I didn’t think I would get to share this story. It is a big one for me. Sometimes these stories remain with our family because our children would prefer to keep them private and we obviously respect that. My son has decided that this time we can share because it might help other families, which is very brave. You will see what I mean.
There has been conflict in our home in recent weeks. Not exclusively, but mostly limited to using the computers. It has been driven in large part by one of my sons. Sometimes it has been subtle. Other times it has been more overt. Unkind words, pulling out the headphone jack, turning off the computer mid game, saying things to embarrass his brother while he is mid call.
It has been really out of character.
Every single person makes poor judgment calls and sometimes says regrettable things. When our children venture into this territory, we talk about it and generally move on pretty quickly. This just wasn’t going away. It wasn’t every day, but it was there, in the background, unresolved.
I am a verbal processor. I need to talk about things to work them out (big thanks to all my listeners out there!). Saying something out loud helps me to arrange everything so that I understand it better. Sometimes as the words come out of my mouth it is a revelation for me.
Just over a week ago, I was discussing this conflict with a friend. As I said the words out loud, I realised that there was a pattern. If they were playing together, they collaborated, supported each other and generally cheered each other on. When they were playing different games, there was often drama. It was confusing, and because it wasn’t constant, I just wasn’t putting it all together and was dealing with each conflict separately.
All behaviour is communication. In our family, we like to remember that hurt people, hurt people. I had been thinking of these incidents in isolation, often also focusing on the extreme reactions of my other child rather than looking at the bigger picture. Both of my sons needed support here, not just the one who was being targeted.
For the last week or so, when this particular situation has come up, I have found a quiet moment to sit with the instigator, and say something along the lines of, ‘I’m worried about you. I know that if you are trying to hurt your brother’s feelings, you are not feeling ok inside. I am sorry that something is upsetting you that much and when you want to talk about it, we are here to support you.’
The first few times he ignored it and returned to antagonising pretty quickly. I also talked to my other son, ‘I’m sorry that your feelings are being hurt. I also need to support your brother because he is obviously having a tough time too. I wonder what is bothering him?’ Rather than react, my son started copying me.
In the car on the way home yesterday, the teasing began. As I saw the recipient start to get worked up, I gently said to my other son, ‘I am sorry you are feeling so angry inside. I can see you are trying to tell us that by making us upset too.’ Suddenly, I had a supporter. Hurt feelings were put aside and I heard my son, the one who moments earlier was on the brink of an explosive response, say, ‘you can have my food, it might make you feel better.’ The kindness was disarming. The teasing was stopped in its tracks and there was silence for the rest of the ride home.
This morning, there was one small incident. I looked at my son, putting on the bravado of tormenter, but clearly struggling, and just held him rather than saying anything. He looked at me and said, ‘my brother gets so many calls from his friends each day and no one calls me.’
Respectful parenting is about giving your children the space they need to untangle their emotions. Only then can you be there to support them when they become clear. If I had continued to focus on the behaviour, maybe my son wouldn’t have felt safe to share how hurt he was feeling. Maybe that anger and those feelings of rejection would have festered into something much bigger. Maybe that jealousy would have created a divide in the relationship he treasures with his brother.
Now that we know how he is feeling, we can help him to see how he is wanted in so many ways. We have the opportunity to help him process his feelings, rather than suppress them under the heavy burden of shame. I can see today, that a weight has lifted from him. We have contacted a couple of his friends to set up skype calls and we have made sure he has felt the tight embrace of our love.
The reason I am sharing this, and the reason why, for me, it is so powerful, is that this played out over a couple of weeks. Being a respectful parent, is often about being patient and true to your values. It means not reverting to control and power struggles when the results are not instantaneous.
I don’t always get it right. Nobody does. But when situations like this unfold in such a beautiful and heartbreaking way, it reminds me to look beyond behaviour and always choose connection.