If It Were Me | November 2016

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

My two daughters are 12 and 14. They’ve always been the best of friends — until recently. Now they fight constantly over the most ridiculous things: clothes, makeup, friends, the cellphone they share, who is the better athlete, who makes better grades. The arguing never ceases, and I’m tired of it. Any ideas on how to make the bickering stop?

— Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

I know you want the fighting to stop and peace to resume, but the behavior you want so badly to change is just a symptom. The real issue is what is going on in the hearts of your girls.

Start by trying to understand each of their perspectives. For instance, I have two kids who go nose-to-nose every chance they get. My husband and I realized they approach life with two very different philosophies — one is a fighter, the other a pacifist. When the fighter wants to wrangle, the pacifist wants to sing Kumbaya and be best friends. This irritates the fighter because he wants friction, action and conflict. He’s a great debater and wants someone to engage in both verbal and physical banter. Back in the land of rainbows and unicorns, the pacifist lives by his mantra, “Can’t we all just get along?” The more punches our fighter throws, the more distressed our pacifist becomes.

Could it be your daughters, like my sons, have opposing personalities? Maybe it worked well in preschool playing tea party — one acting as the leader and one the follower — but now, navigating the social rules of middle school, their personalities clash with a louder clang.

Also, don’t forget the surge of hormones your girls are experiencing. Every day they ride a rollercoaster of emotions, and even they don’t know when the ride will end.

Another thing to consider is each of them is trying to find her identity. The preteen and teen years are crucial for developing healthy self-esteem. Each girl looks at her sister and sees everything she isn’t, and it makes her insecurities rise to the surface.

You can shape your daughters’ identities by affirming each girl in her strengths, talents and gifts. Praise her for who she is at her core: compassionate, witty, thoughtful, joyful, funny, etc. Encourage her in who she is, not what she does, because one day she won’t make the team, be elected class president or make the grade she wants. But she will always be your daughter, and she needs to know when the world turns against her, you love her for who she is.

Finally, each girl is fighting for her own space. Kids this age long for independence, so make sure even if they can’t have their own rooms, they have their own spaces somewhere in the house.

For instance, we have five children but only three kids’ bedrooms. To ensure that everyone has room to spread out, we set up spaces around the house where kids can be alone: a tent in the game room, a hammock on the back porch, a glider in the master bedroom. They all know they are welcome to retreat to these places if they want to read, draw, play on their technology devices or just be alone.

Your daughters might also be fighting for space metaphorically. Being close in age, maybe they are trying to figure out where they fit in your family and in their circles of friends. To reduce competition between the girls, encourage each in her activity or sport. Let her know where she excels and help her pursue her interests.

I think you will find that pouring into each girl and discovering the heart issue will solve a lot of the arguing. The rest will work itself out with time.

Dear Elizabeth,

I struggle with anxiety, and it kicks into overdrive during this time of year. It’s only November, but stores have already displayed Christmas decorations since October. I start feeling overwhelmed knowing all the things that are about to get heaped on my plate:

  • Decorating the house for Thanksgiving
  • Preparing Thanksgiving dinner
  • Decorating the house for Christmas
  • Buying gifts for the kids’ teachers
  • Picking out a gift for the office secret Santa exchange
  • Baking for the neighborhood cookie swap
  • Christmas shopping
  • Wrapping gifts
  • Sending Christmas cards (including taking the perfect photo, creating the perfect Christmas card and addressing 150 envelopes)
  • And much more!
  • How do I survive the holiday stress?

    — L.C.

    Dear L.C.,

    I’m exhausted and stressed just reading your list! If it were me, the first thing I would do is whittle down this list to something more manageable. List all of your November and December events, activities and responsibilities. Then for each item ask yourself these two questions:
    1. Can I eliminate this item altogether?

    2. If not, how can I make the task less daunting?

    For instance, when it comes to decorating your house for the holidays, don’t feel pressured to use all your decorations. The more children I add, the more I realize how precious my time is. Therefore, I allow myself two hours to decorate, and I only display my favorite things — the ones that I find most beautiful or carry the most nostalgia. Some items don’t make the cut; they either go back in the attic or sent to charity.
    Here are a few more ideas to ease your holiday stress:

  • Thanksgiving dinner. Ask your guests to bring side dishes, which frees you up to focus on the turkey.
  • Teacher gifts. Skip the cutesy Pinterest projects and buy gift cards.
  • Neighborhood cookie swap. I confess — I once paid a friend to bake cookies for me for such an event. Some call it cheating; I call it outsourcing. Delegating is key to holiday survival.
  • Wrapping gifts. Enlist your children’s help, or pay a high school student to wrap for you. Kids always want to earn holiday cash.
  • Christmas cards. Skip the Christmas cards this year. Gasp! I know — it’s a ludicrous idea. But I wonder if Christmas cards have lost their purpose. Twenty years ago we mailed them to friends and family near and far, wishing them Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. Watching families grow and change from year to year was a joy, however today we see our families every day on social media. And people wish us Merry Christmas via text, email and social media. A lot of people will disagree with me on this one, as we all love to receive Christmas cards, but I’m a pragmatist. I wonder if the money we spend on cards could be better spent on Operation Christmas Child, Advent Conspiracy, World Vision or a host of other charities — not to mention the emotional energy we save from not having to find coordinating outfits, the best background, the right photographer, the perfect card, etc.
  • Have fun. Don’t forget to take time to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Incorporate some of your favorite traditions whether it’s driving around to look at Christmas lights, making hot chocolate and listening to Christmas music or looking at photographs from years past. Don’t let the activity and chaos overshadow the meaning of the season.