Saturday, July 22, 2017

Current State of (Sibling) Affairs

I tried not to harp on it in my trip posts, but we had a very hard time with the boys on our last trip.  All trips, really, but this last trip--given the duration and distance--was especially tough.  Last year I actually swore we would never do a family vacation again until the boys could get along, and this reminded me why.  And to be fair, from what I can recall, we haven't really done a full-on vacation that wasn't hooked up with some other event since.  We did an overnight in Toronto with a Knighthawks game and the rest of our travels have been with Jacob's lacrosse games.  We did add "vacation experiences" on in spots, but it seemed like the best bang for our buck once we've gone through the trouble to actually get to these places.

Sometimes it seems like the change of scenery might be helpful.  Until we're actually there and I realize it's less embarrassing (and much cheaper) to simply yell at my kids in the privacy of our own home.  It's the definition of insanity--doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome.  We have officially hit that point, mostly because I have some misguided shred of faith that perhaps this attempt at memory-making will finally be memorable for the right reasons.  I do want to expose my kids to new places and things, and trips are usually the best way to do that.  I guess teaching them some history, geography, and pop culture in between yelling is better than banging our heads on the same four walls at home.  So we keep trying.  I read this blog post recently (after I started this post, ironically) and I guess it's good to know I'm not alone.

The biggest challenge is that the boys can't leave each other alone.  There is some sort of weird compulsion that draws them to one another.  From Carter's perspective, I think it's just that natural draw that little kids have to big kids.  They're fascinated by them, and if one lives in your own house, even better!  However, after so many rough-and-tumble run-ins, he seems quick to rely on a punch or kick at the first sign of confrontation, which is not well-received by Jacob and is something we're working on stopping.  From Jacob's perspective, I'm not sure what the draw is.  There is probably a part of him that likes being a person of great interest to Carter, but at the same time he has this horrible, deep-seeded dislike of him, so I feel like most encounters turn into an opportunity to "get even" or prove his dominance. It either turns into a physical battle, an onslaught of insults or leading questions with the sole purpose of belittling Carter, or potty talk that he's trying to get Carter to repeat.  Being in a hotel room makes things extra impossible, as it's a small space without many options for punishment.  At home we send the kids to their rooms, but the best we can do in a hotel is send them to opposite sides.  And that only seems to last a moment before one or the other has somehow wandered back.  Sometimes it's a derailed trip to the bathroom, and sometimes it's just that inescapable lure.  Either way, it's impossible.  Add in a couple bouncy beds, lots of adjacent furniture, and generally being off their schedule, and it's a recipe for disaster.  Our hotel neighbors probably thought we were nuts.

But the thing is, they do have moments.  Maybe it's Jacob giving up his Chick-Fil-A prize at the ballgame, or setting aside the gluten items in his summer camp "Halloween" bag for Carter, or teaching him how to play Xbox.  Or last weekend, as they played nicely with Carter's Hot Wheels track, or when Jacob cheered him on in the pool as Carter learned how to use a kick board (and took to it immediately), which taught him a swimming skill Jacob only picked up recently.  It can happen, but all too often it's followed by a moment of immediate, searing anger/jealousy that leaves both kids complaining about mutually caused injuries.  But here and there we've had moments that haven't ended disastrously, which gives me a tiny bit of hope that something in Jacob's mind is starting to click and realize this brother thing isn't all bad.  But as of now we're fighting impulse control on both sides and neither one usually wants to back down.

I've come to realize more and more that a lot of Jacob's behavior reflects back to his trust in us.  That trust was inadvertently shattered when Carter came along, and he didn't express until years later how hurt he was by how much time I was spending with Carter when he was a newborn.  Of course, he never TOLD me it bothered him and just generally kept his distance, so I tried not to push him.  Even then his behavior was a problem but it didn't seem directly tied to Carter, as we never saw a direct link, timing-wise.  But now I can clearly see that when Jacob feels attacked or like we're always taking Carter's side, his behavior gets more extreme.  Conversely, one of his best weeks was around Easter time, when Carter had a rather terrible run of bad behavior.  Seeing Carter get disciplined apparently made Jacob feel better, and he ended up being rather pleasant for a while.  It was a noticeable change and he admitted that Carter's downturn was part of it.  I feel like if he knows we've got his back and are giving him a fair shake, he's a little easier to work with.  But the second he feels like we've abandoned him emotionally (which isn't really true, but he's an extreme kid), he's ready to turn his back on us.  That's when we get the, "I'm leaving this family" statement, or worse.  Those are the moments that I look into our future and have the worst fear about where we're going if we can't get this figured out.  Part of it is Jacob's challenging personality and a higher-than-usual sensitivity, but I'm sure we could find ways to manage things better.  It's hard, though, when you know you have one kid whose impulse control is still pretty immature, and one whose should be better than it is, so you sort of default at coming down on the kid who should be able to do better.  But what if he can't?

I can't tell you how often I say or do something as a parent that I know immediately wasn't the right way to deal with the issue, but I am at such a loss that I do the only thing that comes into my head.  For example, when Carter gets mad and hits or kicks someone or something, I probably shouldn't resort to spanking him after my yelling has no effect.  Normally I reserve spanking for high level offenses when I feel like it's important to make a clear and immediate impact, but when nothing else has worked, I'm not sure what else to do.  But clearly doing the exact thing I'm telling him not to do (and modeling that anger = hit) is about as bad as it gets.  But when yelling and privileges and all of that doesn't work, then what?  No one can seem to give me that answer.  We have boundary pushers (each in their own distinct way), and it seems like we have no ammunition to push them back. So, honestly, our best bet is to attempt to avoid confrontations all together.  Whether it's doing our darnedest to keep the boys physically apart, pick our battles, or finding proactive ways to circumvent issues, that's what we have to do.  It's not 100% easy or effective, but it's a start.

I desperately wish we could get our boys to see the value in each other and learn to respect each other as a result.  Right now they just seem to see an adversary (most of the time), rather than a flash-and-blood human being who they're technically supposed to love unconditionally.  Someday perhaps they will see the value in having a brother, but there are days when I wonder if we'll all make it there intact.  Battles on the stairs, shoves across the room, full-body name it, they do it on a regular basis and constantly endanger each other.  Hence why we just prefer to keep them separate if we can. 

Needless to say, we're tired.  It's exhausting, frustrating, and very sad.  Craig and I have a hard time getting in a decent conversation, mostly because the kids are never quiet, but partly because we're so tired by the time the kids are in bed that we can barely think of what we wanted to talk about.  We don't always agree on how to handle the battles, either, so that's made things even harder.  We could probably use a long vacation, or even just a nice day date or fancy dinner.  We need a break from the arguments and decision-making.  And maybe someday it'll happen.  But for now we need to do more than just survive.  Better than nothing, I suppose, but we're trying.  

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