Friday nights are rough in my home. I work Monday through Friday (a relatively new concept after spending the first 13 years of my career working 3 12 hours shifts per week) and my boys are away doing camps during the day. By Friday evening, we are all tired and probably ready to just unwind. I have noticed that one kid and I seem to have high levels of conflict on Friday nights. Tonight, to avoid conflict and fatigue, I stopped by Costco to grab pizza, salad, and a rotisserie chicken. I thought we were doing okay…then came the cherries.
I spent the evening cleaning out the fridge to accommodate the food I grabbed Costco. The boys were left to play games, talk to friends, etc. and things were going okay. Right as I was finishing off cleaning up the kitchen, my high conflict son came in and discovered I had gotten him some cherries. He quickly dug into them and before I knew it, he was spitting his cherry pits at me. I tried to distract him, then he started spitting them at the recycling can and when I specifically told him to stop, he looked at me and kept doing it. It seriously felt like an argument with an obstinate toddler. At the point that he began spitting them at the recycling can, I told him that the consequence was having to take the recycling out tonight. He then proceeded to argue about why he shouldn’t have to do it and he wouldn’t let me ignore him. So, I, doing the only thing I could think to do (though knowing this never works with him) said if he continued arguing, he would be doing dishes all week. The nonstop arguing and telling me why he wouldn’t do what I said continued and before I knew it, he was at 3 weeks of dish duty and we were getting nowhere. What I was doing wasn’t working – staying calm, but firm, and I was feeling myself increasingly agitated and feeling quite hopeless that he would ever stop arguing. Finally, I said that we were done for the night and told him we weren’t getting anywhere with this argument and we could pick it up in the morning, but I was tired, and walked away. Suddenly, he was in the kitchen taking out the recycling. He finished his job, then I thanked him. I then told him, dish duty would resume as normal next week and told him I wanted to extend him a little grace, explaining how I know Fridays are rough for the two of us. We fist bumped and things were back to normal. I even flashed a flashlight in his eyes and screamed in his ear (two things he does to me routinely) and asked him what that felt like. He grinned at me and told me it didn’t feel very good then skipped off to bed with a Labrador in tow.
I tell this story because it really felt like a moment of breakthrough with him. A few months ago, I realized that Friday nights were our highest conflict night and began trying to make some changes to try and minimize the conflict. For all that, Friday nights come, and we are all irritable. This week has found me a little more on edge, for a variety of reasons. I haven’t been sleeping well…lots of nightmares about the events of the past year…and I realized that yesterday would have been my 15th wedding anniversary…tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my divorce…thus explaining my sleeping difficulties. My son is also going through his own issues and the two of us can become explosive in conflict. I wouldn’t say that I did anything particularly right tonight, except for the moment that I realized no number of punishments or consequences was going to end this fight. I think it is a natural tendency as a mom to make sure that my kids have consequences for their actions. However, what does that look like when the conflict is so high that nothing I say or do, or any consequences serves as a deterrent to the actual argument? Kind of like a toddler having a meltdown because he is too tired, there is no way to reason or logic with a teen boy in that situation. So, at that point the only option was to just stop. So, I stopped engaging with the argument. I stopped insisting he do the recycling. And I told him that I was tired and walked away. Tonight, that shifted the dynamics, and we are both going to sleep in peace.