Although not a recommendation in family planning, I had three children in three years, two girls and one boy sandwiched in between. As they each entered the nasty teenage years: bickering, fighting, and cursing had become the norm of their interaction with one another.
I was use to the nasty interaction of middle school students. For eight years I worked with this population and although some aspects were wonderful, the bickering, and hostility, I had grown to loathe. And then, it would be what I’d come home to daily.
Thanksgiving was a holiday the children spent each year with their father. But this year was the first year since our divorce that my ex was unable to take them and therefore they would be home with me. I was looking forward to this even though none of them liked turkey and this also meant that I was entertaining a group that did not get along.
As if they were to be guests in my home, as odd as that may sound, I planned to entertain them and to enjoy their company, in spite of their typical nasty behavior toward one another. I set the stage requesting their Thanksgiving gift to me was for them to be polite to one another adding that cursing would not be allowed. To my surprise, they actually seemed intrigued by this challenge.
I admit it is pretty pathetic that one should have to set rules for civility and that in order of having any hope in its attainment, that it was necessary to limit proper behavior to a block of time in one day. It’s not that this couldn’t be done. They were, for the most part, civil when out in public and able to behave themselves (most of the time) when they were with their father, although very often their refrain ending with explosive behavior upon arriving home. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted them to give me the respect of behaving themselves at home.
I had realized that much of the frustration initiated from my youngest’ snippiness and the faces she’d make, as her behavior was antagonist and that much of the explosions came due to my son’s difficulty with articulation, one of the many frustrations associated with A.D.H.D. I always felt stuck in the middle, not wanting to take sides, as I wanted them to work things out between themselves: for them to learn conflict resolution and for any one of them to learn to turn the other cheek. Sarah, the eldest of the three was not usually involved but like me she was affected by each uprise.
Prior to this Thanksgiving, I found that lighting candles sometimes would serve to temper their moods. The candles would tell the message: mom would like things to be nice and there would be some compliance. Serving appetizers or desert in the living room, made them feel like: they were or we were having company and they would behave accordingly, although this, too, would be short-lived. For the mother, this takes a lot of acting ‘as if’ and going the extra length for misbehaved kids, but if they could only see how nice it is when they are nice to one another, wouldn’t they want to behave nice more often? Don’t Sarah and I deserve another chance at peace?
On this Thanksgiving I applied all of my efforts and they applied all of theirs. Sure there were slips followed by coins put in a bucket, but instead of anger their responses were chuckles. That day there were board games played, a nice meal had, and company enjoyed between three siblings and one mother. It was a Happy Thanksgiving.
With this reflection I add a wish to the middle school students in Mobile County for a Happy Valentine’s Day and the tools and desire to communicate to one another in a civil manner on this day and the continued effort to do so each day thereafter.
Please share your comments on taming the beast, or curbing the cuss. Do you struggle with this type of behavior in your house?
Feature Image: Rich Addicks for The New York Times Trying to Hold Down Blue Language on a Red-Letter Day – NYTimes.com