By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, May 7, 1989
Where did Jon and I go wrong? Our kids don’t fight enough.
They are 5 and 8 years old now, and fully equipped for battle. They have fists for socking. Teeth for biting. Hair for pulling.
They also have what it takes to dish out the verbal abuse. They know all the really interesting four-letter words.
Dodo. Nerd. Jerk.
They know the S-word, the D-word, the H-word and, by golly, they even know the F-word. They can arrange their fingers in a variety of insulting ways.
But my children do not razz each other from dawn to dusk like the normal sibling pair. Mostly they are nice to each other.
It’s a worry.
If it weren’t for the parenting books and magazines that flood across my desk, I would be OK. I would be living in blessed ignorance, believing that my two were adjusting normally.
But there it was, in black and white, sibling squabbles are a sign of good mental health, said the magazine article.
Fighting – even hitting – en famille gives kids a chance to express their emotions with people their own age. In the safe haven of the family, children can feel free to bicker and tease to their heart’s content.
Outside the family, it’s different. If you were to dig your fingernails into a friend’s flesh on a regular basis, or read his sister’s diary, that friend or his sister might get fed up and walk out on you.
But a sibling will never leave you. You can count on it. To do that, he or she would have to walk out on mom, dad and the cookie jar.
My kids aren’t perfect, of course. They do fight from time to time. Try putting them in the backseat of the car 15 minutes before dinnertime with just one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle between them.
“But I’m playing with it.”
“But I had it first.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
Punch. Sock. Screech.
Lately, I am relieved to report, Peter and Christina have taken to doing more of this squabbling than they used to.
“When I was a baby, Peter didn’t hit me,” observed Christina one day last month. “But now that I’m 5, he does.”
“Maybe that’s because you talk back to Peter more now.”
Confrontation has never come easily to Christina. As a toddler, she took great care with the wording of her requests to the powerful ones around her.
“I want milk and I don’t want it in a cup,” she would say. That meant Christina wanted a bottle.
When Christina turned 4, Jon told her she was too old for a bottle at bedtime. Instead of arguing the point, Christian declared, “I don’t want to be 4 any more. I want to be 3.”
Children need to develop a sense of personal autonomy, said the parenting article. Fights with siblings help with that. When siblings fight, it is not over the Ninja Turtle. They fight for a sense of uniqueness, for a special niche in the family hierarchy.
So, if we are having more tiffs at our house, perhaps it is because Christina is staking out a wider turf for herself.
But fighting for her rights is still not a task Christina relishes. “I love everything,” she announced last week. “Except dying, hurting myself and fighting with Peter.”
For his part, Peter adores his little sister. When she was a few months old, he noticed that her babbles were becoming real words. He rolled on the floor with joy.
“My baby’s talking,” he declared. “My baby’s talking.”
Two weeks ago, Peter was out of the house when Christina accepted a last-minute invitation to go for pizza with a friend.
Peter was crestfallen. Not only was he missing out on pizza, but Christina, his dear, gentle Christina, was – gone.
He fretted his way through dinner. Things were getting out of whack here. His good old reliable Christie had abandoned him.
“Christie, you’re back! I missed you!” Peter exclaimed upon her return. He folded his gorilla arms around her small neck and put a kiss on her cheek.
Christina accepted the kiss with a knowing, Mona Lisa smile. This wasn’t the first kiss Peter had given her and it wouldn’t be the last.
Like I said, we’ve got a problem here.
Published with permission of the Oakland Tribune
Peter and Christina live hundreds of miles apart these days — he’s in the Midwest, she’s on the West Coast. They don’t have a lot of time together, and as far as I can tell, they don’t waste much of it fighting.
If you like reading about the growing pains of young Peter Newhall you might like “Reading, Writing and Yucky.”