Grandma says “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” is Second to “Lessons in Home As A Haven”

peace-home-after-argumentBruce Feiler, in his column, “This Life,” discusses current issues in his own home life.  In his recent column April 14, 2013, in the Sunday New York Times, he recounts his quest for conflict resolution in his family structure.  He begins with the story of the “ritual” in his house (yes, he uses the word “ritual,” watch for it below).  These are the first four paragraphs of the column:

I called it the 7:42 P.M. fight.  It happened every night when my wife and I gathered to discuss the detritus [I would use the word remnants) of our lives. Who’s waking up early with the kids?  Who’s going to take Grandma to the eye doctor?  What do you mean you forget to pick up the milk?

She’d cross her arms and stare at the ceiling.  I’d throw up my hands and raise my voice.  Finally she’d storm out of the room.

My daughters, meanwhile, developed their own ritualized rights.  Your dessert is bigger.  It’s my day to go first. Liar! Tattletale!.

Our house was a combat zone.  There must be a better way, I thought.

He then goes on to say he searches for the best conflict resolution for “a better family argument, one that takes less time, leaves fewer emotional scars and more quickly restores harmony to your household.”

Am I the only one?  When do the parents punt as partners who should take care of their own business before making fighting a family ritual?  It seems to this Grandma that these partners needed to work on their adult conflict before the conflict affected the children of the family.

Contrary to what seems to be the culture that children should see adults fight to learn how to defend themselves and fight fair, this Grandma thinks the family home should be a haven, a place that brings calm and security to children who live in a world of overload from the technological bombardment of our modern society.  Conflict is detrimental.  It is detrimental to adults.  It is very detrimental to children when it occurs in the foundation of their lives, their parents’ partnership.

After reading the two paragraphs, I thought Mr. Feiler was going to be apologetic for bringing the “ritualized fights” to commonplace in his household.  I thought Mr. Feiler was going to then talk about how he sought out the best marriage counselor for himself and his wife, to learn how to work through ADULT issues and be role models for their children as to positive conflict resolution.

I guess he could not now go backwards in his family life and do adult partnership counseling first where he finds his family currently, so of course, he is left with grouping both “peace between battling parties, including sibling and spouses,” in one lump sum list of positive steps.  Not that this Grandma does not think the list is wonderful if you get to where Bruce Feiler and his family are.  This Grandma says, just don’t get there.

Mr. Feiler gives the following tips:

Number One:

Beware Transitions.  Researchers have found that the biggest fights within families erupt when people are either coming together or saying goodbye.  Getting children out the door in the morning and reuniting in the evening are particularly vulnerable times.. . .The lesson: wait until everyone is fed, has changed clothes and had some private time.

Ah!  What this Grandma has advocated.  Children and adults need a ritual of what happens when they arrive home.  The best scenario, and I know we all want to just hate electronics and television during the week, but use a timer that beeps.  If the parent needs 20 minutes, tell the children how lucky they are, if they agree to do the parent’s chore of the choice next [whatever chore is your priority that evening], they get 20 minutes of electronics or television time first.  [Remember “dessert first” works—see the archives] This is a win-win for everyone.

Number Two:

Level Down. Your Mother was right: posture matters. . . .Everybody in a meaningful conversation should sit at the same level, with the same posture.  Sitting alongside the other person has also been shown to increase collaboration. “If you want to talk to your daughters about a tough subject, I would sit on cushioned chairs, because no one will be as doctrinaire and you’ll be more open to the opinions of others. “

I guess I am going to buy seat cushions for my office and kitchen chairs!  I like a round table for such discussions.  I think the column mentioned that somewhere.

Number Three:

Go to the Balcony. . . .When problems erupt [between their school age children], we separate them and allow time to cool off.  Then we ask them to come up with three alternatives.  Usually they spend the first few minutes insisting theirs is the only option, but eventually they relent.  Then we bring them back together.  At that point, with so many options on the table, a solution usually emerges quickly. . . .’You want to move the spot light from the rigid positions both sides are starting with to new options you come up with together.  The goal is to expand the pie before dividing it.’

I really like Number three above.  It is an interesting way to come to a compromise.

Number Four.

The Three-Minute Rule. . . . the most important points in any argument can be found in the opening minutes.  After that people repeat themselves at higher and higher decibels.  Just as boxers fight for only three minutes per round. Just as boxers fight for three minutes per round, couples can do the same.  Say your piece, then . . . call for a five-minute break or take a short walk.

The above is where adult issues mixed with child issues in Mr. Feiler’s column.

Life is hard.  Relationships are hard.  I know how difficult it is to get along with my sibling sometimes and to see the world as he does, and we grew up together and share the same DNA!  Then, realize how hard work a partnership is—someone who grew up with different family structure, different family rituals and is different than you.  When the going gets tough, there are marital and family therapists who can deal with the “crisis” and teach behaviors to lessen conflict between the adults before their conflict becomes children’s “ritualized fights” mimicking their adult behavior.  Counseling may occur at various intervals when conflicts arise that are not able to be negotiated without fighting that spills over to where the children are aware.  This Grandma would recommend conflict therapy for the partners, before bringing environmental psychologists and linguistics into the business of raising a family.

Now the last two.  These we have heard many times before.  Use “I” words and not “You” words.  Also, here is an interesting way to look at the second, “say you are sorry.”

Saying you’re sorry has two meanings, she [Sheila Heen, an author of “Difficult Conversations] said. “One is to describe how you actually feel.  The other is to take responsibility for the impact you’ve had on somebody else.  I’m really more interested in the second meaning: accepting accountability for your choices even if you don’t genuinely feel apologetic.”  Later, she said, when you’re less amped up, feeling sorry will come.

Mr. Feiler ends with that we should take advance of the body of research that “can allow us to fight smarter,” and learn to deal with conflict through cooperative conflict.  This Grandma says the first priority is to try to eliminate conflict.  If you, as the adults, cannot find a way to eliminate conflict completely, then find a way to keep it out of the home completely.  Little children have big ears, even when one thinks they are asleep.  Why undermine their security for who is going to wake up earlier and who is going to take Grandma to the eye doctor?

So, why as Grandma, did I bring this topic up in “Grandma Lessons?”  Part of our responsibility is to somehow impart wisdom and knowledge we have learned by being on this earth longer and making more mistakes.  We want to protect our grandchildren and make their lives better.  Reducing conflict to which they are exposes is a priority to this Grandma.  There are many ways where the discussion might arise.  Even just watching “Modern Family” together.

Then, finally, remember this Grandma’s mantra.  Partnerships need intimacy to thrive.  Help the parents of your grandchildren maintain their intimate relationship to lessen conflict.  Watch the grandchildren at least one weekend night overnight every three months to give their parents respite.  And to give us alone time to spoil our grandchildren!

I have the luxury of knowing my daughters read this blog and will be able to have Mr. Feiler’s tips at their fingertips—and mine.  Want to punt having a difficult conversation with the parents of your grandchildren?  Maybe pass Mr. Feiler’s article and this post along to your children.





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