Allow Conflict to Be a Path to Deeper Communication
Does this kind of conflict ever happen in your home?
“Dad, Heather just called. Can I go over to her house to watch a movie?”
“Rebecca, ask your mom.” (In other words, I’m too distracted.)
“Mom, Dad said I should check in with you before I go over to Heather’s house to watch a movie.”
“Your dad said it was all right?”
Pause. “He didn’t seem to mind.”
“Have you finished your chores? Did your dad check your homework?”
Distraction from the question. “Dad said it was fine with him if it was okay with you. Heather could use some company because she had a really bad day.”
“Well, all right, but be home by 8:30.”
Twenty minutes go by.
“Jim, why on earth did you let Rebecca go to Heather’s house? She didn’t even start her chores, her room is a mess and it doesn’t look like she finished her homework.”
“Cathy, I didn’t say she could go. I told her to check in with you.”
“Jim, you could have asked about her chores, looked in her room or even quit watching that game and either helped me with some of the work around here or at least checked on Rebecca’s schoolwork.”
Jim is now angry. After all, he has spent a difficult day writing books on how to have healthy families. “Hey, Miss Perfect, why didn’t you check Rebecca’s homework and chores, and if you didn’t work so hard, maybe everybody around here would be a bit happier.”
“You’re just like your father!”
“Well, you’re becoming just like your mom!”
Conflict can either be a path to communication blockage and unloving behavior, or it can be a path to deeper communication, greater understanding and loving behavior. When there is a conflict, the natural inclination for parents and their children is to become defensive and closed in order to protect themselves. The defensive, closed path of conflict involves avoiding personal responsibility for feelings, behavior and consequences. It immediately leads to shame-based parenting, when we try to control through guilt, manipulation and, sometimes, fear.
Another negative way to deal with conflict is to avoid it—to keep the peace at all costs. Some parents, as their children get older, deal with conflict by becoming overly permissive and withdrawing emotionally from the situation.
The result of taking the closed path of conflict—whether through guilt, defensiveness, control or over-permissiveness—is that the child’s self-image is eroded and he develops feelings of tension, frustration, anxiety and anger. In the short term, it may be easier to handle conflict by being defensive or closed in order to protect our own fragile self-image; but if we stay defensive and closed, we will wind up with more power struggles and burdens. However, there is a better way.
The better way to handle conflict is to be nondefensive and open to learning about each other, with the intent to deepen intimacy. With this in mind, we must assume responsibility for our own feelings, behaviors and consequences. Working through the conflict takes greater emotional involvement, but it is the loving way to care for yourself as well as your child.