To tell the truth, I didn’t do it in order to teach them anything. I was just frazzled and worn out and had simply had enough. In retrospect, I think it was a good way of teaching something important.
The kids were on my last nerve. Well, the older two were; the three-year-old was fine, but the nine-year-old boy and the twelve-year-old girl were impossible. They’d been fighting for hours, nonstop, arguing over everything. The boy was a master at finding things to argue about, and the girl was incapable of ever letting anything go, so round and round they went. Screaming, hitting, the works. Separating them didn’t do it. Sending them to their rooms only brought a brief cease-fire. They were clearly never going to let up.
Finally I’d had enough. Then I remembered a story a co-worker had told me, something her mom had once done, an example of “extreme parenting,” which is when you do something so shocking and unexpected that it throws the kids off their usual pattern of behavior. The problem with extreme parenting is you can only use each thing once. So you have to save it and make it count.
I stomped up to the battling siblings and barked “get into the kitchen, NOW!” then stomped off, leading the way. When we arrived in the kitchen, I reached to the knife block on the counter and pulled out two steak knives. I handed each of them a knife and opened the back door.
“Both of you get outside right now! One of you will come back alive, and I will have peace and quiet!”
They stood there, mouths hanging open, staring at the crazy man who had just ordered them to attempt homicide. I went on. “You two hate each other so much, you want to do nothing but fight all day long, so let’s finish it. Go into the backyard and try to kill each other. Be done with it!”
They looked at each other. Eyebrows raised. Then they slowly backed away, slipped the knives back into the block and quietly left the kitchen, sure that Dad had completely lost his mind.
But there was no more fighting for the rest of the day. And though they often fought again and again over the next few years, it was never again with the ferocity they had displayed that morning. They had learned that things can escalate and spiral out of control, and they knew they didn’t want to go where that road led. Actions have consequences.
Maybe I’m a Bad Dad for encouraging my children to murder each other in broad daylight, but confronting them with the opportunity to do so taught them that, despite their many clashes, they didn’t really want to harm each other. As adults, they get along pretty well. I call that a win.