I can’t stand the fighting in my house. My kids can go from being friendly and caring to screaming and door slamming at the drop of a pin. In their defense, they also make up quickly but it’s taking a toll on me. I need help!
Dear Stressed-Out Mom (and who isn’t?),
Welcome to the world of parenting. You don’t mention how old your children are or how many you have but it doesn’t really matter. The solution is still the same. While it is certainly important to establish basic rules of civil behavior and dialogue in your home and to teach your children healthy ways of resolving conflict (You have to at least teach them; there’s not guarantee they’ll actually use it!), the real person who needs to change here is you. And that’s actually a relief because that’s the only person over whose behavior you have any real control.
First and foremost, you need to adjust your expectations. Children fight. It’s the nature of the beast. They are constantly forced to share the same limited resources – space, food, your time and patience (which seems to be wearing thinner by the moment) – it’s only natural they will struggle. And it’s only natural that you, their mom, will find it painful.
But you can stand it. You can cope. You can treat it with a greater sense of equanimity and calm. And you need to – for your own sanity.
So change the tapes that start playing in your head every time a fight begins. You’re not a failure as a mother. Yes, there is similar fighting in other homes (even the “best” ones). No, it won’t leave lasting scars. Yes, you can cope. In fact, consider yourself lucky if that’s your biggest problem.
Don’t let the fighting derail you. Pour yourself into other activities (assuming your children are old enough not to need constant supervision). Think of it as background noise. It obviates any need to leave the radio on all day…
My children, of all ages, contact me throughout the day from school or work. At first I thought it was so nice that they like to stay in touch. But it turns out they only have one question, “What’s for dinner?” It leaves me feeling a little frustrated. I’m not running a restaurant (or am I?) and I don’t like being treated like the hired help.
The Real Iron Chef
Dear Indulgent Mom,
Like our previous writer, you only have yourself to blame – sorry. You need to set the standards and tone for your home and for everyone’s behavior. My guess (not speaking from any personal experience of course!) is that you have indulged their behavior for many years, answering the question when posed and perhaps even adjusting the menu offering when it doesn’t meet with their approval. Sound familiar?
I have two suggestions – one directed towards your children and one towards you.
Vis-à-vis your kids, there comes a point in all child-raising when you need to have the “Parents are people too” conversation. You need to explain, even to your older children, that we are in fact human beings with needs and feelings – feelings that can be hurt if we are treated, even unintentionally, cavalierly as opposed to lovingly, like a servant as opposed to a revered parent (Okay, maybe “revered” is too high a bar). They need to be trained to ask some polite questions about our lives, to demonstrate interest (real or not) in us, before moving on to what they really want to know.
And who knows? Like all behavioral change that is initially forced and inauthentic, they may actually come to express real interest (well a mother can dream, can’t she?).
Suggestion two is for you. You need to make a decision. It is always our ambivalence that gets us into trouble. If you don’t like being treated that way, either don’t answer the question at all or wait until it is preceded by inquiries into your well-being.
Alternatively, just reconcile yourself to the situation and answer it unconditionally. But getting annoyed and aggravated is not a solution; it is actually the passive position. The choice in response and method of coping is all yours; you just need to make it pro-actively rather than just letting it happen to you.
My husband is a little absent-minded. Usually it doesn’t matter – he may forget a child’s friend’s name or the crucial piece of a story just told, but we can all laugh good-naturedly about it. But sometimes his absent-mindedness has real consequences – bills don’t get paid, flights don’t get booked, friends get stood up for social occasions. He is a good man with many wonderful qualities but I’m finding this particular flaw increasingly annoying.
Dear Patient Wife,
I know (I mean, I’ve heard) how frustrating that kind of situation can be. I assume you’ve tried the obvious – taking responsibility for those areas yourself as much as and whenever possible. It may not be clever and out-of-the-box but sometimes the most practical and basic solution is the best. You should definitely stop railing against it. It’s not going to change. Your husband is who he is and, like the moms in the preceding questions, your job is to find tools to cope.
The first tool is acceptance. As long as you continue to believe that he could behave another way if only he so chose, you will live in a constant state of frustration. Instead, reconcile yourself to the fact that this is how he was created and it’s not going to go away.
Secondly, as we said earlier, handle as many of those details yourself as you can. Is your plate already full? Aren’t they all? It’s not a question of time or energy, just the reality of the situation. If your husband was color-blind and you needed to pick out his clothing everyday, would you say you don’t have time? He has an innate blindness in this area and you need to help out.
And finally, and most importantly, when we get caught up in the things that bother us, we forget to focus on the good. Instead of harping on this one area of your husband’s inadequacy, think about his strengths, about his wonderful qualities that you referred to in your letter. Remind yourself constantly of all the good reasons you married him, of all the ways in which he is considerate, thoughtful and loving.
My guess is that you (like all of us) probably have some character flaws also. Treat his the way you would like him to treat yours. Keep laughing at the small blunders, take charge of the bigger areas, and revitalize your marriage by renewing your focus on your husband’s strengths.