Granny Witch on Touching Tender

By Geneviève Hone

Where There Is A Family

There's always advice from Granny Witch

Insults . . .  'Touching conversations waiting to be heard'

Dear Granny Witch,

Hone, small image.

Today I was having lunch at a restaurant with my friend Bonnie when we heard a commotion coming from a few tables down. There was this child, maybe 2 ½ to 3 years old, who had decided he wanted to go home NOW. He started making a terrible scene, shouting “Bad Mommy” over and over again. He then started on the waitress calling her “stupid” when she tried to distract him with a small toy. When they were gone, Bonnie said: “Aren’t you glad that our “terrible twos” days are done with?” I burst into tears. Dear Bonnie thought I was missing having very young children. It was not that at all, I blurted out. “It’s that October is just around the corner.” We are in March! Bonnie threw me one of those looks that old friends develop over the years that basically say “I think you are becoming crazy, but I’ll stick with you no matter what.”  

Granny Witch, I dread the month of October because the last two have been terrible. We have four boys, aged 4, 8, 10 and 12, all good looking, healthy, intelligent and strong willed.  They were all born in October, but no two on the same date, be thankful for small blessings. We do love our sons dearly and we work hard at being good parents, but recently I’ve been dreaming of renting the house next door and sending them to live there and do their anarchistic stuff in peace, so to speak. Perhaps the boys resent having their birthdays so close together, but throughout October, a month that could be a long celebration of Life, they are at their worst behavior. To put it mildly, they wage war. Granny Witch, I recognize war when I see it. I teach history!

I understand and accept that all children in a family will occasionally argue or fight; I am told that that is their way of expressing limits, but our boys have elevated “fighting among siblings” to an art form. They don’t hit each other physically, but they throw insults that are like miniature incendiary devices that either immediately explode with a great fracas or treacherously simmer till they are reignited and “returned to the sender”. I tell you, Granny Witch, those kids act as two year olds: their default answer to our suggestions is “NO”. They argue, they resist, they disobey, they pout, they invade each other’s room, they tease mercilessly, but mostly they throw insults. My husband and I have tried everything, from punishing bad behavior to rewarding good behavior. Nothing has worked with this pack of wolves. Please help, Granny Witch.

Signed: October Mom

Dear October Mom,

Imge: Les enfants chicane 3, by Julien Mercure.
Les enfants chicane 3, by Julien Mercure

My heart goes out to you: it takes much courage and creativity to continue searching for ways of dealing with children who dress up as wolves and play the part well. We know that creative people think “upside down”, so to speak, and this is what I am inviting you to do as you read this. I hope you enjoy the process of creating new tricks to deal with the pack. A word of caution: don’t let the incendiary-device-throwing wolves read this. Wolves must uphold their reputation as big bad scary creatures. They might not appreciate learning that you are beginning to perceive them simply as little cubs who are trying to say something important but don’t know how to go about it.  

Now, dear October Mom, I invite you to imagine a peaceful moment in your home. You are preparing dinner for the hungry pack. The children are doing homework, watching TV or playing in their room, and your husband is winding down from a big day at the office by doing still a bit more work at home, crazy as that seems. As you are peeling carrots, you are mentally reviewing your next class. Peace on the home front! And all of a sudden, like a brutal home invasion, the peace is shattered: noise, shouts, insults, banged doors, something thrown down the stairs. You put the knife down (good idea!), and you shout the name of the wolf who has opened fire. And of course, comes the classic retort: “It’s not my fault! He started it!” You leave the kitchen to try to settle the argument, and of course, you are drawn into it, like it or not.

As a historian, October Mom, you know that humans spend a considerable amount of energy trying to understand how war erupts. Who or what started WWII? Or WWI? Or, for that matter, the Peloponnesian War? No doubt these are fascinating questions for researchers trying to learn important lessons for humanity. However, these questions are not practical when dealing with “war” in the family. A much more interesting question is: “What was happening before the eruption?” “Before” can be 5 minutes ago, early this morning, yesterday, last week, a month ago. What happened “before” that led the cubs to morph into Big Bad Wolves?

Practice code deciphering, i.e. observing patterns, repetitions, exceptions, changes, cycles. Make hypotheses. Take notes. You might notice that Wolf “A” will pick a fight with Wolf “B” when he is hungry. You might notice that Wolf “B” gets upset mostly on Wednesdays. Ask yourself what might be going on then. Ah . . . the piano lesson . . . and he really hasn’t practiced enough. Ms. S. might scold him. That’s it! you think. Well, perhaps, but you really don’t know because you haven’t checked with Wolf “B”.  And even if you do, Wolf “B” himself might not know or maybe he won’t want to talk about it.

Share your observations and concerns with your husband. Help each other get to a point where you understand that everything in a family is a conversation of sorts, including insults. Insults are always an expression of incapacity to deal with stress. Reflect together on the levels and causes of stress in your family. What is causing so much stress that the children need to use insults as a way of saying: “Something is hurting, please come and help me."?

You are right to insist that the wolves stop their hurtful behaviors. So convene a family meeting to consult the experts on the matter, i.e. the wolves themselves. Start with a statement: “Our family is the victim of home invasions. We are being invaded with insults. This is a problem for us, parents, and we would like your help in solving it. But first, we need to check if insulting each other is a problem for you guys. We want us to work together as a family to solve that problem.”

Make this a proper business meeting, a short one, 20 minutes at the most. Somebody takes notes; somebody prepares post-meeting refreshments; somebody keeps track of time, etc. The object is to brainstorm (wolves often have fantastic ideas) and from there establish clear rules. Aim to create unusual rules because they can be more fun. “You are allowed insults only after you’ve eaten a good nutritious snack.” “If you call someone stupid, you must repair, within 24 hours, by writing down five things that this someone did that are very intelligent.”

And most importantly, introduce a “thank you” mentality in your family. Thank you for this meal, for your work, for your efforts, for your love, for emptying the dishwasher, for listening, for walking the dog . . . Let “thank you” permeate the atmosphere in your home. Thank you’s are the best antidote to stress and insults! 

I wish you in advance a plentiful and joyful Octoberfest!

Granny Witch