Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
If we want a better virtual and actual community, we're going to have to learn to do something better than tolerate each other. My son didn't want to forgive his sister. I kept suggesting maybe, they should apologize to each other.
"She started it." he sulked.
“I didn’t ask you who started it.”
“I don’t want to.”
I tried the other angry party. “After he does.” The war would continue until either a greater force (me) laid down the law, or one or the other recognized the dignity and value of the other enough to apologize. No one wants to surrender their “stands with a fist” stance but there will be no end to the tension until at least one softens.
Parenting is one long attempt to help these non-adult human beings learn how they must manage when they are not in charge, life is not fair, or someone disagrees, irritates or wrongs them.
I admit, in my weaker moments, I’ve tried the carrot. “All those not fighting get ice cream.” However bribed peace isn’t peace either, it’s more often an indication of my desire to whitewash the whole thing, and primes them to think, good behavior is not the norm, but something which must be bought.
Sometimes, I declare martial parental law. Make peace and quiet or you both will be working for me when you get home but forced peace isn’t peace either. Whenever I get high handed and it works, I’m reminded of the scene in cartoon version of The Hobbit between King Thorin and King Thranduil, “Oh Great Elf King, my truest friend and ally, We must join forces against this kind of scourge.” “
“But of course oh Noble King Under the Mountain, Your people are like brothers unto mine.”
It sounded funny and phony in the seventies, and no less arch when the two factions are in my minivan.
“Blessed are the peace makers.” What does it mean to really make peace?
In the quiet simmering toleration phase of the after fight, it is not pleasant for anyone else trapped in the zone of toleration. In the virtual and adult real world, we keep thinking, after this next big moment — a march, the appointment of a judge, the Cubs winning the World Series, an election, whatever it is, we will all settle down and get along. If I wait until my kids grow out of it, they may leave home before recognizing how important their siblings are to them in everyday life. It will take more than knowledge to get my own offspring to see each other as being made in God’s image and having innate worth. I suspect the same is true for the rest of the world.
One sibling points out how the other has done this before. Each presents a litany of offenses which prove the other one should be punished more. Forgiveness always sounds lovely in theory until it has to be actually applied. I explain it isn’t a case of forgive and forget, it is a matter of forgive, and expect better, both from yourself and the other.
Beyond the mandated accords as brokered by Mom, my children have to learn to let go of past battles, rather than store them for future use. What happened between them is supposed to be left with the apologies peace that was extended. “Each time you remember how your brother or your sister wronged you, you get another opportunity to forgive.” They are united in one thing. Rolling their eyes at Mom going all Catholicmom on them. That’s okay. The giggles are a good sign, and eventually, the apologies come and they’re sincere. Ice cream for everyone. I don’t tell them why.
We’re going to have to practice willed gentleness and willed firmness at the same time, if we’re to create a better community, (both out in the bigger world, and here trapped in my car rides home).
Peace, true peace, always begins with remembering that we do love each other.