I have a soon-to-be 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and they love each other. In the past year or so I've seen their cordial but casual relationship blossom into a real and lovely friendship. They play together, they make friends on the playground together, and, yes, they fight together. At first I would intervene as soon as I heard raised voices and try to mediate between competing interests as fairly as possible. But, after a while, I stopped. I let my kids fight and, honestly, I'm never going back.
Don't get me wrong, if I can hear things starting to go horribly awry (which is actually less frequent than you'd think) I'll come in to serve as the voice or reason. But I learned pretty quickly that, for the most part, my kids can handle interpersonal conflict on their own.
Letting my kids hash things out, and without my constant supervision, was more of an accidental discovery than a principled decision. One day I heard them having a row up in their room and it was one of those days when I just couldn't deal anymore. I took a little time to gather some mental fortitude to go and break it up when, suddenly, I heard the screaming had died down and they were: talking. Within minutes they had come to an agreement. So when I stopped long enough to consider implementing this new tactic full-time, I threw caution to the wind and gave it a whirl. Turns out, they can learn some very valuable lessons when they're fighting their own battles. So, no, I'm not even a little bit sorry for letting my kids fight, and here's why:
Because Social Conflict Is Normal
It happens... and that's cool! In fact, it would be weird if it didn't, like that Twilight Zone episode where the kids made everyone be nice to each other all the time and everyone lived in a state of paranoid anxiety. So rather than swoop in and tell my kids how to deal, I just let them go for it because it's human to disagree and they need to learn how.
Because I'm Terrified Of Social Conflict
So I'm naturally a pretty laid-back, non-combative person and generally that works for me. But when I find myself in a situation that could include just a titch of conflict I'm deeply, deeply uncomfortable. I avoid unpleasantness like the plague or a pyramid scheme party. I want my kids to be more comfortable with voicing their displeasure than I am, and I think a good healthy argument every now and then will help them achieve this goal.
Because It's Good Practice For Arguments With Non-Siblings
What are siblings if not humans who are basically required to love you and help you learn to be a better person around people who aren't required to love you?
Learning how to argue and, in turn, get along with our siblings helps us learn what to do (and what not to do) with friends, teachers, bosses, co-workers, and random people on the street who definitely took your parking spot even though you'd been waiting for the other car to pull out and, excuse me, but no.
Because It Promotes Negotiating Skills
One thing that I found remarkable when I decided to let my kids fend for themselves in their disagreements was the fact that, rather than devolve immediately into a Hunger Games situation, it actually very quickly got philosophical. They quickly became a little Model United Nations, negotiating and debating and compromising and, yes, sometimes banging shoes on the table and threatening nuclear war but mostly they scream a bit, cool off, and then get down to business.
Because I Want My Daughter To Be Comfortable With Anger & My Son To Respect Female Anger
Too often girls are discouraged from being unpleasant and disagreeable and their anger is either frowned upon or written off as hysterical or even adorable. I want my daughter to know she's allowed to get angry, and I want my son to be familiar enough with (safe!) female anger from a peer to know that it's a valid emotion for women and girls to have and that he shouldn't condescend or dismiss it.
Because Fighting Is Bonding
I mean, we all remember at least one fight with our siblings, right? Even a really bad fight can, in the end, make for a really funny memory... like that time my sister was being a jerk so I dumped a bottle of water on her head without warning and she punched me (#worthit). Or that time my brother literally hurled a toy box at my head because I reminded him that mom wanted us both to clean the playroom. Like, ideally things don't come to blows, but big emotions of any sort (when balanced against big positive emotions, of course) can go a long way to strengthen a sibling bond... and provide hilarious discussion for family gatherings when you're all adults.
Because I Don't Want Them To Run To Me For Every Problem
I don't mind mediating when asked, but maybe don't ask me to mediate every little thing.
Oh? She took your toy? This isn't something you can handle on your own? Really? Because I think you two can handle this on your own.
Because I Want Them To Have A Relationship Outside Of Me
When you rely on your mom to help you communicate with your sibling, it's going to be harder for you to maintain a relationship when your mother isn't there. I've seen this happen with plenty of adult siblings and, while it's perfectly normal and OK for brothers and sisters to drift apart as they establish lives and families of their own (and it's not required or guaranteed that your sibling is going to be your BFF), I'd love it if my son and daughter could feel as though they had a lifelong ally with them, always.
I think that is less likely to happen if I'm the only thing holding them together and managing their disagreements. Letting them feel through the entire spectrum of emotions (including the bad stuff) will go a long way in forging a strong relationship that is more likely to stay with them moving forward.
Because It's Forced Me To Let Go Of A Little Bit Of Control & Self-Importance
I'm still the mom and I'm still running the damn show and I'm still very much needed, but I think moms do this thing where they take on more responsibility (and its accompanying stresses) than is necessary. But I think there's a balance between running a tight ship and trying to be the crew, captain, and lighthouse operator. The somewhat accidental discovery (and subsequent principled experiment) of letting my children get into fights reminded me that, from time to time, I can sit out a play.
Because It Keeps Them Out Of My Hair Sometimes
Seriously, guys, I'm tired. When they're preoccupied with arguing with each other no one is asking me to get them a snack. I consider that a win, in more ways than one.