On Conflicts, Children, and Relationships

Suggested House Rules [by my 9-year-old]

1. When there is a fight/argument, don’t say anything.

2. Play as much as you can.

3. HAVE FUN!! 🙂

4. Read ALOT!! 🙂

5. Keep track of Library books

6. BE HAPPY

7. Think Positive

8. Help each other

9. Be kind

10. Calm down when needed

Fred showed me this list a couple of weekends ago, after witnessing Max and I fight the night before.

“I wrote some rules for us last night, Mommy,” he said. “And I read and drew until 11:00. I also found a calm place in my room. I’ll show you.”

He led me to his room and pointed to the left corner of his packed closet.

I asked him if he was okay, and he nodded with an exaggerated smile, as if to reassure me he was really, really fine. I sighed to myself and pulled him into my arms and held him, telling him we were okay too, and that I was glad and proud that he’d found a way to make himself feel better.

It pains me to look back on that evening, remembering Fred’s shouts, “No, don’t say anything more! It’ll only make things worse!” He tried so hard to get Max and I to stop where we were, to not escalate our emotions any further.

And unlike my situation growing up, Fred doesn’t have a sibling with whom to seek comfort while his parents squabble.

But also unlike my childhood, Fred has the reassurance of experience that things do get better, if not by the next morning then by the next evening, or the day after. He knows that Mommy and Daddy love one another and that the conflicts are temporary and smaller than the relationship. It took me the perspective of adulthood to understand my parents’ love and marriage; as a child I honestly didn’t know if my parents loved one another or not, and I grew up equating conflict with detriment.

So while we haven’t been able to shield Fred from seeing our conflicts – nor do I expect that to be realistic – I hope that we have been able to show him that real and worthwhile love encompasses both unparalleled joys and surmountable difficulties. This is no small feat in the multi-generations of our family, because despite being connected by strong love, we also have a more hidden history of divorce, estrangement, and displacement.

Last year, when his class was asked to write and display a personal narrative, Fred chose to write about his relationship with his best friend of the last five years. Here is a part of it:

I was happy to find a friend. He is my first friend in kindergarten. Me and Jack are very close friends and now we are still friends. Once, maybe in first grade we were mad at each other. I forgot why we were mad at each other. I didn’t play with him for the whole recess. The next day we played with each other.

This idea that he and Jack can be angry for a whole day and sometimes say mean things to one another and still be close friends is something that has really impressed him, because it’s a story that comes up again from time to time. Yes, it is possible to be angry at someone you love, to not even want to talk for an entire day, and still be the best of friends. It’s quite something when you realize it; I certainly wish I had understood that in my friendships and even in my family growing up.

Image courtesy http://www.favim.com

16 thoughts on “On Conflicts, Children, and Relationships

  1. I love his rules – they are good ones by which to live. I laughed at the library books bit. I should keep that in mind, especially 🙂

    I try my best never to fight in front of the girls, and while we rarely fight these days, there was once where things escalated in front of them. The younger was too little to care, but the older was a little concerned, and that’s when I pulled her aside and had the conversation with her that you probably had with your son. It’s amazing how well she understood, as she provided her own examples (like when you yell at me for not listening, but you still love me), and it made me feel a little better knowing how safe she feels in our home, in our care. Children are resilient creatures, but I think giving them the proper tools to process uncertainty go a long way in helping them understand the often complicated grownup world, which was what you did so well with your son. Kudos to you, mama!

    • Thanks so much, Justine. And I remember the story about your daughter, and what a turning point that moment had been for you. We don’t fight as often anymore either, and our son is a good reminder for us to keep finding healthier ways to express our often too-strong emotions.

  2. This just goes to show how wise children are, and how we should listen to them more often. Imagine how peaceful and kind life would be if we all followed these rules. This makes me curious about what my own kids would put on the list. They would probably add ‘eat candy’.

    In my house, I have to keep reminding them that even though their brother/sister is driving them crazy, it doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t love them. Some days they are happy to have each other around, and some days not so much.

    • Now I am surprised my son didn’t write down “eat candy”! So many times I have been floored by the wisdom of my own child. It can be so simple, but I can’t even abide by some of these simple rules as an adult.

      My brother and I fought like cats and dogs growing up (but have always remained close). It seems to come with the territory with siblings!

  3. oh, what a sweet post 🙂 For the record, although my parents didn’t fight much when I was growing up, I’m still not convinced that they really love each other they way they should. Fred has already proven himself to be very perceptive, so hopefully he’ll realize there’s a difference between a loving relationship that is occasionally plagued by troubles and/or disagreements, and a tepid relationship that’s characterized by few disagreements, but also very little compassion.

    • That’s such a good point, Alina. And that was my husband’s first marriage. Conflict can also be a sign that you still care – care enough to engage and to risk hurt feelings in order to come to a resolution or understanding. I know that marriages are in trouble once the couple no longer cares enough to fight/argue.

  4. I love his rules! I used to struggle a lot with showing marital strife to my children. But then, I learned that key to it all is making sure your children know what it means– that at the end of the day, mommy and daddy still love each other, that no fight is ever as big as the love. I think that’s important to teach children. It’s also important,I’ve learned, for them to see the resolutions. I, too, grew up amidst a lot of fighting and uncertainty about what it all meant in terms of love. I assumed, back then, that one day my parents would get a divorce. They never did, though. Instead, they just fought (or my mother would fight and my dad just remain silent) and fought. It was sad and scary and the explain from which I wanted to, as a parent, define myself against.

    • Wow, it sounds like our experiences have been quite similar, Jessica. Both my parents engaged in fighting but I know it can also be scary when one parent is silent (as was the case with my in-laws) and not engaging. In addition to sending the right message to my son I also want to model to him a healthy way of fighting, for his own sake for his future relationships. We inherit so much from our parents, don’t we?

  5. I really like the rules, but more than that, I like the openness in your family relationship that you can talk about things like this together.

    I think it’s a healthy balance for children to see two people who they are secure love each other disagree and work things out between them. I think my parents got by in their relationship by repressing things. There was no real place for debate or disagreement in our house, just a lot of peopl desperate to be in the right. I still find conflict difficult to deal with. I can’t help that it raises my pulse rate and makes me visibly nervous, which I think is a big disadvantage in life.

    • I’m the same way, Denise. I lived and breathed conflict but the smallest sign of conflict will send my heart racing now. If only we grew up with a proper balance, and learned that conflict can be healthy and respectful.

  6. I love Fred’s rules, especially reading a lot and being kind. This is great wisdom from someone so young. This list is a testament to your parenting abilities as well.

    When I was younger, I always saw fighting as a sign of things going awry, but now I’ve learned that a reasonable amount of conflict is a healthy for most relationships.

    • Thanks, Rudri. Sometimes I am amazed because I really don’t think I have been any kind of model for conflict resolution at all. Maybe he gets it from his father.

      I agree – conflict is healthy and inevitable.

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