The Divide and Conquer Technique

The beauty of domestic bliss is that it’s so elusive. Our family is usually at its most dysfunctional when all four of us are together. My wife and I try to discuss important “grown-up stuff,” which the kids react to as if it were a level-4 biohazard that can only be neutralized via obnoxious singing and fights over crackers. And it works: we stop talking to each other and start speaking tersely to them about being patient and waiting for us to complete our conversation about getting the gutters cleaned before demanding that we referee a snack dispute. Eventually someone becomes upset, we all feel bad, collect ourselves for a few minutes, and start the whole cycle all over again.

Of course, sometimes when we’re together and everyone is properly fed, rested and emotionally nourished, everything is great. But as much as we all love moshing to “Call Me, Maybe” (sorry), eventually one of the brothers does some annoying touching or attempts an unannounced transition into a round of Simon Says  (a game that appears to have as its logical end, a heated argument over who’s actually participating) and everything falls apart. Arlo doesn’t understand that the game will go on forever if he utters, “Simon says” before every command, leaving his mother, father and brother with no other choice than to simply walk away or lie down as if in silent protest against the encroaching tanks of a totalitarian government.

Because of all this, we often opt for a “divide and conquer” strategy. It’s a military tactic wherein parents divide the opposing army of their own children, thereby rendering them less powerful. When together, our sons can mount an impressive assault on our patience, but alone, each of them is calmer, happier, and less dangerous to us and themselves. Imagine living with and having to “be nice to” someone who pulls your shirt, pilfers your cheese stick, squirts a pouch of Honest Kids in your lap, and randomly sings The Wonder Pets theme song at top volume. That’s a lot for a five year-old to endure and sometimes the kid simply needs some quiet time alone with mom and a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.

That leaves me with Arlo who, when separated from his brother, is the sweetest and most adorable of nature’s beasts. Whether we’re throwing rocks into the river, abusing the Android tablets at Target, or building a windowless temple (a recent obsession of his), he’s agreeable and  calm, but still asks, “When are mommy and Silas coming home?” every 12 seconds. “Soon,” I say. “That’s a long time, daddy.” From a distance, togetherness seems so tranquil.

Divide and conquer is not without cross communication. My wife and I text each other little poems with pictures attached “Having a blast at the diner.” I’ll send back a cute shot of Arlo folding a sock, and TADA, via the miracles of technology, we experience a kind of virtual domestic bliss, like a Sci-fi family that exists only on Skype.

Eventually, of course, the two family halves must be restored, at which time we quickly put on a movie that ends right at bedtime.

Do boys eventually learn to hang out with their brothers peacefully for more than five minutes, or do they go straight from arguring over crackers to arguing about girls and then to whether “Dad’s still with it”?

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

27 comments On The Divide and Conquer Technique

  • DanaEArmstrong

    Be happy they have each other to fight with, mine is an only child and only has me to annoy.

  • My two boys are 6 and 8 and it is heavenly (most of the time.) They play together, they are each other’s best friend, they miss each other when they are apart. They still sometimes fight when one or both is in a certain mood, or gang up on us in coordinated annoying behaviors, but for the most part it is so great to have two boys so close together. I’d say the transition started in earnest when they were around 4 and 6. You will get there!

  • NatashaRichards

    four in our house, we’re outnumbered O.o lol

  • If I recall enough cousins and younger siblings growing up…I believe they learn to drive and take at least half their fights out to the public arenas rather than at home with the refs.  This leads to the most popular arguments about who gets the car and why they shouldn’t have to share it.

  • JennifferAnneTaylor

    When you get a third and have to switch from Man on man to zone defense everything changes.

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