Stop F@cking Fighting!: Having Kids Back to Back Was Not My Best Move

Listen, I get it. Kids fight at every age and no matter how far apart they are in years.

But honestly, would it have been better if I hadn’t given birth to them, practically one right after the other? Maybe they’re just too close in age, too similar. Perhaps they have so much in common, and are of similar emotional and intellectual maturity, that they just can’t help but constantly fight with each other?

It’s like a war zone in this house some days. Which is weird because we have just as many days when the kids are in perfect harmony. They adore each other! That much is clear. It just so happens that they also kind of despise each other. They’re six and eight years old, so the kind of fighting they do is not yet the concerning, aggressive kind. It’s more like them calling each other doo doo heads, antagonizing each other’s avatars on Roblox, or blowing up each other’s inventory sheds in Minecraft to aggravate and annoy each other.

My husband and I are both huge advocates of therapy and utilize it ourselves. So, our kids are constantly hearing “therapy speak” around the house. One thing that adds a bit of comic relief to these fights that break out between the kids is to overhear them shout mental health buzzwords at each other:

You’re not respecting my boundaries!

Well, you didn’t respect my boundaries FIRST!

I’m going to my room to process what you just said to me. Do not follow me!

Oh yeah! Well, I’m going to MOMMY’s room to process my feelings TOO!

As funny as the words are, it’s still overwhelming and stressful to hear them bickering with each other. Especially since the majority of the things they argue about feel—to my adult mind—trite and unnecessary.

They’re so young, and both of similar cognitive and emotional development. There isn’t one kid who is a little older and wiser who can de-escalate the situation, or just throw his hands up in moody resignation and walk away. They trigger each other, then just keep ramping each other up. And with neither of them old enough to have the skills to self-regulate, these fights often spiral out of control.

As a parent, dealing with these spats has been one of the biggest training grounds for my personal growth. I get triggered by their arguments. I love them both dearly; I so desperately want them to love each other and not fight. So, hearing them upset each other is deeply upsetting to me, too. But as the only one with a fully developed frontal cortex, I have to be the one to regulate myself and help them regulate themselves, too.

I have to first check my own emotions, making sure I calm myself down before I address their fighting. The last thing I want to do is introduce my own dysregulation and chaos to an already tense situation. But shit, it’s hard to do. I don’t have a magic Peace button. I can’t just snap my fingers and feel calm. The only thing I can do is take some breaths, calm my voice, and shove my feelings aside until later. Sometimes that’s easier to do than other times. And sometimes I fail at it.

The next thing I have to do is figure out how to navigate the conflict fairly. There are so many things to juggle at once. It’s not just this one incident I have to think of. There are things like:

Has one of them shown a pattern of being mean to the other recently? If so, that’s going to be a factor in how I interpret this situation.

Is one of them having something external going on, perhaps at school, that I need to be sensitive to before I address this?

How do I make both kids feel safe and loved, even though (more than likely) one of them is in the wrong and the other isn’t?

How do I settle these arguments when there isn’t a clear “wrong-doer” or when I didn’t see or hear what happened and they both tell me the other one started it?

How do I validate their emotions about the argument without validating their bad behaviors?

It’s so hard, and I usually don’t have the right answers.

Don’t let the fact that I am able to produce these sage and thoughtful considerations about my kids’ arguments as I write this article lead you to believe that I’m some super-zen parenting guru. The kids are at school right now. I’m in bed with my coffee in a quiet house. These are the things I have time and space to consider after the fact.

In the moment, when the kids are shouting and chaos abounds, these thoughts may come to me frantically, but never with the kind of clarity that enables me to utilize them. Usually, I’m handling my kids’ fights in survival mode—trying my best to put all my hard work and self-discipline into practice, but also doing it imperfectly.

It’s only later, when I’m calm, that I can revisit my actions, break them down, and decipher what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I’ll do better next time.

I’m learning. Parenting is a work in process—one that, sadly, it seems you only learn well through making mistakes. I hate that about parenthood. I wish my kids’ didn’t have to be the training ground for me to learn these things. But I think that those of us who are at least thinking deeply about these things, who are genuinely interrogating our thoughts, feelings, and actions when it comes to the things our kids do that trigger us, are going to eventually get it right.

Our kids will be alright, too. They’ll learn from watching us. They’ll model themselves after us. Yes, that means they might model after some of our mistakes, and that sucks. But they’ll model themselves after our good work, too. And that’s something. It’s at least enough to keep me working, keep me trying, and keep me motivated.

And hopefully, with time, they’ll just stop f@cking fighting.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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