Any mother of more than one child knows that somewhere along your parenting journey, you'll realize that you've added "referee" to your already overwhelming list of responsibilities. It will not be a job that you enjoy.
Despite warnings from every mom that I know with children older than my own, I was slightly surprised and mildly horrified when my two little darlings hit the age when they decided that annoying each other, causing each other Physical Harm, and coveting the exact same plaything at the exact same time (regardless of how many months they'd both ignored said toy) were vital parts of childhood they'd previously underutilized.
When my son was about 2-and-a-half and my Daughter was 5, the sibling battles began, and I found myself in the middle of them . . . constantly. At the time, I couldn't see an alternative to participating in the drama. My son wasn't old enough to have any real sense of self-preservation, and my daughter knew she had size as an advantage. The threat of physical harm always loomed, and since keeping my kids alive was priority number one, I had no choice but to get involved every time they decided that they wanted the same seat on our exceptionally large couch, then decided that seat was worth fighting to the death for.
Recently, however, I realized it was time to reassess the role as middleman I've been loathing for the last 18 months. In truth, I don't find that my involvement in their disputes really does much to help. I'll tell child one to stop what they are doing, escalating child two's anger since he now believes himself firmly in the right; then I'll tell child two to calm down, signaling to child one that she's now winning, and then before I know it, we're all screaming and someone's in tears and what stared as a simple argument has turned into a full-blown war.
Something had to change, and since I only have so much control over my tiny angels' behavior, I decided to start with my own. What would happen, I wondered, if I opted out of refereeing every time I heard an argument begin and the inevitable "Moooom" that came from one of them seconds later? Would it be all-out mayhem or could my kids solve their problems without my help?
After all, my now-almost-4-year-old is currently weighing in at 50 pounds (yes, I realize he's huge), not that much less than his older sister, and he's now able to express himself with words instead of by throwing action figures at her head. It seemed they were probably capable of, if possibly unwilling to, resolve disputes on their own.
"Guys, you're going to have to figure it out yourselves," I told them. "You're both smart and kind people. I know you can do it."
They looked at me in confusion, and then something crazy happened. They actually did what I said. Of course, it wasn't totally smooth sailing. There were some tears and some physical threats, but eventually, every time I employed the "figure it out" method, they would either tire of the drama and move on or find a solution that was reasonably suitable to both of them.
Even crazier, since I handed the conflict-resolution reins back to them, they've been fighting a lot less. It's like it's become less fun to argue now that they know they can't get Mom involved to choose a winner. Or maybe being forced to work things out without me has taught them how to get along better overall.
Sure, there are still times when I have to pull my linebacker of a son off my daughter and times when I have to remind my daughter that kicking her brother isn't kind, but for the most part, things have gotten a lot more peaceful in my household. And my referee shirt and whistle? I've retired them for good.