I haven't figured this out yet . . .
It’s amazing how children can turn on you. One minute they’re happy, smiling, and nice to each other (i.e. above picture). Ten minutes later, they’re at each other’s throats so that someone ends up crying (i.e. picture below).
Luckily the crying picture was taken on a different day and for a different reason than sibling violence, but my point is that you never know when and where affection will turn to animosity. My siblings and I are quite a bit further apart in age than my own children, but I can’t recall us ever turning on each other at the drop of a dime.
I think as a dad, I’ve become hyper-aware of this kind of bipolar behavior and it makes me jumpy. If one child is crying and I happen to have my back turned, or am in another room, I’m quick to blame the one who’s not crying. I’ve long thought that in parenting, it’s best to shoot first, ask questions later.
The happy picture above was taken this morning at breakfast. I don’t usually sit the kids next to each other for the very reason I just explained, and I’m always afraid that while I have my head in the refrigerator, G will manage to drag C out of her high chair by the head and drop her on the ground.
So this morning, after taking this picture and trusting that the children would remain kind to each other, I began cooking their eggs. Then I hear C crying, and I turn around to glare at G.
At this point there are three responses I can get: 1. An innocent look (usually meaning innocent, depending on how it’s conveyed), 2. A frightened look (usually meaning guilt), 3. Or an angry look (that one’s a toss-up). I got the innocent look and I realized that C was crying because she didn’t have food, and the girl gets impatient when she doesn’t have food in front of her.
I usually feel bad for my hasty judgement, and it’s made me question the shoot first, ask questions later approach. I spent some time today thinking about how often the non-crier has been guilty of making the crier cry, and it doesn’t seem to be that often. Kids can cry for all kinds of reasons all on their own, and there doesn’t have to be an identifiable cause.
By the way, I’ve always heard that parents can distinguish varying types of cries from their children. For the last year I’ve felt that to be not entirely true. I mean, I can tell the difference between an unhappy cry and a panicked cry, with the latter usually being something serious. But sometimes I can’t even tell which kid is crying, much less what they’re crying about. My ability to determine the difference between a tired cry and a scared cry is largely based on what time of day it is. If it’s nap time, it must be a tired cry. If it’s lunchtime, it’s a hungry cry.
Maybe that’s just another mom superpower that I don’t have, but just yesterday my wife couldn’t tell which kid was crying, so I don’t know.
My children have managed to make it this far into childhood together without any trips to the emergency room (cross my fingers), so maybe it’s time for me to relax. After all, they are just children.