I think I need to get a new degree and start a new career. There's something about living with four pre and full teens that stimulates conflict, confusion, emotional breakdown and the need for explanations, understanding, patience and finally, resolution. I am now proving myself a rather adept pediatric psychologist and group counselor, conflict resolutions my specialty.
Last year the dynamics were rather simple: my two little boys, and 3 teenage girls. The eldest of the girls being quite a bit older, she had authority, and could cover for me when I wasn't there. She could cook, she could organize, etc., And in general, the others fell into line.
This year, it is easier for me when I'm home -- I clearly am the adult and I can correct, direct, and exact relative obediance and contributions to the household tasks. Having ages that span Jonas' young 7, to our run from 11 - 15, they're all still young enough to listen to me. I've been able to make them accept my banishment of the computer, and when necessary, I can urge them to eat their vegetables. Early adulthood is as yet pretty far away. However, when I am not at home -- as I learned the other evening when unavoidably delayed by a broken down car on the ring road for two hours -- it's impressive the emotional damage that can occur amongst 12/13/15 year-olds.
When I returned home, at long last, I had one in tears, two ready to run off, one shaking with fury and frustration, and Jonas asking me to return the three new ones and keep only Gaetan. Woah..... As two departed on the button of my return, I began with Gaetan: please tell me what happened from your point of view. In terse and tense sentances, he spelled out the last two hours, as he had lived them. OK. Got it.
Then, the other two returned in time to accompany me to the train station to pick up a Japanese guest (just a little added element to render the evening even more challenging). OK kids, now tell me your side of the story. In infuriated bursts they communicated their point of view.
Can I go back through it all? There was a miss-use of authority on Gaetan's part -- but with good intentions, as being the eldest, he felt he was supposed to be in charge, and I hadn't clarified this as yet. There was immediate anger/ shouts, and rebuttals on the others' parts -- rather than calm the situation, the reactions were loud, insulting and strong. Then there were requests to clean up, and responses that they'd do it in their own good time. Then there were slamming doors and outings on the bikes. Return. And then Gaetan was out the door with Jonas, telling the others to sit still. Which of course, they wouldn't take from him, so they went out -- leaving my house unlocked, and empty a week after I'd been burglarized by local kids. This latter event provoked Gaetan into locking them out, which had them then throwing stones at my front door and damaging my paint job (yet another task for next spring...)
Goodness. Amazing how tempers will climb and fly off the handle, out the window and into the realm of temporary insanity.
So, I sat them each down separately. I reassured Gaetan that I appreciated his efforts, but that he is not responsible for the other big kids. That to this point, they've shown themselves honest and helpful, and that I'm sure they will continue to do so. That he keeps an eye out for Jonas is great, but not to worry beyond that. I also emphasized that the girls' room is sacred, i.e. knock gently and await an invitation before going into it. Gaetan comes from a large family (6 kids) and I sincerely doubt that bedrooms are sacred where he comes from, thus a point to make and stress.
My big girl, just 13 really, was a mess. Sad, upset, with a headache (no doubt from another female ailment), emotional, outraged, ... I reassured her that her room is sacred, that I know she is doing her best, that I trust and respect her and that I admire her integrity. That Gaetan is not there to order her about. However, flying off the handle rather than answering quietly to a request to clean up the snack area wasn't particularly helpful. And, leaving my home unlocked and empty is definitely not ok, no matter their desire to be off and biking, and no matter their sense of injustice. I caressed her hair, wiped away her tears, sat beside her in bed, and reassured her of my respect and affection for her. It would be ok. But on top of everything, her mother didn't answer the phone when she tried to call her. So, a miserable afternoon, headaches, and a non-existent parent. After consolling her again amidst her deception (with my Japanese guest looking on), I sent her upstairs to the bathroom for a super-special Lavender infused bath. At long last calm, she came down to eat dinner.
The third party is of the sort that reacts and then it's over. By the time I got downstairs, he was already back at playing cards with Gaetan, their recent dispute simply a memory, no matter that it had ended in physical shoving and hitting. But, I took time with him to be sure he was alright with things, to reassure him as well of my appreciation of his work ethic and presence these past few weeks, etc.,
It was a very intense evening. Our little 11 year-old girl provided comic relief in a most Shakespearean way, "so you're really mad most at Gaetan? Is he the one you're going to punish?" She so desperately wanted me to point out a bad guy. I disappointed her by replying that no, I wasn't mad at any of them. It had blown out of proportion, and I simply wanted to be sure such a level of misunderstanding and upset wouldn't happen again, or at least that we'd cultivate the tools in ourselves to calmer le jeu rather than exacerbate it.
An interesting element that has come in is the three new kids vs Gaetan and mine. Gaetan lived with us last year, so he knows us, he has a feeling for us. The new kids are completely new, even to the school, so they're banding together. It will take time for Gaetan to get along with them. And, from the beginning the new kids pretty much ignored Jonas, and even seemed to prefer each other to befriending Leo, who can also be rather bossy.
Such, the dynamics are flowing, stepping, shifting along. We'll see where we're at by Christmas...
Thankfully, breakfast the next day was a smooth and pleasant affair. Oophf!