Having four kids in five years, I knew there'd be a little chaos in our home. I had no illusions that everyone would always get along. Disagreements were inevitable, bickering was bound to happen. I knew because I'd been there. Growing up with two older brothers and a younger sister, I'd experienced my own childhood mix of friction and fun. I knew, but I was still unprepared for presiding over such a mix with my kids.
When they were very small (they're now ages 10, 9, 7, and 6), their time together was peppered with the usual preschool clashes over sharing toys and taking turns. Through the years, though, this squabbling slowly escalated into what seemed like a nonstop stream of impatience and annoyance, especially from the older two, Mitzi and Cooper. "Stop touching me!" "Stay out of my room!" "Quit singing that silly song!"
I became Mommy the Mediator, separating sibs, helping them apologize to one another, talking about how to deal with frustration and anger. When an argument reached the boiling point, I'd send the kids to their rooms to cool down, and then I'd speak with each child one-on-one.
These tactics worked, but only for a while. As the kids got bigger, so did their fights. Their words became tinged with meanness, and, when words failed them, they started lashing out at each other physically.
Zero tolerance became the rule: if you argue, you apologize. If you strike out -- verbally or physically -- you go to your room.
This policy worked; the brawling abated. But it wasn't good enough for me and my husband, Ray. As far as we were concerned, our family was a team. We wanted our children to learn, as I had, that over the course of their lives, their siblings would be an important source of support. I didn't want them to be mean to each other. I did want them to understand that, even in the midst of anger, you can still remember the love.
They needed to start being nicer to each other. I needed to come up with an effective way for them to express the love in their hearts.
It was during dinner one night last spring that I saw the glimmer of a solution to the family feuding. It had been a rainy week, filled with too much togetherness and not enough energy-burning fun. School was winding down, everyone was exhausted, and, like the atmosphere outside, the kitchen was filling with the rumble of a brewing storm.