Like my grandmother always said...
Pick your battles.
“We should have known better.” The two boys said simultaneously as they looked at each other.
Mother’s unexpected answer to a cry from the younger brother had been “OK.” The boys knew the one word response meant mother no longer intended to deal with something. The one word reply hand bounced back like a sledgehammer hitting a rubber gong. It smacked both of them in the face with an undeniable reality.
Dusty, the older brother had punched Sam in the head! The younger had squealed on the elder. Mother had simply replied “Ok.” That could have meant, “Ok, I’ll punish him later,” but it didn’t. It could have meant, “Ok, stop picking on him and he won’t hit you,” but it didn’t. “Ok” was a simple acknowledgement, Mother heard her child’s outcry. The acknowledgement did not mean she intended to do anything, just that she heard it.
Sandi had raised seven boys. Their ages staggered like stair steps, each step up or down, was separated by only a year or two. There were no less than five children in the house at any given time. Battles threatened to erupt at every moment. It is impossible for any parent to wage war on every single issue.
In the beginning, the petite mother did wage war on every issue. As her own mother’s echoes of “wait until your father gets home” rattled in her head, the mother of seven vowed never to utter those words. The determination to keep that vow insured every issue or conflict be resolved by no one else but she.
Many times, when learning that she had raised seven boys, friends would ask her for advice. How had she managed to raise seven children without losing her sanity?
“Pick your battles.” was the middle-aged redhead’s motto and frequent reply. She was quite at peace when she made these statements. A joyful peace flickered in her soft blue eyes.
Any mother of seven learns, in short order, she cannot resolve every issue herself. Regardless, she refused to utter the threat that would throw unresolved issues onto the shoulders of her husband. Slowly she began to employ another tactic.
It had begun years ago, when the oldest child reached puberty. With hormones came defiance and the self-assertion. The boy would do as he pleased. Having no strength of will to match the determination of a teenager, the Mother began the implementation of a one-word acknowledgement. “OK.”
It took one teenage son to instill wisdom in a woman who intended to keep a vow. She was wise enough to know that she must let the child make his own decisions and therefore his own successes or failures. It was time to let go.
When the oldest child would announce things such as “I’m not going to school anymore.” His mother would simply say “OK.” With his first truancy violation, the eldest learned quickly. Mother had never given him permission to skip school. She was telling him, in her own way, that he had better think about what he was saying. He needed to think about what kind of decision he would make. From that moment forward, the older son got no advice from his mother that he had not solicited.
The other children learned in their own way, if Mother uttered the one word acknowledgement, she was done. Whatever prompted her to give up with the one word resignation of “OK” was your baby now!
The two youngest boys had been fighting. Sam had screamed out that the older brother hit him.
“OK” the one word response loomed in the air as proof positive that mother had scratched one more thing off her list. She was done. The next step was “You should have known better” and both boys knew it. They had both heard conversations between their mother and their older siblings when Sandi would utter the phrase.
“OK?” The youngest child shrugged to his older brother.
“OK” Dusty repeated back more as a confirmation than anything else. The two of them stopped fighting and sat down feeling somewhat defeated.
“We should have known better.” The two boys echoed again, as they sat there with their heads hung down. It was time to figure out what it was that they should have known better about!
Sam wondered why all of a sudden it was ok for his older brother, to hit him. “What does she mean by that?” Sam asked his sibling.
“I don’t know the answer to that but I know one thing,” Dusty paused.
“What” asked Sam?
“Mom isn’t going to referee our fights anymore.” What they had to figure out between them was why.
The two boys began to imagine and suppose audibly to one another. Dusty imagined that one of the problems was that they fought at all. Mom never did approve of anyone fighting. She thought it was a sign of either how weak you were, or how bull headed you were. Either one was just as bad as the other was as far as she was concerned.
Sam imagined Mom was frustrated because he would taunt his older brothers and then yell for mom’s help when the older one had enough of his younger brother’s pestering.
“Exactly,” Dusty said. “Then she comes in and takes up for you because you’re the youngest and what does she always say?”
Dusty reminded Sam that “She won’t always be there to fight your battles for you. You need to learn to fight your own battles.”
“I guess I need to stop starting so many battles too.” Sam conceded.
The remaining days were peaceful between the two brothers for as long as they lived at home and for long after they lived away from home.
January 24, 2004
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|Reviewed by David Perry
|Great wisdom. It's so hard to let kids make their own mistakes and find their own solutions. It does take strength and self-control to stay involved yet detached enough to force kids to think!|