Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 11-21-11
November 21, 2011
Kids bicker. That’s just what they do. Dogs bark; babies cry. And all kids, especially siblings find something to argue about. Before any of my children had a drivers license, the minute we got ready to go somewhere, they all started jockeying for position in the car. One would announce that it was his or her turn for the front seat – with the other two instantly objecting, saying it was their turn instead. That would ignite a seemingly endless round of “Rock-Paper-Scissors” to settle the dispute.
I was a homeschool mom for many years, and although I treasure those memories, they were trying times. The kids had play dates with other children and activities outside the home, but usually, they only had each other or me to interact with. All that togetherness invariably led to nit-picking and verbal jousting which often frayed my already tattered patience.
When it comes to discipline, I’m fairly “old school.” I can’t remember an occasion when a “time out” seemed like an appropriate punishment. When the kids’ offenses were particularly heinous, I’d pull out the ultimate weapon – The Rod of Discipline.
Sometimes I resorted to unconventional methods. Once, on our weekly trip to the supermarket, they started fussing in the backseat. After about 20 warnings, I offered an ultimatum: if there was one more unkind word, I was putting them out of the car. We rode along in peace for 10 minutes; then it started up again. I slammed on the brakes and, we screeched to a stop at the county line sign. I told them all to get out. They looked at me in stunned disbelief. Then they all slunk out, and I drove away – but just barely over the next hill. I could see them running after the car and crying. I wasn’t about the leave them out on the road, but I made believers out of them. When they hopped back in the car they’d had a miraculous change in attitude.
I used to tell them that when they used vicious words, they were demonstrating a lack of love for each other. They’d roll their eyes and sigh because they knew what was coming next. I’d make them face each other and grab both hands and look each other in the eyes and repeat these words: “You’re my brother/sister, and I love you, and I will try to be sweet to you today.” It would take several tries before they could get to the end without bursting out laughing.
Eventually the effectiveness of that ridiculous charade wore off. One day after school lessons were done, the oldest two kids got into a squabble. It escalated until the ultimate words were uttered, “I hate you!” They knew that phrase was forbidden for any reason. After moments of motherly contemplation, I proposed a radical solution – a “Love Fest.” They would spend a couple of days together isolated from the world, during which they would find some common ground and hopefully a little affection for each other.
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I gave them about an hour to get ready. They would spend part of the weekend at our deserted old farm house about 10 miles away from our home. It had no telephone, television, refrigerator or dining table. I didn’t help them pack, so it was no surprise that there were gaps in their supplies. They didn’t bring any toilet paper. They brought a bag of Oreos, some peanut butter but no bread, cans of tuna but no can opener. They brought tennis racquets and balls, some Gatorade and a deck of cards. I dropped them off Friday after school and told them to get along and that I would come back later.
When I came back Saturday afternoon, they were laughing and telling me about their crazy midnight racquetball game they’d played inside the empty house. To my surprise and relief, my scheme had worked. They really did grow in love for each other. They still talk about that weekend they spent together and the fun they had. Maybe I should write a book about unconventional parenting methods …