One evening when my children were young, I was cooking dinner when I heard a loud shriek coming from my son Jake’s bedroom. “MOM, come here quick!” I ran across the house and expected blood or a broken bone. However when I arrived, I instead found my daughter trying to shove my son off the chair in front of the only computer we had in our house at the time.
“Mom tell Carly to let me finish my game,” he shrieked.
“Mom tell Jake he’s been on the computer long enough and it’s my turn now.”
Ugh, it was now on me referee sibling rivalry, a job most mothers dread. So I did what most moms would do. I turned off the computer and told both kids to come help me cook dinner. End of argument.
Flash forward 10 years and I hear that familiar shriek again. “Mooommmm come quick!”
There is no blood or broken bones or life threatening emergency, just three teenagers arguing over a set of car keys. Two of my teenagers are home from college, one is still in high school and all three want the car at the same time.
“Tell Jake I get the car now. My friends are waiting for me.”
“Tell Carly I need the car. I have a haircut appointment.”
“Tell them both the car is mine now and I want to use it.”
I am agitated. Once again I am expected to referee. With teenagers, it’s not as easy as turning off a computer. I want the arguing to stop!! I want to go back to scrolling through my Facebook feed, where everyone’s kids have smiles on and look like they get along fabulously!
I find myself trying to come up with a solution that will bring peace and harmony to my household and put an end to the fighting. I pull out a calendar and start mapping out who can have the car on which days and at what times. I put my car in the collective driving pool on the days and times I don’t need it. I am working in overdrive trying to make everyone happy and make my kids participate in the negotiation/resolution process. This is when it dawns on me that this is why mothers make great bosses. We know how to work out conflicts. We have lots of practice.
As a seasoned mother, I have come to realize that sibling conﬂicts generally are a pretty typical and normal part of family life. At least I’d like to believe that is true. I also know by negotiating conﬂicts with their brothers or sisters, kids learn valuable skills for getting along with others in the real world.
I reluctantly acknowledge my job as referee is a lifetime position and my main goal is ensuring I don’t encourage sibling rivalry. Author Amy McCready says reacting in a way that encourages sibling rivalry is a pretty common parenting mistake.
So I dangle the car keys in front of my teenagers like a reward, toss them on the counter, make some suggestions and leave it up to them to figure out how they can all get where they need to go. Then, I slap the calendar we’ve created up on the wall and retreat to my home office. A few minutes later, I look out the window and see Carly and Jake drive off together in the car.
For now, there is a peace accord, a negotiated settlement. I am pleased, but realistic enough to know my referee skills will be called upon again, and it won’t be long until I hear the next “Mooommmm!”