the fact) and to own it. To learn to admit when they are wrong.
(How many adults do we know who still don’t have this skill?)
The girls don’t need me to punish them, but to validate – I know you were angry – and to guide – What you said was really, really unkind. When you’re ready I know you’ll want to apologize.
In the end, they do apologize. They do this independent of me, and when they are ready. Unforced, their apologies are heartfelt and authentic…and are received as such (usually).
I hope they’re learning that apologizing doesn’t make them weak, it actually requires inner strength – for what is scarier than admitting when we’re wrong?
Honestly, as much as I hate the fighting, I don’t want to stifle their fire. It will serve them well to be passionate humans – to defend themselves and others from injustices. I’ve personally spent too much time stuffing feelings down because I was afraid of them.
They need to learn how to fight, how to apologize, and hopefully…how to forgive. Maybe these are lessons best learned amongst the ones that love them the most.