My kids are a tribe. There are five of them, and while they can certainly bicker like bosses, they are super protective of one another. It’s as it should be. One time, Layla Grace and her then enormous chubby cheeks got in the face of an older boy that called my son a mean name. My husband called me over to our picture window that faced our street. We couldn’t hear anything through the glass, but boy could we get the basics from the way her jowls shook and that deep shade of crimson moving up her neck.
She was giving that kid the business while her older brother stood behind her with his arms crossed in complete agreement with her actions. Then she stomped inside and slammed the door, forgetting her brother through her rage. Elijah couldn’t have cared. He was beside himself beaming with pride. He was protected. He was loved. He was part of a tribe, and he knew it. That other kid meant nothing to him now.
One time, my group of friends and I took a break from baseball for an afternoon to try on a game of football at the park. We were in middle school, and I asked my mom if I could borrow her t-shirt. It was white with a big flower on the front. I distinctly remember her telling me, “Don’t get grass stains on it.” And I didn’t. But when my friend, Brent Caldwell, tossed me the football before I was ready, it busted open my nose and sent me running for home dripping in blood. Brent chased me half way home yelling, “Please don’t tell your brother! It was just an accident.”
And I didn’t. But he noticed, so even before I could change out of my mother’s ruined shirt, my brother was descending on the park, arms flexed to his sides, face ready to do some serious damage. Poor Brent. Half our crowd was standing between him and my brother, and I was chasing after him, all of us yelling, “It was an accident!!” Luckily my brother let Brent off with a warning, “Next time walk her home and make sure she is ok.” We all let out a sigh of relief.
My brother was my tribe. All of my friends were my tribe. I felt loved and protected. Nothing could hurt me.
Our kids need to know they have a solid family behind them. I watch kids come through my classroom door with slumpy shoulders and shifty eyes. They laugh a little late and struggle to share an opinion until someone else, someone more solid, has one first. It always hurts my heart when I see this. There’s no one at home to jump them into their tribe. It’s the thing they need most. It’s the thing we all want most-to be needed and wanted and have someone willing to march their chubby cheeks up to someone hurting us and tell them to go sell crazy someplace else.
There are some really simple ways to cultivate this. We set standards of expectation by supporting our kids in their activities. We cheer them on at competitions and in sports. We have our kids deliver flowers to their sister after a recital.
We also teach our kids not to use their siblings as the brunt of their sarcastic quips and never put a family member down to bolster themselves. Another big no-no is letting friends pick on our other kids. My kids have hung out with their friends at our house, and we’ve had to review this one a couple times, because for some families this is normal. A neighbor kid comes over and picks on the kid brother. But this is anti-tribe. This sends the message that a younger brother is only valuable until someone cooler comes along.
Breed togetherness. Cultivate a tribe mentality. Create that confidence between your kids so they know their brothers and sisters will always have their backs. No matter what. Make it such a given that outsiders wouldn’t dare mess with it.
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See you tomorrow.