A friend of mine told me today that when his four adult children were younger, he was constantly yelling at his son for terrorizing his younger sister. At a recent family dinner, my friend’s daughter admitted that in almost all of these incidents she was the antagonist. Once the parents were out of earshot, she would laugh at her brother for getting in trouble for something she had caused. My friend was astonished at this discovery.
A few years ago at a family gathering, my brothers and I discussed a number of incidents from our childhood that were poignant at the time they occurred, but that later seemed humorous. My Mom kept saying, “I never knew about that!”
In real life, I know that Mom was at least somewhat aware of some of these events at the time they occurred. But I suspect that nature has a way of blissfully burying certain memories that stem from the intense years of raising children.
It may also be that you get so numb from the antics of five boys that some things that would otherwise be significant kind of float above the layer of consciousness — perhaps because you’re so stretched out that you can’t do anything about it at the time anyway.
Kids sometimes think that parents are oblivious to what is going on. Other times they think that parents have an uncanny sixth sense to detect what is happening. As a parent of five children myself, I find that the extent of my awareness of everything going on in the family ebbs and flows. It is dependent on my capacities to comprehend it at any given moment.
Even when I am relatively aware, my actions in relationship to what is happening vary based on several factors. My ability and desire to deal with matters depends on how well I feel, how stressed I am, what I have going on, how readily my wife can respond, etc. Sometimes I purposefully stop myself from intervening in the hope that the kids will learn some valuable life skills from working it out themselves.
Given limited capacities, a parent must prioritize constantly. While consistency in parenting is a virtue, prioritization means that sometimes children will get away with things and other times they won’t.
I wonder how unaware my friend really was of the dynamic between his daughter and his son. Perhaps the details have been buried in his memory. My only daughter is our youngest child. I would be lying if I denied that she enjoys special status as our spoiled baby girl. She has had me wrapped around her little finger since she was still in the womb.
Sometimes my daughter is a brat. She can tease, torment, and/or be petulant. Her next older sibling probably catches more of this than any of the other children. But he knows that he will get in trouble if he retaliates. It’s not that we, as parents are unaware that she pesters him. But my son needs to know that lashing out is also improper. It is true that this leaves the boy with limited outlets for addressing the issue.
Conversely, these two siblings can be very close and can play together quite nicely. They share a close bond that is different than the bond they share with any of the other children.
Families have interesting dynamics that can bring great joy and great difficulty. I look forward to someday sitting around with my adult children and finding out about some of their childhood antics of which I was unaware — or have just forgotten.