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September 25, 2008

Bickering Be Gone

Susan Thing 1:  "Don't Touch me."
Thing 2:  "I'm not touching you."
Thing 1:  "Yes you are."
Thing 2:  "No I'm not."
Things 1&2:  "Mo-om!"

Thing 2:  "That's mine. Put it down."
Thing 1:  "No, it's not. I got it at Jack's birthday party."
Thing 2:  "Give it. It's mine."
Thing 1:  "No, it's not."
Things 2&1:  "Mo-om!"

Bickering. Brother-baiting. Driving mom bananas. Call it what you will, but I am done. D-O-N-E — done.

My two youngest boys (ages 10 and 11) are just 16 months apart and have been either best friends or worst enemies their entire lives. I used to boast that the ratio was 90/10 to the good, but lately I have felt the balance shifting as their arguments have increased both in frequency and volume.

Normally, I don't get involved in this standard squabbling fare. The rule in our house is: if he bothers you, that's too bad; if you bother me about him bothering you, that's a catastrophe. A couple of Saturdays ago, however, they woke me up with their bickering; I heard it from an entire floor away.

I now freely admit to you that the consequence my children suffered that fateful morning was stolen from my best friend, who learned it from a grandma type a few years ago when her kids were bickering in public. The basic premise is this: if you have time to bicker, you have time to clean.

The simple eloquence of this consequence should not be underestimated. Instead of blowing my stack over having been so rudely awakened, I simply got up, got dressed and got busy. I explained very calmly to the two rowdy culprits that I was wide awake (thanks to them) and had a lot of work to do, and since they had time to bicker, they had time to clean.

What?

"You heard me. Get dressed and eat some breakfast. We've got work to do."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, Thing 1 picked up all the rotten crab apples in the back yard, took the dog for a long walk and watered the flowers. Thing 2 emptied the dishwasher, took out the garbage and recycling, and helped me fold three loads of laundry. "Folding laundry is boring," he informed me. Really? We have six people in this household and I do laundry every day. Don't tell me about boring.

While the boys delivered folded clothing around the house, I hit upon a stroke of genius (she says humbly). "Put on your bathing suits and meet me in the bathroom," I said. Armed with scrub brushes and a short demonstration, I put one of them into each of our two shower stalls and set them to work, telling them to call me when they thought they were done. After a few false starts, they did a great job and finished off the exercise by taking a shower and washing their hair. Everything and everyone was clean and shiny.

Call it indentured servitude if you must — ransoming their freedom for a little peace and quiet and a couple of clean bathrooms — but it worked. We got a lot done that morning and they played together beautifully for the rest of the afternoon. I can't wait for their next argument. I think we'll clean the closets.

This is an original post to Chicago Moms Blog. When Susan isn't forcing her children into slave labor, she posts on her own blog, Two Kinds of People, and has recently started The Animal Store blog for her family's pet shop in Lincolnwood, IL. She hopes to find a way to put the dog to work soon.

Photo credit: Cleaning by Bies.

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