Battleground: Parenthood


Butting HeadsThe hardest thing about parenthood, to me, is not knowing. I know he’s mad at me when he gets out of the car at school and takes off without a word. I also know why he’s mad at me. What I don’t know is whether some part of him recognizes the truth of what I said. Or is there only room in his brain for his own self-righteous anger?

I know the horrid things I thought about my parents…and siblings…when I was his age. Actually, with me it hit a little older, but this angst is all familiar.

I feel so often like I’m caught in between. Forced to choose sides, knowing it will, at least temporarily, damage my relationship with the one who comes out on the down side. Forced to arbitrate between (and sometimes among) small people with practically zero self-awareness and an equivalent ability to admit wrongdoing. It takes practice at humility to learn to say “I’m sorry;” most adults can’t even do it. I thought making it part of conflict resolution in small childhood would lay down good neural pathways, but as they get older it doesn’t seem to be helping.

It’s about humming. And Xbox. And who’s packed their lunch. Or done their bathroom chore. And whose turn it is in the front seat. All these completely irrelevant things. Such nastiness toward each other. Such a lack of tolerance. Sharing, oh, the battles. We have one TV, one Xbox, and a limited amount of time. And if one person is using it, the others are getting extra screen time, or else we’re having battles to tell them to go do something else. And no matter how I try to handle it—and I’m always trying to figure out how to be fair—I’m always wrong. Not in the eyes of one of my children. In everyone’s.

I remember someone once saying that if you got Toy X for one child, you had to buy a duplicate for the other one so they wouldn’t fight over it. We had such a knee-jerk reaction to that, but I’ve always understood the temptation, and never more than now.

I have to believe that in the long run, the battles I am fighting will turn out to have been worth fighting. But it’s so hard when everything is a battle.

How To Fight

We really don't take enough pictures together.

We really don’t take enough pictures together.

If my husband is upset, he cannot eat. But he can always, always sleep.

If I am upset, I can always eat. But I cannot sleep.

Therein lies the challenge for us in conflict resolution.

Before we got married we were required to attend Engaged Encounter. One of the resource couples that weekend laid out some “rules for fighting.” They included things like “hold hands” and “stick to the subject” (a tricky one, because human beings are notoriously inconsistent in the standards we hold for ourselves versus others, and I routinely get called down by my husband when I point out what I perceive as such) and, of course, the practical application of Ephesians 4:26: Don’t go to bed angry.

I think that rule is a stroke of brilliance. Except it doesn’t work. At least not for us.

The way I look at it, every marital disagreement takes the shape of a mountain. The climb gets steeper and more treacherous until you reach the summit, but once you get there it’s all downhill.

I would rather stay up until three in the morning and work over a disagreement from every angle until it’s resolved. But Christian is not built that way. As conflict escalates, he retreats. Shuts down. I’m more like the Energizer bunny. I just keep going…and going…and going. The harder I push, the worse we both feel.

Image via Wiki Commons

I have yet to master the art of going to sleep angry, but even I can see how smoothly and quickly our conflicts are resolved at 5:35 a.m., compared to trying to do it at 10:30 at night. I’ve only managed to make myself postpone the argument until morning once or twice. Those were not restful nights.

But then, neither is it a restful night when I try to force conflict resolution on my own terms. Even when we do try to haggle it out before bed, real resolution still doesn’t come until 5:35 a.m.

Fighting sucks.

The only real solution is to avoid getting into fights in the first place. That means a full-on, intentional commitment to communication–no easy thing. By the time we get to the end of the day, with work commitments done and lessons taught and Down syndrome or NFP conference calls finished and four kids to bed–well, by then we’re shot. We can’t even think what we ought to be talking about, much less summon the energy to do it. We’d rather just veg in front of the TV. Besides, there are all those red-sleeved DVDs coming in the mail. If we’re going to fork over all that dough on a monthly basis, by golly, we’re going to get our money’s worth.

But when we are taking time to talk to each other regularly–over lunch hour by phone, around the heads of the kids while preparing dinner, or on the couch after bedtime–we rarely fight. We still have conflicts, but we can resolve them calmly, like rational people who love each other and are willing to compromise for the good of the other.

It’s living parallel lives in the same house for weeks on end that leads to trouble. It’s far easier to slip into that habit than it is to establish a routine of making time for each other. But the payoff is worth it.

It reminds me of a paradoxical lesson I learned in grad school about playing the flute: if it’s hard to get a good sound, you’re doing something wrong–but in order to achieve that ease, you have to work harder.