I recently found myself breaking up the 913th argument of the day between my two daughters that involved name-calling, muttering insults under their breath, and then screaming the ugliest things they could think of at each other.
Their arguments always escalate in both nastiness and volume until they can be assured that my wife or I will step in and rain punishment down on one of them in the form of “yelling at” (their favorite term right now) one daughter or the other, taking something away from one of them, or somehow otherwise designating one or the other, in their minds, as the “winner” or “loser” of the argument.
Parental intervention inevitably results in the “winner” gloating over the “loser” in a low volume that she thinks escapes my wife’s and my notice, followed by the “loser” loudly storming off to her bedroom while hollering “Thanks a lot, [sister’s name]!” or “Nobody loves me!” or “I wish I wasn’t part of this family!” or something equally overdramatic. This protest of injustice is punctuated by slamming the bedroom door behind her — an action which, of course, brings the “winner” great pleasure.
Where do they learn how to treat each other like this?
My wife and I don’t treat each other like that. It’s not that we don’t occasionally disagree about things, but when we do, we’ve never hurled nasty names or insults at each other, even pre-kids. That’s just not how either of us is wired. Post-kids, we’ve gone out of our way to teach our children explicitly and by example to treat others the way they would want to be treated.
So they’re not learning this ugly behavior from us.
Our girls are 9 and 10 years old, so immaturity and proximity in age play a large part in them being constantly at each other’s throats. I understand that part. What bothers me greatly is the incessant need that each of them feels to not only prevail over the other one, but to also curb-stomp the “loser” while she’s down to make her feel even worse. It’s not enough to just win. The “loser” has to be mocked and humiliated and have her nose rubbed into her soul-crushing “defeat” over and over again.
If you’re the “loser,” it’s not your fault. Blame your sister or your unreasonable parents who don’t love you or your sorry lot in life that you were born into this wretched family. “That’s not fair!” is a popular phrase around here. Don’t display any introspection or take any responsibility whatsoever for your own part in the argument. It’s always someone else’s fault. You’re the victim.
Have I mentioned how exhausting this is?
Our society, of course, has embraced and fostered this mentality. Supporters of the next U.S. President can’t just celebrate the inauguration of the one guy who, by sole virtue of his rise to power, will supposedly single-handedly bring back democracy and make America great again (whatever those catchphrases even mean). They also have to repeatedly rub the faces of his detractors into pavement topped with broken glass. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen the phrases “butthurt” and “get over it” typed on social media by the very same people who have spent the past eight years claiming that the sky is falling.
Our president’s detractors are just as bad as his supporters. “He’s not my president,” they say. The world is coming to an end, they say. We’re stepping back 100 years in history, they say, and let us remind everyone over and over again of how unprepared, incompetent and corrupt he is and how monumentally screwed we all are now.
Over time, we’ve become so numb to this kind of behavior in our society that any statements by either side now have to be louder and more inflammatory at every step just to get people’s attention. Accuracy of the statement means nothing, as long as it’s loud and inflammatory. Very much like how my daughters fight with each other.
Instead of following politics, though, I like to watch football. Sports are fantastic vehicles for teaching OUR KIDS all sorts of life lessons, including how to win and lose graciously.
Until two players are suddenly tangled up with each other, trying to land fists through their opponent’s heavy armor. Finally, everyone else on the field has to step in and break up the skirmish as penalty flags fly. Each combatant pleads his case to the referee, who then chooses one of them to be punished for his behavior. The other combatant rejoices that justice has been served.
Of course, the referee only saw the final few blows. He didn’t see the previous eye-gouging, finger-pulling, ankle-stomping, and whatever else was happening between both combatants before anyone noticed. And he certainly didn’t hear what both players were saying to each other before the fists flew. I’m sure they weren’t exchanging recipes.
As my girls watch the game with me and see this all unfold, I have to close my eyes and sigh. This is exactly how my children fight with each other.
If you’re thinking that this kind of hostile behavior is only exhibited in professional sports, then you’ve never seen youth sports coaches and parents in action. It’s something to behold. The object is to find the best way to intimidate the opposition and then destroy a bunch of little kids on the playing surface, blame the officials if things don’t go your way, and incite the other side by telling them “That’s what you get!” when your team wins — because justice for some past atrocity that no one can quite remember has now been served.
That’s exactly how my children fight with each other.
As I’ve been pondering how to write this post for the past couple of weeks, I’ve found the time to write an article for Visit Hendricks County that pokes fun at the New England Patriots, who I can’t stand. I even posted a meme on my Facebook page within the past 24 hours about hating them. My team isn’t in the NFL playoffs anymore, but it’s not enough for me to just appreciate a good season turned in by my team and look forward to next year, I have to tear down the Patriots and their fans because they’re a bunch of backwards, rude, arrogant, cheating degener…….
That’s exactly how my children fight with each other.
Maybe they are learning their behavior from me, after all.
I need to do better.
We all do.