“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means” - Ronald Reagan
The more I learn about conflict management and good communication, the more I am amazed by how simple and possible and life changing having good skills in these areas can be….and the more I realize how little most of us have learned. Think about how conflict was handled in your childhood. For me, there were two dominant, nuclear powers. Their names were Mom and Dad. I can’t remember ever being able to say “no”. (Just think of the fallout for that alone; a young lady who grows up never learning to have a voice, choice, or ability to say “no”). I remember being silenced or punished but I can not recall a single time where I might have learned to sit down and manage conflict with someone in a healthy way in which all sides could leave feeling satisfied, with the relationship if not strengthened, at least intact.
So we grow up and teach our children that which we know. Or, as in my case, we swear to do things differently, but we still haven't learned what the best of that looks like. Typically, in our culture, when our kids are in conflict with us, we have a handful of parenting skills that we can employ. We pull rank, perhaps ordering and shouting, which may teach our kids to do the same; to bully. We put them in “time out” separating them from the conflict and teaching them to withdrawal. We ignore them, teaching them to silence their voice. Sometimes we try to be “fair”, teaching them that they can have something that they did not earn and that may belong to someone else, when in fact life isn’t and shouldn’t be fair. We teach them that conflict is bad. It’s what most of us have learned.
We certainly mean no harm and we are all definitely all trying to do our best. We don’t know what we haven't learned and we can only pass on to our children the things that we know. Truly, we are searching for an end to the conflict and maybe we haven’t realized the opportunity to teach them how to handle conflict. We are in an incredible position to give them skills that we might not have been given.
When my twins (now 22) were in conflict, I would often separate them. They are opposite gender and one day, when they were about 10, I had a vision of them, grown with spouses and in conflict. I pictured my son, angrily turning and walking away from his wife. I pictured my daughter, her heart hurting because someone she loved was turning away when she needed him to love her enough to stay and work through their conflict. This is how we learn conflict management.
Much to my own personal amusement and the horror of my twins, I read an article by a mom who realized the same; that separating kids during conflict taught them to reject each other as adults. What she did, when her kids were in conflict, was bring them together by requiring them to hold hands and take a walk. Then she stepped out of the picture, so that the outcome was up to them entirely. They had a predetermined distance and/or time to join hands and spend together. (I’m picturing that moment starts out looking much like the handshake between Obama and Trump yesterday). It doesn't matter how uncomfortable the beginning of the process is. It can be messy and uncomfortable. I loved this idea, so I began using it. Every single time my twins came back, they were smiling and laughing. I didn’t ask them their resolution. I learned years later that they were laughing at the folly of their mother. I’m just grateful that they learned that it is possible to walk side by side, holding hands, with someone they love and are in conflict with.