Parenting challenges me. A truth that 99.9% of parents would claim with no shame.
Recently, I lived this reality when my kids got into a heated argument and I had to step into the roles of referee, coach, mentor and teacher all at the same time. I found myself struggling to explain to my daughter how her attitude toward her brother was a key part of the problem. Her point was very valid – he should not have done what he did. That’s what made it so hard. If you were looking at “just the facts” you would have seen a little brother who was needling his big sister (as so many do) and needed to be held accountable. However, the way she approached it and expressed herself made her equally wrong in the situation. Trying to teach a child that distinction – it’s not what you did it is how you did it – was difficult. At the end of all my parenting angst what I finally shared with her was: She did not express truth with love.
It is amazing how a conversation is completely reframed when you come from a place of love. Defenses are lessened and ears are open to what needs to be said and what needs to be received. There is an emotional safety that allows both people to walk through the hard stuff because the relationship and the conversation are worth the temporary discomfort to lead to deeper understanding and a healthy path forward.
Conversely, conversations can go down dark and treacherous paths when they are founded upon frustrations and anger. Some might even say that the message sounds like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). People cover their “emotional ears” in response to the noisy input and miss the message altogether. And, in the case of my daughter, the messenger often shoulders additional culpability, as they take on an active role in fueling the conflict.
Lead with love.
When conflict arises or hard conversations are warranted make sure it is overtly framed with love, care and a desire for solutions. One of the ways I help my kids with this is reminding them we are all on the same team. It is my kid-friendly way of reminding them that we have a responsibility to each other. We must hold each other accountable to healthy interactions. We must also be insistent on a safe-space at home where we can learn and grow alongside each other (to include growth as parents!). They will regularly hear me say, “Hey – same team guys” as a reminder of our shared commitment.
Another way I do this, which I know my kiddos do not always enjoy, is I guide them through a conversation about what they love about each other. This is near impossible when emotions are high but as they start to settle it is really important that I redirect them to their true and lasting feelings for each other. I pull them back to a bird’s eye view of their relationship with their sibling. Sure, in that moment they are _____ (angry/mad/sad/frustrated/annoyed). But with perspective they recall how deeply they care for the other and the conversation takes a shift. Yes, it is super cheesy but this is how as a parent I model the practice of leading a tough conversation with love.
A third way is coaching them out of absolutes in their language. “He is always mean” or “She always bosses me around” are simply not true. Sometimes he is mean or occasionally she bosses him around. However, there are far more special moments when they play well together and are a great brother/sister duo! I won’t let them slip into the all-too-easy habit of making sweeping statements in a moment of frustration. If I allow these unfair generalizations to pass by unchecked then the fallacy of their statement may take root and become mistaken for truth.
Coaching them through conflict and disagreements with a solution-focused approach is important in the heat of the moment. But each and every day is an opportunity to create a safe and loving home where love leads the way. A consistent reminder I share with my kids is, “I love you forever and for always, no matter what.” In a world that is critical, divisive, isolating and unkind I want my kids to know that our home will be one that is led by love.
What I have shared today is in the context of a parent-child relationship but it transcends into the many relationships we experience each and every day. Let’s do away with the noisy gongs in our life that create chaos and turmoil. Instead, let’s commit to have tough conversations that provide clarity and affirm boundaries while also ensuring emotional safety underpins our words and actions. We can do this in parenting, with colleagues at work, with our spouses, siblings and friends.