I sometimes wonder how Eve felt when her son Cain murdered her other son Abel. The bible doesn’t record whether she cried in grief or frustration. “What did I do wrong?”, I imagine her thinking. “How could I have brought them up in another way; to show respect for each other, instead of fighting and hurting each other?” “Didn’t his father and I want the best for them, shlep them to soccer and music lessons and swimming?” Or have I now veered into my own thoughts, away from Eve, and into the perils of my own parenting.

Why does it hurt us, as parents, so much when our children fight, or are downright nasty to each other? I sometimes wonder if mothers are more vulnerable to the effects of sibling discord, or if mothers are simply exposed to it more by dint of the proportionally greater time that many mothers spend with their children in comparison to fathers.

I can’t look through the closed doors of other families to see the way others interact. If the taunts, slaps and jibes I witness in my house are normal and common, should I just dismiss the behaviour as developmentally appropriate, like bed wetting in toddlers?  I wonder, and I worry, about the fine line between widespread, common behaviour, (even if we tell our kids that such behaviour is unacceptable) and those behaviours that veer into the dangerous. As the parent of a son, I watch the ads telling me that violence against women starts with disrespect for women and think unquiet thoughts about his threat to hit his little sister if she doesn’t stop annoying him.

We try to instruct our children to be polite – “you stink” – to say please – “you’re terrible at maths” – to say thank you – “I could do that when I was much younger than you are”, but somehow fail to teach them not to regularly reduce their siblings to tears. And always, opposite the tears, is an unmoved, unsympathetic and unanswerable sibling.

Perhaps Cain was seeking validation from God that his sacrifice was as good as his brother’s, and lashed out, frustrated and jealous, when his offering was rejected. Perhaps my children, like Eve’s, are also seeking validation and lash out with taunts from frustration.

But I also wonder where the parenting buck stops and the responsibility of the child kicks in. I wonder sometimes if Eve thought that too.

 

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Ruth Boltman
Ruth Boltman is a mother of children.

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