Sometimes that’s what it takes to get them to listen. To think about their actions. To try. And I hated to go there, but I did.
My daughter had been away at summer camp for a full month. She and her brother missed each other terribly. They wrote sweet letters, sent pictures, even shed a few tears. The reunion was glorious. They shared stories, played together, held hands. But it only lasted about 72 hours and we were right back where we started.
Tattling. Fighting. Accusing. I felt like a referee, but worse. Unlike sports, the rules weren’t clear and it was difficult to get to the bottom of what really happened. Nonetheless, I tried everything from thoughtful explanations to taking something away to suggestions about ways to resolve or avoid conflict to saying I didn’t want to hear about it unless someone was bleeding.
The cries for my help came multiple times a day. There were days I just wanted someone to take me away. Remember that 70s commercial for Calgon bath and baby products? You know, the one where the mom enters the room and the kids are having a pillow fight, feathers are flying, and she says “Calgon, take me away!” I actually fantasized about that.
Then one day I had an idea. It was like an epiphany. I had found the perfect incentive for them to get along. They weren’t great at following through on chores, and they certainly never volunteered to pick up dog poop—even though they really LOVE the dog. It was a perfect analogy. As long as they treated each other like shit, they were going to pick up shit in the yard, every day.
When I sat them down to inform them of my plan, the tears came. They rushed, turning into sobs with broken words about how mean I was and how unfair this was. I was very calm and clear, and sort of sympathetic, when I explained how they drove me to this decision. And I stuck with it. For several weeks. They took turns, every other day. They hated it, but it made them think. Each and every time they reached to get that next terd. And guess what? Relations improved, slowly, but surely.
Now, I would be lying if I said we never returned to the bickering, but I found much needed peace during those few weeks. Over drinks one night at the end of that summer, my neighbor and I were sharing stories about sibling rivalry. I told her what I did. She found it hilarious. Then she told me her strategy of tackling the same problem—forcing her kids to sit on the couch and hold hands until they could find a way to get along. In comparison, I felt a little shitty, pun intended, about my extreme measure, but truth is, I would do it again in a heartbeat.