Children thrive in a home where they feel secure: security that is based in large part on their parents being sane and reliable. It can be terrifying when parents argue. If Mom or Dad act crazy when they fight their daughter, watching from around the corner, or son, lying in bed with a pillow over his head, will believe their world is falling apart.
As a result, an important part of parenting is learning how to discuss and resolve differences of opinion without devolving into screaming insults and accusations.
The goal of any parental conflict is to reach a compromise with which both parties will feel that they have won something, and both parties feel that they have given up something to the deal. If one party wins everything the compromise will not hold, because the other will have nothing to loose and will either keep fighting or just give up. We are looking for a win-win.
Parents are individuals first, with unique histories and priorities. There are bound to be disagreements over the decades it takes to raise a child. (Last week’s blog outlined common areas of disagreement; after this is how to fight with a child.) Since these disagreements happen between two people, the personalities of those people will impact the process. A little self examination is in order before we move on to how to fight like a grown-up.
There are three common personality styles that can negatively affect – umm- discussions:
- The avoider: this person will not bring up the problem, will change the subject when they can, try to make jokes, deny that there is a problem… The problem will not get solved unless they can be brought to ground. (My husband is nodding and pointing at me.)
- The nice guy: this person will give until they can’t give any more and then they explode. They will yield all points and agree to whatever their partner wants. Said partner will be completely blindsided when the divorce papers come.
- The competitor: this is the person who will argue for points they don’t even care about, because they just want to win. Sometimes they can go over the line and and get nasty, flinging insults and accusations.
Parenting is too important to allow personality style to impact decisions. Figure out how you and your partner argue, and realize that your child is important enough to force yourself out of your comfort zone and let go of whatever habits you have indulged in until now. Face whatever the issue is, stand up for what you think is right, but don’t steamroll over your partner. Discuss the issue with the goal of compromise and cooperation.
People smarter than me have studied how to resolve conflicts in politics and business. The same principles work for relationships and parenting. The process can be divided into steps:
- Listen. This means not interrupting until your partner in life, that person whom you love most in the world, has made his or her point. So hush! If you have trouble staying quiet, place a timer prominently between you and give each person a few uninterrupted minutes. Listening also means hearing and trying to understand what their words actually meant. This is difficult to do when all you are thinking about is your own point of view and what you are going to say next. You need to know how your partner in life sees the problem in order to fix it. Sometimes it helps to repeat back what you heard, because what one person says is not always what the other person hears. “I’m frustrated and angry because we can’t pay our bills” can sound like “I want out of this marriage” if you are not careful.
- Communicate. Talk about the actual issue. We want the best education for our child, but we can’t agree on priorities. Don’t detour over to how you feel, other issues, or past history. Don’t try to assign blame. We never should have moved, or You should have taken that other job, won’t help.
- Summarize. After you’ve both had a chance to make your point, sum it up. Name the problem, list the points on each side. Write it down if it helps.
- Start with agreement. In every discussion there are points of agreement. Start with those points, and work from there. We both value education, but we know we cannot afford the private school we love… You want to work more so we can come up with the money, I want you home more and think we can teach them by reading, traveling, going to the library.
- Don’t make assumptions, or jump to conclusions. Slow down, give yourselves the time to fully understand. Don’t let emotions and the thrill of drama get the better of you.
- Realize that you must come to an agreement, there is no other option. We can work a little more to pay for math camp during the summer, and carve out extra time to hit libraries and museums.
Both sides must give a little and both sides must win a little, because you are in this together. One partner cannot overpower the other, or the partnership will not last, and your children need your partnership to last more than they need whatever you are arguing about.
In a conflict between parents either both parents win or both, in the end, loose.