as long as it doesn’t happen more than 5 times a year

I am a firm believer that parenting magazines are, by and large, not good reading material for moms. For every quick recipe that I tear out, every birthday gift idea that actually looks good, there are five dire warnings about things I had never worried about, but have to add to my list of parental stresses once Baby Talk or Parents or the ironically named “Real Simple Family” bring them to my attention.

Why do I listen? Because these magazines appear, unbidden, in my mailbox each month, and my pregnant brain needs some light reading. (I’d be better off reading the back of my Cablevision bill.) Some even come addressed to my kids, but their guilt-inducing messages, let’s face it, are meant solely for mothers.

Exhibit A: an article from this month’s Parenting magazine, entitled When Sibling Fights Hurt. “Squabbling’s just a normal part of having a brother or sister, right?” Nancy Gottesman, the author, begins. Amen, sister, I think to myself. Then she stings me with “Actually, when sibs get physical, it can be more harmful than we realize.”

Apparently, a new study in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect has determined that siblings “getting physical” can cause anxiety, anger, and depression. But fear not, fellow Mother Loaders. That only kicks in if the punching, pinching, or slapping “happens five or more times a year.”

I’m going to give you a moment to process this. Sibling spats are a problem if they occur five or more times A YEAR? I have to physically separate my brawling boys five times a day– even five times an hour, if we’re stuck inside our apartment on a rainy afternoon. My older son prefers the windmill punch; my younger son sticks with scratches to the face, and has inflicted three perhaps permanent scars on his brother’s nose just this week.

I step in once one of them starts crying. Otherwise, I’ve tended to leave them alone. I asked a well-known parenting expert, Dr. Ron Taffel, about their constant scrapping, and this is what I was told to do. They’re like lion cubs, he said. They need to do this. If you try to stop them, they’ll be at each other constantly. If you let them have this outlet, while protecting their safety, they’ll be much better-behaved children.

I liked this answer. But that was before Child Abuse and Neglect got involved. Does anyone else find it a little scary that such a journal would even undertake the issue of sibling wrestling? “The researchers didn’t look at how bad brawls have to be to trigger these symptoms (it may vary from kid to kid),” Gottesman tells us. Apparently, because that part of it didn’t matter. In these experts’ minds, if your kids tussle more than five times a year, someone is being traumatized.

If that’s the case, then my two boys are screwed up for life, for sure, and it will have been all my fault. It’s already too late– they’ve had 7000% more fights than they were supposed to by this age, even if I start today and prevent them from ever touching each other again. I have a feeling, however, that I would fail at that mission. Oh well– if I end up in mommy jail, I think I’ll have plenty of company on this one.

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