Send help — we have entered The Bickering Phase

Darragh Geraghty: In many ways it’s a miracle it has taken this long for my children to start annoying each other

You’d barely even notice our front garden gate. Just over waist-high, made of wrought-iron and painted black, it looks like a million other gates. Providing neither security nor privacy it looks completely innocuous — a typical feature of a postwar terraced house.

But this gate is anything but typical.

I know the truth. I know what this gate has come to represent. I have seen the tears and heard the terrible screams this gate has caused. However unlikely it may seem, this garden gate has become a flashpoint in the unfolding drama of our children’s lives. We have entered The Bickering Phase, and it all started with this damned gate.

Approaching the house recently I asked our son to open the front gate for me. You know, because I was pushing the buggy and sometimes kids do things for you. Anyway, if I knew the s**tstorm I was about to unleash, I would have opened the gate myself. Agreeably enough, my son went to open it. But his sister had other ideas.


“I want to open the gate!”

“He asked me!”

“But I want to do it!”

“That’s not fair!”

“I want to open it!”

“I’m opening it!”

What the hell is going on? “Guys,” I say weakly. “It’s just a gate.”

But this is turning into a proper kerb-side fracas. I open the gate and usher them both inside. Maybe they’re both tired. Thinking back, I laugh bitterly at my innocence. This was just the beginning. For the next couple of weeks there is a scramble to open the gate first. There are tears and accusations. I have to enforce a weird rule: only I can open the gate. Opening the gate isn’t even fun! If anything it’s a mild irritant. What is it about this gate?

Then comes the white spoon. We bought a set of colourful Ikea spoons and nobody gave them a second thought. Who spends time thinking about spoons? My kids, apparently. There is one white spoon in the set, and this became known as the “cool white spoon”. There is absolutely nothing cool about it, I can tell you. It’s just a spoon, but for some reason it became something else for the kids to wrestle over. The competition over who gets this spoon is fierce, and there are no winners.

This behaviour has nothing to do with, as you may have guessed, a gate or a spoon.

It is about two children growing up, testing boundaries, learning subtle (and not so subtle) ways of communicating, and the importance of being heard. In simpler terms it’s about two kids learning to live with each other in a world they don’t yet fully understand.

Or maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe it’s just the natural result of living together. Have you ever noticed how it takes about three days for someone to completely lose their mind in the Big Brother house? There must be a more relevant reference to illustrate the point, but I’m just so tired.

Our son and daughter have spent 99 per cent of their lives in extreme close proximity. They share a room. They have been locked up in numerous lockdowns. In many ways it’s a miracle it has taken this long for them to start annoying each other.

Being the referee of a no-holds-barred summer-slam cage match has perhaps been the greatest challenge of my parenting life. There are times I have been tempted to just let them go full Lord of the Flies and sort it out themselves. May the strongest child win. And there have been times I have done the unthinkable: tried to reason with two hysterical children. I hear myself saying moronic things such as, “Come on guys, what happened to sharing?” Or, “It really doesn’t make a difference — it’s just a spoon.” Have I learned nothing?

Separation is key. They need time apart. It was a long summer, but we have reached the blessed end.

After school they are glad to see each other. There might be an apocalyptic argument over a cool white spoon, but two minutes later they’re laughing hysterically over some private thing unseen in the world of grown-ups. Right now, as I type these words, they are both playing in the next room, happily chatting about God-knows-what.

There is no greater sound in the world.