Conflict Resolution

Parenting a Family in Conflict: the Night a Difficult Teen Saved Her Family From Self Destructing

Wouter van der Hall asked:

Her parents were at it again.

Her kid brothers had snuck into her room, looking scared.

They sat on her bed as the voices below got louder and angrier.

She could hear little pieces of sentences they yelled.

“You always let her get away with it”

“O, if only you could lighten up and let her be”

She looked around in her room, the floor covered with clothes, her desk a mess, as usual.

As the fighting went on her stomach tightened and she held her brothers.

‘This has to stop or we’ll break apart’ she thought as she held her brothers, who clung to their older sister.

“I am going downstairs” she said to them. “I am going to stop them, ok.”

Her brothers looked up in a mixture of fear and hope. “Could she?”

For many families, parenting has become a struggle between parents with different approaches in raising their kids, parents who don’t know how to work as a team in conflict resolution. Often noticeable when kids are in elementary school, the difficulties can explode when your children become teens.

A time of peer pressure, self exploration and challenging the boundaries parents set. Differences in parenting values, in how to deal with conflicts and not knowing how to shift when kids become teens, can drive any reasonably functioning family to destruction.

Joni’s family was no different. She had pushed her parents in every way she could, trying to find the limits of her freedom, her own identity.

The differences between her parents’ parenting styles were at first easy to use for her immediate benefit. They now had become the fault line on which her family could break apart. Break, as they were fighting over her.

”Stop it!” Joni slammed the door into its frame as she yelled it. “Stop it! You are killing us as a family!” Her parents stopped, stunned by her outburst.

“I am sorry, alright, I am sorry. I don’t want us to break up. The boys are scared upstairs and you are starting to hate each other. It’s just too much!”

Her parents were still fuming at each other but their attention had shifted to their daughter.

“I am scared too” she added softly.” Please let’s try to find a different way than going at each other all the time.” Suddenly she couldn’t stop talking.

”I want a family. I don’t want you to break up. I know you love each other and that I am pushing you to all of this fighting.”

She looked up. Her parents looked at her, exhausted from the furious exchange they had a few moments ago.

“Can’t we find a way that we can all be happy? That we can all enjoy our family again? We used to have fun and do things together, now you just work and we run around and we don’t anymore. I know that I have been a pain and that I don’t clean my room, but is that such a big deal? I want us to be happy. Don’t you want to be happy? I want to find out who I am and I need you to be my home, where I can try and test things. I don’t want us to break up.

“Please. Please don’t fight anymore. Please?” Her parents looked at her, feeling her plea, her desperation.

“I am sorry” said her mom, “you are right. These conflicts are costing us all too much. But it is not your fault alone. We need to do this differently as parents. I didn’t intend anyone to be scared.”

Her dad stood there, still boiling with anger, but shaken by his daughters outburst.

Finally he took a deep breath.

“You are right. And yes you have been pushing us and it hasn’t helped.” He sighed and looked at his wife. “And your mother is right, we as parents need to work on our part. I am sorry. I think we both wanted the best, but it turned into wanting to be right.”

Joni burst into tears.

”I am sorry” she said, “I love you both and want you to be together.”

Her mother came over and put her arm around her.

She looked up at her husband.

“You may have just helped us to do that, love.”

Her husband looked at his wife and sunk into a chair.

“We need to do this better, we really do.”

Joni did save her family that night. And, she offered her parents a way out from self destructing their family.

Parenting is team work with others (i.e. teachers, care givers), whether you are a single parent or a couple.

Below are three steps that can help you in dealing with conflicts.

1. Always take responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions.

Stop the blame game and look at what you can do differently to help. Take a deep breath as others push your triggers and you get angry, feel hurt, and get defensive. Think about how you truly want it to be and act from that image.

2. Look at your kids, your partner/spouse, as your partners in solving issues, making decisions and creating opportunities for the whole family.

Stop reacting as if conflicts are best treated as war, with enemies, winners and losers. It is not healthy for a family. It destroys relationships.

3. Always look for win-win solutions.

Be creative, take your time, ask for others’ opinions and look out for their interest as well as your own. By looking out for each other, nobody can lose. And isn’t that what families are about?

I know you want the best for your family, for your kids.

By stepping back and seeing that they want that too, you can find ways in creating a family with ALL your perspectives and ideas.

Together, as your kids want you to.

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