Conflict Resolution and My Ideal Saturday Morning

Writing about anything but yesterday’s tragedy in Newton, Conn, feels insensitive. But to cope with horrors, ordinary or extraordinary, I need to write. Through any endeavor, creative and artistic, we find out who we are, what we think, and how we feel. And we figure out how to go on.

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This morning I dropped off one of my daughters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel calm looking at art and making art. Thanks, Andy Warhol.

I’m a teacher, a mother, and a writer. I’ve been thinking about conflicts.

I know in families and schools and all our relationships, conflict is inevitable. But how we deal with our internal and external conflicts is optional. I believe our society preys upon our conflicts. Our media exploits our differences — red state vs. blue state; stay at home mom vs. working mom.

Honestly, we have more that unites us than divides us.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have to find a way to seek common ground and lift one another up, not put each other down. We cannot whip out automatic rifles when we cannot get along — with ourselves or with our mothers.

We have to find and share our public spaces like our schools and our museums. Our public places and institutions are sacred.

I teach my writing students that conflict is the essence of drama. We mustn’t avoid conflict. But we cannot rest in a place of constant conflict. We must learn to use conflict to further the plot of our lives, to reach out, to state our needs, and to work on how to find a common humanity. Even when we want to find a common enemy.

Every child and every adult should lean how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Those of us who live in cities and ride the subways or share public spaces know we must coexist. And when we cannot live peaceably with ourselves, our families or our neighbors, we must get help.

And as every one is saying on social media, getting help should be a whole lot easier than getting a gun. There is no shame in experiencing conflict or in getting help with whatever arise in our lives. The tragedy arises when we cannot resolve our conflicts without hurting someone else.

To manage our inner and outer conflicts, we can:

  • make art
  • write in a journal
  • talk to a friend
  • work out
  • seek professional help
  • listen to music
  • walk in nature
  • attend a worship service
  • read a book

I don’t know. There are probably a million ways to handle conflict healthily. But we must be taught them; they don’ t just come naturally.

Today’s daily prompt, What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Ideally, I may do any of the above conflict resolution items.

I write in my journal. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I go for a run. I make a nice brunch for my family with bagels and lox. My kids clean up the brunch without being asked. Then I go to a nearby spa for a massage. The kids get themselves to wherever they may need to go — basketball, Bat Mitzvah. I feel at peace. I make art.

While the first few things I listed do happen, reading, writing, drinking coffee — the last few things don’t. I cannot control other people. (I am concocting a plan to make the kids more self-reliant and supportive of one another and of me and my husband.) I also do not get lox or a massage on a Saturday morning because I worry about the expense. I feel guilty spending money on myself during the holiday season. My budget is already pretty tight with kids’ presents and holiday travel. I guess that would be an ideal too, not feeling guilty.

Just for today, I teach my kids to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. I love them well and hold my dear ones close. Just for today, that is my ideal.

Here’s the link to today’s daily prompt: Me Time

Here’s an earlier blog post on Navigating Conflict. I learned these skills at the Girls Leadership Institute, an amazing group that empowers girls.

Sibling Rivalry

I have complained about how my kids bicker too much. It is so annoying. They can be so mean to one another and to me. And I know deep down we all love one another.

The other day H. and I were bickering at the bookstore. He needs his summer reading books, 1984 and the God of Small Things. I said the version didn’t matter, he said he must have the exact, specified version. I had a get-it-done attitude; he had a wait-and-see attitude.

I was embarrassed when another mom friend, L., interrupted our disagreement just to say hello.

“Oh, sorry, we were just fighting,” I explained. “We fight a lot.”

“Fighting’s good,” she said. L’s a teacher and I believe her. Respectful disagreement is healthy.

One of my favorite phrases in an argument, and one that I always hope is a closer, is, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

I realized that my desire for my kids to never fight, bicker, or disagree puts undue pressure on them. Maybe even my attempts to squash their sibling rivalry somehow escalates their fighting. As if they unconsciously realize, “Great, now Mom’s in the fight, too. Let’s fully commit to this argument.” And then the yelling escalates.

At times, I do flip out. “Don’t you realize your arguing creates an impact! We are kind, loving parents. You are not being kind and loving!” The kids are too competitive. Or maybe they simply can’t help being mean, like when they point out one another’s pimples. I can’t figure it out.

I show exasperation.

And sometimes having a human and impatient response pays off. Recently after my kids were in a yelling match, my son went to play ball. On his way home, he phoned me. “Mom, I’m passing the grocery store. Do we need anything?”

I was shocked. “Yes, we need juice and milk.” I was totally pleased. And yesterday, the kids did pitch in and tidy up the apartment, even as they fought about how little the other person was doing, and how much they were doing. (See what I mean? Competitive!)

I had set the timer for 10 minutes. I said, “That’s all you have to do! Ten minutes.” But  an hour later, H. was still working, hammering loose cords into the molding.

Small victories. But I’ll take them. And I’ll take the fighting because I have no choice. I do have a choice in my response to their sibling rivalry. I will not let it get to me.

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