|Photo by Tambako the Jaguar|
I think I actually have a useful bit of parenting strategy to share this week.
You have every right to be dubiously skeptical of that claim. If you’ve read Yes, Your Kids Are Awful, or Emergency Homeschool Curriculum for the Everlasting Snow Day, or even Blah, blah, blah-blah, Blah! you probably have mixed feelings about my efficacy as a parent and/or the worthwhile-ness of any child-rearing advice I might offer up.
That’s okay. I understand and am not wounded by your narrow-eyed head tilt. I have during my dozen-year tenure as a mother passed through pride, shock, shame, horror, helplessness, despair, and utter confusion, and have reached a place of limpid self-acceptance. As the sage and sagacious philosopher Popeye often declared, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”
I’m thinking of cross-stitching that on a pillow. Or a bumper bra.
But anyway, I’d like to share with you today something I recently discovered about competition vs. cooperation among siblings.
A few months ago my stock of ponytail bands dwindled, as it frequently does when a house contains two little girls who play beauty-shop with them, pull them out of their hair and abandon them to gravity at random times and places, and use them to alternate purposes such as halters for their plush horses, rubber bands for shooting their older brother, and garrotes for executing effigies of their older brother.
(That last one’s totally normal, right? Having grown up without near-age sibs, I’m frequently at a loss for a definition of “normal” regarding those relationships. Anyway, he’ll always be bigger and stronger than they are, so I guess I’m not too worried about him.)
So rather than buy a new package of ponytail bands, I called my daughters and announced a competition: “It’s time for a scavenger hunt! Whoever can find the most ponytail bands in the next ten minutes gets a cookie!”
I expected cheers and laughter and jumping up and down.
What I got more closely resembled the Ultimate Fighting Championship on street-cooked steroids with a Molotov cocktail chaser.
My sweet, ladylike daughters tore through the house, diving for the same ponytail bands which had lain on the floor or in the bathtub or around that hand-stitched Brother doll’s neck for weeks. They pushed and tackled and took fisted swings at each other. There was screaming and scratching and hair-pulling.
“I saw that one first!”
“Well I got to it first!”
“No fair! Your legs are longer!”
“Too bad so sad go suck an egg!”
In the end I had to scoop off the floor a few broken bands one of the girls snapped in half and threw at the other one before they both locked themselves in separate rooms, sobbing.
All this over a cookie?
God help us all if they ever crush on the same boy when they’re teenagers.
While reflecting on this incident, trying to figure out where the Great Ponytail Band Hunt had turned off the path of friendly competition and onto the Hades-bound turnpike of apocalyptic savagery, I remembered something I used to teach back in the day when people paid me to do such things.
In my undergraduate Intro to Educational Psychology classes I’d do an exercise to illustrate the difference between competitive and cooperative activities. The class divided down the center of the room, then turned their desks to face each other in two teams. I lobbed a ball into the group and told them that I wanted to see which team was better at seated, classroom volleyball.
They took to it quickly, the back rows setting up the front rows to spike the ball onto the desks of their opponents. They high-fived their teammates and talked trash to the other side of the room. The ball rarely went back and forth more than five or six times before someone slammed one that the other team couldn’t return.
Then I gave them a different goal. “I want to see how long you can keep the ball going without letting it touch the floor.”
The atmosphere of the entire room changed immediately. They worked together, cheered each other on, helped save balls that got misfired, and kept that game going till I lost count of how many times the ball crossed the center line.
I summed it up with my daily dose of pedagogic brilliance: “There is a time for competition and a time for cooperation, and it behooves you as a teacher to know which will work best for achieving your objectives.”
I think they may have applauded me. (Revisionist history is awesome.)
So I tried the Great Ponytail Band Hunt again, but this time I told the girls that however many ponytail bands they found in total together, they would each get that many peanut butter M&Ms.
Oh. My. Gosh.
My daughters transformed from two foaming-fanged hounds of Hell into a pair of My Little Ponies singing “Let’s Be Friends” as they skipped through the house holding hands. 18 ponytail bands were recovered, two dishes of 18 peanut butter M&Ms each were munched, and happiness-love-joy prevailed in our house.
For, like, fifteen whole minutes!
Hey, we’re a work in progress over here.
So, take it or leave it, that’s what I learned (or re-learned) this week.
In the spirit of this epiphany, I leave you with a passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (or from The Byrds, depending on the state of your religious/cultural savvy):
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace,
a time for a salad and a time for a Caramel Macchiato.
Okay, I made that last line up. Just wondered if anyone would actually read to the bottom.
Good on ‘ya. Impressed with you, I am.
For more parenting tips and insights, feel free to email me at MyKidsAreJustJokingAroundWhenTheyCallMeMommyDearest@gmail.com.
(‘Cause it’ll make everything else you read seem sophisticated by comparison.)