My kids love each other like crazy. They talk constantly about missing each other whenever one of them is away. They give each other hugs and kisses and ask if they’re okay when they get hurt. They share.
Some of the time.
At home, it is impossible to keep my kids away from each other.
“Why do you want to keep your kids away from each other?”
My son chases my daughter through the house on all fours for about 84% of the day. She screams and cries and runs away from him, while laughing and crying, and yelling “no… don’t follow me… yes… follow me.” Eventually, the tides turn and she attacks, climbing onto his back, digging in deep hooks with her feet (her Jiu-Jitsu game is tight) and then choking him out like Carey Elwes choking out Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride.
They’re like magnets. He can basically smell when she’s happy, and he invades. She can hear him walking into the bathroom and immediately joins him. For some reason kids have no concept of privacy. One day my daughter decided to tell me a story while I was on the toilet and used my lowered pants and underwear like a hammock to kick back in.
My kids are also magnets when we’re out in public. They’ve just got their poles reversed. You know when you try to hold two magnets together on the sides that repel each other and they basically just shoot off into the atmosphere? That’s my children when they’re in public. At home, they can’t stand to be on opposite sides of the couch, but put those two at a library or a museum or a park, and best of luck. They’re gone.
So, here’s how I’ve come to deal with the Jekyll and Hyde nature of my children’s interactions:
At home… I just let them murder each other. That’s obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but essentially, I’ve started to let them discover the natural consequences of crawling on top of each other in a house filled with hardwood floors. There are some tears. Okay, there are a lot of tears. But the common mantra, hollered form the kitchen to the living room by me as I attempt to get a few dishes cleaned before my wife gets home is, “work it out.”
In public, it’s much more terrifying. I’ve had to give my son… responsibility. I know he’s capable. I know that. But I’m so terrified of losing him or of him getting hurt. I coddle my son in too many ways, constantly fearful that some moment where I DON’T tell him to stay by my side will be the last moment I ever see him. I know that this sort of fear is unfounded (in general) and that it’s important to afford him some trust and responsibility. But he’s my baby.
There are some places we just don’t go when it’s just the kids and I, because I don’t feel comfortable managing them there. But over time, we’ve added more and more places. When it comes down to it, it’s not about their behavior. It’s very much about my own insecurities. My wife often worries what other people will think if our kids act poorly. That part doesn’t phase me in the least. If they have kids, they’ll understand. And if they don’t have kids, they probably won’t and no amount of explaining is going to help.
What this whole thing boils down to is that giving your kids some space can be difficult, especially when there’s more than one of them. Sometimes they won’t want it and you’ve got to work for it. Sometimes they’ll want it desperately and you’ll need to work on curbing it.
The next time you think about whether your kids can or should do something, ask yourself if your answer has to do with them or has to do with you. It can be a startling revelation.