There have been moments when I said:
Just listen to me. Just do it and get it over with. Just stop.
Just trust me. Just don’t fight with me. Just don’t.
Because I said so. Because I know better. Because I’m the mom.
And inside of all that I couldn’t see the tiny spirit being crushed.
I couldn’t hear the tiny voice saying, but what about me? I couldn’t feel the helplessness of being not able to make my own choices.
Until I remembered. All of those times that I was told what to do even though it felt wrong to me. I was told to eat more when I was already full. I was told to dress warmly when I was already warm. I was told to stop when I was just getting started.
Until I felt it again. All of those feelings of sadness and desperation and just wanting to be seen and heard and not shushed and not threatened. When all I wanted was to be held and soothed and not punished and sent to my room. When I was so shy and didn’t know how to get help and instead got blamed for things I didn’t do or didn’t mean.
Until I heard it again. All of those reasons and excuses that had nothing to do with what I said/felt/wanted and everything to do with someone else’s idea of what was best.
I remembered what it was like to simply want to feel like I was important and loved more than anything. That I was special and cared about.
I remembered what it was like to simply want to not feel like I was in the way or the black sheep because I was different. That I was an effort or a cause of frustration.
I remembered wishing that someone would simply stop long enough to consider what I was feeling inside, what I was needing, what I was wanting. I couldn’t know anyone else’s inside so how could anyone know mine? I remembered the struggle to just be me.
It always felt like my fault. If only I could just do everything right and not like cookies more than spinach and not want to wear makeup before I was sixteen and not want to stay up later to watch the shows my friends talked about.
If only I didn’t create the conflict by expressing myself.
But here’s the thing: children don’t create conflicts. Parents do.
It’s the adult’s responsibility to lead the way. Parents have the ability to help things go smoothly or let them go to hell. Even when it’s beyond anyone’s control and shit hits the fan, we can make it worse or we can make it better. Parents have the inherent power in the relationship so it’s up to them to share it. That’s step one.
Our culture breeds the belief that power struggles are a natural part of parenting. We’re told to expect battles and we get lots of support and commiseration when we talk about them. (Oh, that sucks; you just need to be firm. Ad nauseum.) Yes, raising children is challenging because we’re all learning and we’re tired and we’re concerned. No, though, it doesn’t have to be hard. We can create a middle road as we believe in our brilliant intuition and in our kids’ best intentions. We can look for the people who are saying, “it’s okay to choose kindness.” We can be the difference between meltdown and smooth sailing. Between frustration and contentment. Between insecurity and security. Between conflict and harmony. Between wanting to run away and wanting to stay forever.
The most direct way to reducing conflict is to be open to alternatives.
Some things cannot be compromised- safety is at the top of the list. There are many ways to achieve a goal, however, if you can look past what you initially believed was the answer. My kids don’t always want to stop what they’re doing to eat. I could insist on it or I could keep their food available for them to graze on while they play. My goal of getting food into their growing bodies is met, their desire to not be interrupted is honored, and there’s no struggle over any of it. The key is remembering that there’s more than one way.
There is a common belief that it takes two to engage in a conflict. One on Side A and one on Side B. But that’s not true. It only takes one. One to be insisting on their way. One to be holding the other to certain expectations. One to not listen. One to be inflexible. One to claim the power. One to hold too tightly. One who won’t let it go.
Don’t be that one.
Be the adult.
Be the one who understands. The one who creates space for possibility. The one who says, “let’s see.” The one who puts tender loving care before total leveraged control. The one who gets down on their level. The one who remembers what it’s like to be little. The one who gives hope and can be counted on. The one who paves the way to trust.
Be the one that feels like home.
My question to you on this ordinary day is a game-changing one. In your relationships, do you want to engage a battle or create a peace?