The coffee is slowly spreading its liquid sustenance through your veins, breakfast is upon the table, the day is still fresh. And yet…. It begins. Open warfare. With no prior warning the house bursts into a frenzy of battle lines hastily drawn and blows (be they physical or verbal) landed. All chances of a peaceful negotiation go swiftly out the window and you find yourself wading into the chaos like a referee in a boxing match. Only,there are no rules, there are no boundaries, sibling warfare is a cutthroat business where the winner takes all.
The hostilities can take many a different form but generally fall into one of these categories:
1. The Wind-Up Merchant
One sibling takes it upon himself/ herself to needle the other relentlessly, pushing with every weapon in their arsenal, until an explosion ensues. Which sibling gets the blame depends on whether you’ve been witness to the torture or are experienced in the art of ‘Wind Up Warfare’. In the hands of a master, this weapon can be wielded as skilfully as an expert swordsman.
Possibly the most irritating one to witness, bickering takes the form of some twisted Punch and Judy show with the results being farm more catastrophic. There is no winner in this conflict and generally results in siblings being separated unless it takes place in the car (in which case, nuclear meltdown is the only option).
3. Tattle Tales
The most heinous of crimes, when a child breaks the unspoken rule of sibling warfare and turns informant. Neither party ends up prospering from this tactic, a realisation that only dawns upon this snitcher after the event.
4. The Accidental Argument
What begins as a bit of friendly banter or rough and tumble slowly evolves into a game of Russian roulette to see who will flinch first. It can be stopped if witnessed in time, but opponents will use their cunning to keep things under the radar until it is too late. Not the worst on the list (mostly because they start by being nice to each other) but can still have devastating results.
5. All Out War
It can start at the drop of the hat, with little provocation, and is impossible to prepare for. Both parties launch full scale attacks, be they verbal insults that cut to the bone or physical assault designed to humiliate. There are no white flags raised and the only way this one will end is in tears.
As a parent, trying to negotiate your way through these arguments is like trying to cross a field full of land mines. How exactly do you settle a disagreement over who gets to press an imaginary button? Or who put a toe on who’s side of the sofa? How do you determine if one slice of the cake is minutely bigger than the other or who gets to use the downstairs toilet first? I bet you never imagined parenthood to be an endless list of sentences you never thought you’d hear coming from anyone’s mouth.
‘Get your food off your brother’s ear’
‘No, you can’t put yoghurt in your sister’s hair’
‘I don’t care whose imaginary laser gun it is, neither of you are having it’
‘Give him back that dirty old stick now. Find your own’
Normal social conventions do not apply to sibling warfare. In a place where it is ok to fart on someone else’s face, what chance to we stand of restoring order? Any parent who has looked in the rear-view mirror to see a child silently mouthing insults to their rival knows the sheer bloody-mindedness it takes to risk a full car turn around in order to prevail.
The impossible job of attempting to engineer a cease fire rests solely with us parents.
But the war-torn battlegrounds of our houses are stressful place to be and many a parent can be found taking cover in the kitchen, clutching a chocolate bar/ glass of wine/ pack of biscuits for comfort. Do we take the Sargent Major approach of banishing soldiers to their rooms and inflicting the harshest punishments for stepping out of line? Do we try the Tyler Durden Fight Club approach of letting them thrash it out themselves and cross our fingers for no broken bones or major concussions? Or how about the ethereal Earth Mother meditative state where we create a circle of trust and ask children to hold a speaking stone to air their grievances? Regardless of the approach, we constantly question what it is we are teaching our children with our methods.
So, on the days where you hide in the kitchen, or the days where you march through
the battle lines leaving debris strewn in your wake; on the days where you confiscate toys and the days where you scream for silence until even the kids know they’ve crossed the ‘Mum’s lost it’ line, we are all umpiring the same war. We are all doing our best in the desperate hope that our children will not grow up to be hair pulling, insult flinging, tattle telling, lego stealing, picture ripping monsters. And most importantly, that they will love their siblings…one day.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the kitchen with the wine.