Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Everyday Grace: Increase the peace
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Oct. 2, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The latest argument broke out in the car on the way to Mass. We were the picture of a loving Christian family. Yes, that is sarcasm dripping from my computer keys.
Disagreement and tension between siblings is normal, but listening to it is tiring and nerve-wracking. Sometimes parents just want peace and quiet. And as Christian parents we want our home life to testify to the love of God.
The verses of 1 Corinthians set the bar for us, an ideal that can seem impossible with teenagers in the family. But it helps to have something concrete toward which to strive.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
There’s no perfect method to deal with sibling bickering. But we can re-dedicate our efforts to increasing the peace in our families. Here’s a four-point checklist to rejuvenate your arsenal of peacekeeping strategies.
• Create a loving climate.
Begin with an honest look at yourself. When I admonished my son for whining at the dinner table recently, he startled me by saying, “You know, Mom, you have a habit of whining yourself.”
It may be painful, but it pays to look closely at the behavior you are modeling for your children. If parents argue and bicker, children will too. If you happen to fight with your spouse in front of the kids, make sure they see you apologize and make amends as well.
Work on your own relationship skills and try to create a loving climate in your home. Speak with respect even when you are angry. Notice when your children are getting along well, and praise them. Talk about how much you love each other, and how much you appreciate each family member made in the image of God with unique gifts. Do not to compare siblings or take sides. Try to establish an atmosphere where everyone feels safe and accepted as they are.
• Provide tools.
Children need to learn to resolve problems on their own. But they won’t be successful if they don’t have the proper tools. You can step in and help clarify what is at issue during a disagreement.
Explain how to fight fair. Rules include: No hitting or other physical fighting. No name-calling. No shouting. If children can’t follow these, you may need to separate them for a cooling-off period.
Once the children are calm, ask them to use “I” statements to share their view or explain what they want. Insist they listen to each other’s concerns. Urge them to try to see the other’s point of view.
• Keep a sense of humor.
Laughter releases tension and humor can dissolve divisions momentarily and give people a chance to gain perspective. Sometimes that’s all kids need to move beyond a quarrel. Trying to see a lighter side can also help irritated parents keep some distance from the fray.
Laurie once announced to her three fussing children, “There will be no whine with dinner tonight.” The pun provoked smiles, and the line became a family tradition that helped lighten many mealtime moods.
Some parents report that if they begin to sing their kids stop fighting and start laughing. Others say comic routines, a tickle attack or even dancing works.
Do not make fun of your children, however; and be careful with teasing which may hurt kids’ feelings.
• Have patience.
Easy to say, but difficult to do. A line from John Rosemond’s newspaper column has been a great help to me when I begin to lose patience. To paraphrase, “if children did everything right, they wouldn’t need parents.”
Our God-given work as parents is to be there day in and day out while our children fail to be perfect. We correct them, encourage them, teach them and love them. And sometimes when they bicker, our best strategy is to ignore them.
Good luck! You’re not alone out there.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)