Stop fighting! Should we intervene in children’s conflicts? (English Version)

The text below is the excerpt of the book Stop fighting! Should we intervene in children’s conflicts? (ISBN: 9781646995028), written by Nicole Prieur y Isabelle Gravillon, published by de Vecchi /DVE ediciones.

The heavy burden of the myth of brotherhood

There is an exaggerated tendency to think that, in a happy family, there is no room for conflict between brothers. This is a mistake: fraternal quarrels are not only inevitable but also useful

The age of the impeccable family

Very few of us can avoid feeling discomfort, sometimes even embarrassment, when our children quarrel, hit each other or hurl insults at each other in the presence of others. What will others, friends, neighbors or grandparents think? Without a doubt, we are not very good at teaching, since we are not capable of making harmony reign in our offspring. Perhaps they also believe that our children must be quite disturbed to be so aggressive towards each other. In short: we are convinced that a simple quarrel between children will necessarily lead to the disapproval of our environment.

On the other hand, when our children’s fights take place behind closed doors, in the intimacy of the home, they do not destabilize us any less. On the contrary, they affect us deeply, as if it were unthinkable that a happy family could sink into the hell of fraternal quarrels. Why do we attach so much importance to these little difficulties between siblings, so common, however, in family life? Because, in part, we are victims of the times in which live.

The present time clearly exalts the ideal of a family without conflict. While outside this sphere unemployment and violence are rife, and the shadow of divorce is omnipresent, for many the family is the last refuge, the absolute protection: it must therefore be perfect, give warmth and peace of mind, be peaceful.

It is a concept without ups and downs, hardly compatible with quarrels. And we expect our children to give us back the image of that ideal family we are trying to build – for better or worse – so they’d better “behave themselves”. Finally, the innocent and cloying representation of the fraternal bond offered by the eternal television series The House on the Prairie has not been designed, precisely, to displease us. Thus, to enjoy full serenity, we must be sure that our children love each other with unconditional and unblemished love.

A myth that comes from afar

It is necessary to point out that, in terms of family ideology, we carry the burden of a long and very heavy history. Brotherhood has always been one of the great dreams of humanity, one of the great founding myths of our civilization. It is not for nothing that it is one of the three principles inscribed on the pediments of the institutions of the French Republic. And even before the French Revolution, during the “Ancien Régime”, conflicts between brothers were rarely shown in full light, which certainly did not prevent the existence of latent and tenacious hatreds.

The law and tradition established in detail, from the very birth of The Heavy Burden of the Myth of the Brotherhood, the place that each of the children should occupy: the first-born inherited the family fortune, the second joined the ranks, the third the clergy, and so on. Within this social corset, which no one dared to question, fraternal quarrels were useless and meaningless. Therefore, either they did not take place, or they were barely given any importance. In any case, they never affected the role of the parents.

As the years went by, this myth of the ideal family, in whose bosom it is necessary to understand each other above all, was reaffirmed and accelerated during the 19th and 20th centuries. In this respect, the Vichy regime in France was a fundamental stage. At that time, political institutions relied on the family as the cornerstone of society. But not just any family: a family founded on the values of effort, work, and honor.

And, again, with very well-defined positions for each of its components: the father worked outside the home; the mother looked after the children at home (and the more the merrier, as they were a sign of true wealth); and the children, brimming with respect for their parents, were subject to patriarchal authority and avoided fighting at all costs any kind of provocation. In this context, there was obviously no room left for quarrels, which would have caused disorder in a society that, above all, extolled order as the supreme ideal.

Sometime later, with the access to knowledge about psychism and the functioning of intra-family relations, thanks to the diffusion of psychoanalysis, we naively believed that it was possible to rhyme understanding with control. We imagined, quite innocently, that the advice of a psychologist in any field, widely spread through the female and family press, would offer us on a platter the recipe for full and positive coexistence. And here lie our doubts: how is it possible to have children at home who spend their days spanking themselves when they have read Dolto’s complete works conscientiously, for example? We must have made a mistake at some point…

The importance of childhood

Apart from these explanations related to the current context and the force of history, the myth of the impeccable family is also deeply rooted in history “with small letters”, i.e. ours, that of our life and childhood. The fact that conflicts between our children make us so afraid is also probably because they refer us to those conflicts we had with our own brothers and sisters when we were small. In this way, we see an opportunity, clearly illusory, to fix the past and our own fraternal experience by trying to erase the current quarrels. The fact that we find it very difficult to bear the expression of jealousy, rivalry, and even hatred between our children is no doubt due to the fact that, on other occasions, we have experienced these same exacerbated feelings. When we feel destabilized by a somewhat violent fight between our offspring, and we do not know whether to let them cope on their own, intervene, take sides or defend the weaker against the stronger, it is probably because our own parents did not always give us the place we aspired to in the fraternal bosom.

However, we must be careful with this kind of attitude, as we live our children’s disputes through the prism of past experiences (perhaps even present: after all, one might ask at what point we are in relationships with our brothers) can only lead us into error. Each generation occupies a different place and brings into play different elements, which we must not mix up: this is the best way to establish a healthy bond with our children. If relations with our own siblings make us uncomfortable to the point that they seem to affect our offspring, perhaps the time has come to reflect on them and find a solution at the level where the problem lies, that is to say, at the “level” of our generation of parents. Avoiding maintaining confusion and living emotions in place of our children will be all to the good, as we will allow a fundamental and indispensable line of separation to be established between them and us in each case.

Finally, another factor that explains our difficulty in accepting the conflicts that exist between our children is undoubtedly an inability to accept their suffering. When brothers hit each other and settle scores, it is often done without compromise and in a very violent way, and the sight of our wounded or bruised children reminds us that we cannot protect them from everything. However, although we sometimes find it hard to admit it, the reality is that we are not all-powerful. Perhaps, remembering the fact that a child discovers and develops its own resources, that is, he is strengthened, when he manages to overcome painful moments in life, can help us in this type of situation.

A reality necessarily confronted

At this point, we must emphasize the enormous chasm that separates this almost aseptic conception of the family, into which we have fallen in today’s society, from the tortuous fraternal bonds described in the biblical writings of the dawn of humanity. Let us remember, by way of example, the murder of Remus at the hands of Romulus, or the execution of Abel by his brother, Cain. So there was a time when it was admitted that love between brothers was not automatic, far from it, and that the presence of hate in fraternal relationships was entirely normal. A time when one dared to plunge into the depths.

How did we come to want to completely erase this dark aspect of the brotherly bond? Perhaps, precisely, to conjure it up. By setting up brotherhood without fault or blemish as a goal to be achieved by any family deserving of this name, we may hope to keep at bay the feelings in our children, which must be by force ambivalent.

This reference to primeval and bloodthirsty myths is not superfluous. Obviously (and let us be grateful for this), they do not correspond at all to our everyday family reality, and it is not very likely that the day will come when our children’s conflicts will reach this extent.

 However, to the extent that these stories bring to mind a dimension of the fraternal bond that we tend to hide of our own free will, it is necessary to make an effort to understand them.

They will help us to better accept the fraternal rivalries that we observe every day in our homes, and to live them as something completely normal and even useful.

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