I’m the Mom, Not the Referee

My kids fight. A lot. 

While I know sibling rivalry is normal, lately the bickering seems to have increased dramatically, and in turn, so has my stress as a parent.

Last week, as I sat with my daughters in a diner and they began to squabble over who got to build a castle with the empty creamer containers, I leaned forward in my seat, my jaw clenched as a stream of ingrained responses tumbled out of my mouth:

“Stop taunting your sister!”

“Give her some space; you’re crowding her.”

“Kids, this is a restaurant: be-have!!”

Grudgingly, they backed away from each other, but I knew the reprieve was only temporary. As I slumped back to sip my now lukewarm coffee, I felt drained. And I started to think about how often my interactions with my kids involve me correcting or critiquing their behavior.

On a typical day, how many times do I break up a fight? 10? 20?

As parents, we’re wired to intervene when our kids are fighting, not only to stop them from hurting each other, but also to teach them appropriate and respectful behavior. This is normal.

But lately, I’ve wondered if I’m too involved in my daughters’ squabbles. Most days I feel like an over-caffeinated referee in some bizarre game, stuck in a Lego- and pajama-strewn arena with two adorably unruly creatures who have a penchant for pushing each other’s buttons. When my kids play together, I can’t seem to relax because I know a fight is likely to break out, and I’ll end up intervening.

The second I hear conflict brewing, I’m like Johnny-on-the-spot, ready to enforce rules and call out penalties.

“Illegal theft of sister’s toy. Penalty: Loss of one stuffed animal.”

“Intentional shoving! Penalty: Solitary confinement in the bedroom for 15 minutes.”

Besides sapping my energy and (remaining) sanity, I wonder if my efforts to maintain the peace have a bigger cost: by injecting myself into so many of my children’s battles, am I depriving them of the opportunity to learn to work things out themselves? Would my kids actually benefit from less intervention and more space to figure things out on their own?

There are situations in which I’ll always intervene, like when things get physical and when there are overly hurtful verbal exchanges or name-calling. But for now, I’ve decided it might be a worthy experiment to refrain from getting involved in my kids’ garden-variety spats. Instead, I’ll take a step back and try to keep my mouth shut.

What might that look like? Maybe it will mean leaving the room during an argument, or even pulling over and stopping the car, until they work things out independently.

Will my kids develop better interpersonal and conflict resolution skills as a result? That remains to be seen.

But this I know for sure: The less time I spend as my kids’ referee, the more time I can enjoy being their mom.

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3 Responses to I’m the Mom, Not the Referee

  1. Kim August 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm #

    If only we all had a $2/hr babysitter over the back fence…

  2. Gina
    Gina August 9, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    You were an amazing babysitter! The offer’s still open if you ever want to visit the Midwest and be the “referee” for my kids, lol 🙂

  3. Christian Kingsbury August 11, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    Great post.

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