Thursday, March 15, 2007

Calendar (and other) conflicts

Today is a busy day. Between the hours of 4:00 and 7:30, here are the items on the calendar:

  • Guitar lessons
  • Bass lessons
  • Choir rehearsal
  • Softball practice
  • Elementary school skate night
  • Volleyball practice
  • Choir performance

Obviously, we will not be able to make it to all of these things. Early in the week I cancelled guitar lessons, made arrangements for transportation to and from choir rehearsal, and broke it to our 9-year-old that we would not be going to Skate Night, but she can go with a friend, if she'd still like to go.

The plan was to get all my personal work done early and make an easy dinner - probably sandwiches - that can be a grab-and-go affair. I’ll make sure the little ones have something decent to wear for the concert, and that I have something presentable that’s clean and ironed to throw on after the carpooling is over.

Then, I’ll take a deep breath, and we’ll be off running!

Someone asked me recently how we manage conflict in our home. Now, I am no expert, and if my mom is reading this (she‘s visiting this week), she will heartily agree. Things can get a little crazy around here. With the addition of each child, conflicts - and not just calendar ones - multiply almost exponentially (do the math sometime).

But as I was thinking about my day, I realized that some of the principles we use for managing our calendar also apply to how we manage conflicts between siblings. This is by no means comprehensive, just a few thoughts:

Realize conflicts are inevitable

I don't get all bent out of shape when I see conflicts on my calendar. I just know that that is part of the territory when more than one person is living under one roof. Even more so, if you throw them all in one car.

When it comes to conflict in my home, believe it or not, there was a time I somehow thought that if I were a “perfect parent,” I would not have any more conflicts. Perhaps this is a throwback of the "Happily Ever After" childhood dream. My angelic-faced kids would all sit at my feet (in my immaculate house) and hang on my words of wisdom. They would hear and obey, period. Who knows, but having just one child made me wonder at my naivete (a-I will never be perfect; b-Children are born sinful). A whole houseful of kids has positively convinced me I was delusional.

When I realize conflicts are a normal part of life, I am less likely to (a) freak out about them; (b) take every fight between siblings as a personal affront to my parenting ability; and (c ) feel guilty that I am a bad parent because my kids have spats.

Plan for it.

Our family calendar has everything on it from now until the end of the year. Even if I don’t think we are going to attend something, I will put it on the calendar so I can be aware that things are happening at school or church. Early in the week and each day, I look at the calendar to see what’s next.

Planning for conflict may sound a bit pessimistic, but in my mind it is better to be ready than to be caught off guard. Although we've tried hard to disprove it, the fact remains that the heat of the moment is a notoriously bad time to deal with conflict-breeding issues. We have rotating chores to keep things reasonably fair. We rotate who sits in the front seat. These are examples of times when we can expect conflict, so we do our best to make a plan ahead of time (this is the goal, anyway!). Sparks tend to fly between two of my children continually, and there was a time where we did not allow them to sit next to each other - at the table, in the car, or anywhere. Ever. They couldn't handle the temptation to fight with each other, so until they can (it's a work in progress), we limit their "opportunities" for engaging in battle.

Is this avoiding conflict? Yes and no. At the time, we taught them this verse:

It is honorable for a man to stop striving,
Since any fool can start a quarrel.

Prov. 20:3, NKJV

Teaching kids to be aware of the potential for conflict before the conflict has a chance to start teaches them that they are not hapless victims. There is something they can do, both to work it out and to prevent it from happening it all together. We ask them, “Are you being foolish, or are you choosing to be honorable in this situation?”

We have also gotten good use out of some tools. These were fun to go through with them one summer:

Young Peacemaker Activity Workbooks
By Corlette Sande

I also read some books that helped me understand my own anger biblically (that‘s for another post). Here’s one that is particularly helpful:

Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids
By Scott Turansky

Are we there yet? Of course not. We have a long, long way to go. But we are planting seeds to show our kids to work out their differences without (a) passively letting the stronger (or more persuasive) person have his way all the time, just to keep the peace; or (b) aggressively running over everyone whose opinion is different from their own. It's not always pretty, but I'd rather have them go through the messiness of learning how to do it now, when they are assured of unconditional, loving acceptance and some help working through it, rather than when they are on their own in the cold, harsh world.

Try to be fair and honor everyone’s requests.

If one person’s events are constantly being nixed in favor of someone else’s more pressing needs, that person is going to feel cheated. It’s just not right. We tell our kids we will try to attend their events, but to understand this is not always physically possible. Everyone deserves their spot on the family calendar, and we can learn to be happy for another's moment in the sun, even if it is not ours.

In the same way, in conflicts, we try to teach them to think of how the other person feels (this is a way of "honoring"), and not to take advantage of the weaker (or more easygoing) person (this is not always the younger one, either!). Honoring also means we don't allow name calling or disparaging remarks - ever. We try to be on the lookout for everyday opportunities to do something nice for each other (and compliment them if we catch them doing it spontaneously!). Kids' sense of "fairness" has SELF as the only frame of reference (hence the constant cry, "It's not fair!"). Learning how to listen to the other side and think from another's point of view is a lifelong skill.

When it comes, face it.

Tonight, it's a fact. I know I’m going to be in the car a lot, it’s going to take lots of energy, and I need to be positive.

When it comes to conflicts with and between the kids, I really do try to avoid being judge and jury all the time, otherwise I‘d never get anything done (tattlers around here get the same punishment as the offender). I tell my kids to work it out if at all possible before involving me. Sometimes this works. Things generally go so much better when I just face it like I would a conflict on my calendar: try to teach the kids to take care of it themselves.

However, we have some strong personalities around here, and there are times my husband or I just have to jump in there. So many times I have felt guilty (“Where have I gone wrong? My kids are fighting!”) or tried to ignore it (“It will go away if I pretend I didn’t hear.”).

Really, though, they need me to remain calm and help them work it through. Model it for them. I'm not very good at this part. When emotions start running high, things can deteriorate faster than you can say, "Take me away, Calgon!" Throw some hormones in there, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

But someone's got to be the adult around here, and unfortunately, it's usually got to be me. With little ones, I try to deal with things right away, but as they get older, I usually assign 30 minutes in their rooms before I will talk to them if their emotions are out of control. It helps me keep mine in control, too. Since many conflicts happen when we are (a) in the car or (b) in a hurry (this fact alone motivates me to try to be organized and plan ahead!), sometimes we've had to make an appointment to continue the conversation later. Once the emotions are removed (or their temperature lowered a few degrees) we can all be more civil to one another.

If we are not in a hurry or in the car, our other main times of conflict are when one or more parties are (a) hungry or (b) tired. Sometimes we overlook taking care of the obvious and go for the big guns unnecessarily. Maybe this is why we have so many breakdowns after church...

Keep a sense of humor.

There is nothing worse than thinking the sky is falling, only to realize later it was all a big mistake. Seriously, kids fight over the most ridiculous things. When I can see it for what it is (Today's example: "You are fighting over who gets to play with a deflated balloon?") it helps me keep things in perspective.

As I've mentioned before, my husband is great at this, and he has loosened us all up considerably over the years. I thank God for him daily. If I can show my kids - without making them feel stupid or that their opinion doesn't matter - that the argument is silly, so much the better. I'm not a pro at it, but I'm working on it.

What are some ways you've dealt with conflict in your home?


Susanne said...

I really like your 30 minutes in their rooms if emotions are out of control idea. That would probably work well on me too! :v)

One time I read that Ruth Bell Graham during one of Billy's abscences, had had it with the kids fighting so she made them sit with their noses touching until they worked it out. That worked a couple times around here until they just fought nose to nose. :vD

Now that my kids are older a lot of the conflict comes from middle son pushing oversensitive younger daughters buttons. It's quickly solved by just separating them by banishment to their rooms.

Deborah said...

Katherine you really touched on where I'm at right now. A huge thank you for your godly perspective on sibling spats.

I need to learn to simmer down myself sometimes, and not take things as a personal affront to my parenting ability.

This is one I will be going back to read again!
Hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

What a helpful post! Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtful advice.

Chrystal said...

We do the 30 minutes in your room thing here too...

We also are striving to have a weekly family meeting where we all go over our calendars (after Mom and Dad have first gone over their respective schedules). It helps everyone to know what is coming.

I wanted to ask you Katherine what your family calendar looks like, where it is, who gets to write in it, and whether or not you color code. Feel free to point me to a post if you have already blogged about it.



Tammy said...

This was so good...I only have two girls, but I tend to stress out so much whenever they have a conflict. Maybe it's because I was an only child and not use to sibling conflict...and also because of what you mentioned- feeling like a bad mommy if it happens.
These were some great ideas and I need to heed your advice and keep a sense of humor, knowing a little conflict is inevitable!

Faith said...

Great post! We always had to have the oldest and yougest sit next to each other and two middle ones together. Otherwise, it was awful!!!

Rocks In My Dryer said...

That is an awesome post, Katherine--it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I'm going to check out those books.